Updated: Feb 26, 2019
I recently had the pleasure of attending the screening of “Loving Vincent” at the Avalon Theater in Washington D.C. with a group of fellow artists and friends.
Being credited as the first entirely oil-painted animation feature film in history, “Loving Vincent” (lovingvincent.com) is a feast for the eyes that brings poignant beauty to the story it tells. Each of the nearly 65,000 frames was individually hand painted with oil paints, mimicking van Gogh’s strokes, morphing actors and backgrounds with his paintings to create a living canvas.
Set 12 months after his death, the visual narrative weaves together different characters from his paintings in the telling of a story that delves into the inconsistencies of the generally accepted theory of his suicide.
Awed by the beauty of the film and intrigued with the tale it weaves, it was the inn-keeper’s daughter’s description of Vincent’s daily life while in Auvers, France, that resonated with me long after leaving the theater. “You could set a clock by him. (Vincent) went out every day (to paint), like a job.” Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime. But his ‘job’ was not to sell paintings, it was to paint them.
The film’s creator used extensive research of letters and interviews to bring a deeper understanding of the man whose maverick intellect was generally not accepted in his time. Born in 1853, van Gogh had already experienced two failed romances, was unsuccessful as a bookstore clerk, an art salesman, and as a preacher (he was dismissed for being overzealous), before he found his calling as an artist. Vincent started painting in 1880 when he was 27. Despite a life filled with torment, he persisted with an almost manic drive to produce over 2,100 works, consisting of 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolors, drawings and sketches, all in less than 9 years before his death in 1890 at age 37.
The reality of making a living from our art looms over most artists. Some create with an eye toward sales. Others balance marketability with creativity. The intrepid create with abandon, as van Gogh did. While he wanted to sell his work, he also wanted others to see the world as he did, and he succeeded. Not financially, though he may have been able to reap monetary reward had he not tragically died in his prime, but by painting emotion and movement on his canvases in a way that had never been seen before. He did not compromise to suit current trend. His success was in finding his creative voice and persistently working at making it heard.
For decades I have struggled to find the right balance between making money and creating artwork, more often than not conceding to the financially logical production while reigning in my more imaginative inclinations. The result has been financially rewarding, but cost me some of the drive I once had. My job has become more about making money and little about expressing my artistic voice above a whisper.
This mindset, the ‘job’ of creating what you love, is my take away from “Loving Vincent”. Not that everything must have a message, but it’s one of my beliefs that things resonate or come to you when you are meant to receive that gift.
Nearing my sixth 10th birthday, I find my paradigm is shifting. Better late than never, I am giving myself permission to break away and create without the stifling restrain of commerce. The mere thought fills me with enthusiasm to get to work. I hope the results will find a market, but I am already feeling the joy that had been missing at just the thought of returning to my job in the studio to create with this new mindset and rekindled passion. Maintaining and adhering to a set work schedule is suddenly something to look forward to doing.
If you have the opportunity, I recommend seeing “Loving Vincent”. It is a moving masterpiece. If you want a little more detail into his life, I also recommend the book, Van Gogh’s Ear: The True Story by Bernadette Murphy.