Very much just another blog

The Iris, the artist and the time machine

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When I was a kid my parents had these massive iris flowers growing in their back garden. They were not the delicate sort; in fact they seemed like monsters to me: heavy purple animal heads weighted down with shocking yellow tongues. They reminded me of Chinese New Year dragons.

We used to paint our faces, don leotards and dance around them as though they were the set for some fantasy we had conjured. Once, they were species from another time and, next to them, we curled quiet in boxes, pushed together to make a time machine. Had it not been for our parents disturbing our mission we were sure we nearly made it back several hundred years.

When I was a teenager I can remember becoming more interested in art, as the lesser-spotted angst ridden teen can be prone to do. I liked Matisse. I wasn’t as much a fan of Van Gogh, but I liked his Irises: liked the colours, liked the stillness in some, the energy in others. Christ I was an awful teenager. Let’s not dwell here for too long.

Later I had a boyfriend who was certain that irises were my favourite flower, perhaps because I had postcard of Van Gogh’s Irises on my wall. They were not my favourite flower but I never had the heart to tell him. And the colours were good. I’ve always been a fan of colour.

The other day I went to the Van Gogh exhibition at the Royal Academy. I wasn’t sure what to expect particularly and, in truth, often I don’t think about the exhibition I’m going to until I get there. I thought the exhibition would be about irises or any of the paintings we might traditionally associate with the artist.

The exhibition was not about irises. It was about Van Gogh’s decision to become an artist, his determination to achieve in the field, his explorations, challenges, approach and success. It was about his technical struggles, with perspective for example, and the criticism he encountered, which spurred him on. Suddenly he gets it and he paints and draws tons of pictures to show he can. I laughed out loud in that room. Just for the energy of it.

Later he begins to engage with colour. He begins to find ways to use colour to paint someone as he feels them, and not just as they appear. This appealed to me, and I felt the exhibition gather pace. Some of the pictures were breathtaking. Truly. So intense. But they were tempered, too, as through his letters, and his history you understand that Van Gogh struggled to find meaning and struggled to find peace, though he sought to translate it from the world for others.

There’s a photo towards the end of the exhibition of Vincent’s grave next to his brother’s Theo – who died shortly after. You come to it in a whirlwind of colour – this moment where he was producing his finest works, just in the shadow that was the ‘sadness that would last forever’. It makes you catch your breath. It makes everything still.You should go.


Written by elikafm

February 22, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Only really began to appreciate Van Gogh after seeing an amazing exhibition in the Courthauld something, it had sketchbooks and watercolour prep sketches.


    February 22, 2010 at 6:29 pm

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