|Print | Back||May 27, 2013|
Moments in ArtVan Gogh's Belated Visitors
by Lawrence Jeppson
In 1886, Paul Gauguin settled sporadically in the village of Pont Aven, Western France, and gathered about him a group of artists who became the Pont Aven School.
Perhaps envious of this gathering, Vincent Van Gogh wrote to Gauguin two years later, proposing an association of painters to facilitate the sale of their works, and then two months later he proposed that Gauguin come work with him in Arles in Southern France.
Van Gogh wanted Gauguin because of his talent. Gauguin came. The relationship, as always, was stormy. In November, 1888, Van Gogh wrote to painter Emile Bernard, one of Gauguin's Pont Aven friends, "Well, here we are without the slightest doubt in the presence of a virgin creature with savage instincts. With Gauguin blood and sex prevail over ambition."
The American biographer Irving Stone called Van Gogh "one of the world's loneliest souls." (Preface, Dear Theo, a collection of Van Gogh's letters.) Vincent dreamed of setting up a Workshop of the South as a community of artists. He wanted Gauguin to be a part of this community. Echoing Pont Aven, this might have appeased his loneliness. Only the "savage" Gauguin came, and even this relationship ended bitterly.
Preparing to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Van Gogh’s tragic death, Taiwanese-American painter Dr. Tsing-fang Chen decided to create 100 paintings celebrating the Dutch artist’s death in Southern France.
Chen appropriates images from any source, ingeniously changing, combining, and juxtaposing them to create philosophical and esthetic drama. This Neo-Iconography (a defining label I coined in 1978) and his prodigious output have made Chen one of the two or three most important working artists in the world today.
This is my 50th “Moments in Art” written for the Nauvoo Times. I am pleased that I can use Chen in celebration of this milestone. I have written about him before. There is so much to his life and art that I’ll probably return to him in future columns.
Two weeks ago when I last spoke with Lucia, Tsing-fang’s capable wife and manager of their galleries in New York, Taipei, and Shanghai, she was in Shanghai. She is shuttling between China and Taiwan as she seeks to build a combination five-star hotel and Chen Museum and Cultural Center in Taipei, where he is considered a national treasure.
Touched by the clash of Van Gogh and Gauguin, Chen decided to constitute Van Gogh's Workshop of the South posthumously. If the artists would not gather to Van Gogh while they were alive, Chen would bring them together a century later. As part of his ambitious project to memorialize Van Gogh with 100 paintings, Chen escorted a dozen great masters to the Dutch painter in Arles to work with him: among them Gauguin, Chagall, Matisse, Picasso, Bonnard, Mondrian, Miro, Rouault, Kandinsky, and Warhol. Others may yet respond to the invitation.
Chen takes cunning delight in transforming Van Gogh's own painting of his Spartan Arles bedroom and populating it with Gauguin and Van Gogh icons — and lots of others, as my first two images show.
I wish I could show the hundred paintings from this commemoration. Actually, Van Gogh icons continue to haunt Chen’s art, as they pop up in dozens of post-centennial paintings.
I hesitated to show Van Gogh Pope, less some reader be offended. But it is a very powerful painting and is not meant to be disrespectful. Truth is, I could not resist a pun. In the second of my selections there is a group of illustrations taken from Andy Warhol. So in the second and fifth illustrations, I have gone from Pop Art to Pope Art.
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