Now that Spring has finally arrived, I find myself thinking about the beauty of earth and the mystical wonders of nature. There are few artists in human history who have captured these sentiments of spring better than the Dutch Impressionist master, Vincent van Gogh. The bold blue and green colors of paintings like Cypresses and Almond Blossoms will always be etched indelibly in my memory.
Long revered as one of the greatest artists of the Western world, global interest in his work and life has resurrected in recent years. The 2018 movie Eternity’s Gate, starring Willem Defoe, chronicled van Gogh’s life and his all-consuming desire for his work to be acknowledged by contemporaries. This month, van Gogh’s works are being displayed across nine exhibitions in prestigious museums around the world giving art lovers everywhere the opportunity to enjoy his beautiful works.
In 2016, I had the privilege to see van Gogh’s iconic work first-hand at the Getty Museum, an experience I chronicled in one of my first blog posts. I was being emotionally moved by the haunting beauty of the painting Irises (pictured below). I was drawn toward the energy of its vivid colors and the angelic aura of a single white iris on the left side of the painting.
The painting also reveals van Gogh’s ability to illuminate the striking, yet simple aspects of everyday nature. It is said that he painted Irises from a hospital garden, likely inspired by ukiyo-e Japanese woodblock prints. Unlike some of this darker works, this painting is indicative of a sense of fullness and joy – each flower brings so much optimism.
The hopeful aurora of van Gogh’s work is even more fascinating when you consider that he spent much of his life a troubled man. After years of struggles with mental illness, he voluntarily admitted himself to the Saint Paul asylum in southern France toward the end of his life. He was often too ill to even paint, his only solace. But for him, like many others, art provided those transcendent moments of grace that gave his life higher meaning and purpose.
When I first wrote about experiencing van Gogh’s work, I talked about my time at the Menninger Clinic and how art therapy was used as a technique to treat young adults with depression and mental illness. After the death of my husband Larry, I used art therapy to heal. As I described in my first book, Where the Water Meets the Sand, I gained satisfaction from stretching, rolling and molding clay into a finished piece. This form of unique creative expression channeled my desire to improve my well-being.
To my way of thinking Van Gogh is an inspirational example of someone who channeled his personal struggles into masterful works that continue to inspire us centuries later. His impact on Impressionism and art in general has been unlike any artist who came before or after him.
As we enter this new season full of hope, van Gogh’s iconic flowers give me joy as I look forward to nature’s true display that’s soon to emerge.
What artists come to mind for you when thinking of spring? And what forms of creative expression inspire you most?
© Tyra Manning 2019