Saturday, 26 February 2011

'sowing seeds: planting hope'

I have painted a version of a detail from Van Gogh’s ‘the Sower’ (1888) He did a number of versions of the painting, which according to the Van Gogh museum website, may have been inspired by a Japanese print. Another version 'Sower with setting sun' was inspired by Jean-François Millet's 'Sower' from 1850 (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts)

He painted this whilst in living in Arles. It expresses his identification with ordinary people - particulalry with the rural poor.

The sower is an obvious Biblical image. It all started with a story of a Garden, with seed bearing plants (Gen 1:11). It hints of the cosmic cycle of life:

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater… (Isaiah 55:10)

The Parable of the Sower also comes to mind (eg Matt 13) and the various conditions where seed grows and thrives, or withers and dies.

I have just been at a faith2share consultation in India: ‘we believe faith is to be shared’ We have been talking about sowing seeds of faith around the world and are engaged in making plans together. It reminded me of the Wisdom of Solomon:

If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done. God's ways are as hard to discern as the pathways of the wind, and as mysterious as a tiny baby being formed in a mother's womb. Be sure to stay busy and plant a variety of crops, for you never know which will grow - perhaps they all will. (Ecclesiastes 11:4-6)

It applies to project planning as well as gardening. To plan and plant lots of ideas and deeds and to wait and see what grows and develops. There is a certain unpredictability about it. Part of the mystery of life.

Frederick von Schiller's poem 'The sower' picks up on the 'seeds' and the 'deeds' being one

Sure of the spring that warms them into birth,

The golden seeds thou trustest to the earth;

And dost thou doubt the eternal spring sublime,

For deeds--the seeds which wisdom sows in time

In Van Gogh’s world, sowing seeds is an expression of faith, for it is from little seeds that beautiful sunflowers do grow - maybe for Van Gogh, a symbol of all that is good.

Sowing seed is an ultimate act of faith. It is planting hope.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

'Pietà' by Van Gogh

Another in my 'series' of Vincent's paintings, this time Pieta 1889, Mary cradling her dead son based on another painting by Delacroix (as with his Good Samaritan) A very intimate moment between a mother and her son has been captured, with Mary cradling the body of Christ. Pietà literally means 'pity' and has been much represented in art (see wikipedia)

Vincent has identified fully with Christ in his suffering since even in my oil pastel rendition he is recognisable (just about!) It suggests that the preacher turned painter remained drawn to Christ even in his latter years....

As an artist, van Gogh remained fascinated by Christ. "Oh, I am no friend of the present Christianity, though its founder was sublime." He described Jesus as "the supreme artist, more of an artist than all others, disdaining marble and clay and color, working in the living flesh." Finally, van Gogh’s preoccupation with Christ is visually apparent in his rendition of the Pietà, in which he depicts the Christ figure with the features of his own face and red beard, languishing in the arms of Mary.
From Preaching to Painting: Van Gogh’s Religious Zeal

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Old man of sorrow

Van Gogh's Old Man in Sorrow (May 1890) seems to sum up his depression and mental anguish.

I like the ambiguity as to whether he is despairing or praying, or maybe both. My old man does not appear to be as despairing as Van Gogh's. He is not as bowed over. But he is still gathered close to a fire, a source of warmth and life.

Vincent did an earlier lithographic version (1882) of this Old Man with his head in hands (at Eternity's Gate) Maybe this represents the resolution of 2 themes: despair and hope coexisting together.

There is a good article that explores some of the relgious themes in Van Gogh's paintings From Preaching to Painting: Van Gogh’s Religious Zeal I quote:

One of van Gogh’s first successful lithographs, At Eternity’s Gate (1882), depicts an old man seated by a fire, his head buried in his hands. Near the end of his life, while recuperating in the asylum at St. Rémy, van Gogh re-created this image in oil. Bent over with his fists clenched against a face hidden in utter frustration, the subject appears engulfed in grief. The work would convey an image of total despair if not for its title. Even in the deepest moments of sorrow and pain, van Gogh clung to the faith in God and eternity, which he tried to express in his work:

The expression of such a little old man -- perhaps without he himself being conscious of it -- is unspeakably touching when he sits so quietly in his chimney corner. It reveals something which cannot be destined for the worms . . .this is far from all theology, simply the fact that the poorest little woodcutter, heath peasant or miner can have moments of emotion and a frame of mind which give him a feeling of an eternal home to which he is near.

As van Gogh pointed out, the sentiment in this painting is "far from all theology," but he wanted to show that though he had rejected institutional religion, he remained profoundly religious and firmly believed in a spiritual life after death.

The Psalms are full of anguish and heart searching. Monastic communities have traditionally prayed and lived them as part of their community life and found their thoughts and feelings reflected in them. It too is gathering to the source of warmth and life - the fire of hope.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Painting Pictures

It's been a long time since I blogged - (last one was October last year) - lot's happening at work and I suppose I have been tweeting a lot .... But anyway, during the Winter break I have been doing 2 main things (i) Family History again (ii) painting (not again)

I suppose the family history is about rootedness - connecting to the story of the past. I may tell some of that on my other blog (familytreebeard) or maybe not.

And I suppose painting is also in some way about rootedness. It's certainly about noticing what is around and concentrating on the more artistic side of life. Maybe more on 'being' rather than so much 'doing'.

So I thought I would put some of the paintings on my blog. I am trying acrylics - inspired by the 'Drawing near to God' sacred:space evening we had (see link) but I have also been experimenting with a small sketch book and oil pastel crayons mainly because of portability.

So I'll start here with one of the sketch book painting and then add some more of the sketches later, maybe even backdating them to nearer the time I drew them to fill in blogging gaps!

I like Van Gogh and this is based on a painting he did towards the end of his life Church at Auvres He had been an evangelist at one point with a great passion for the poor and wanted to be ordained but was rejected by the institutional church. So maybe this painting represents something of an outsider, de-churched perspective...... It certainly inspired my own impressionistic efforts.....

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Cafe Window - through a glass darkly

A couple of times a year, I meet with a group of half a dozen consultants in Barnes, London. Hence the name: 'Barnes Seminar'. We discuss an academic paper and each have a turn to be the focus of a group consultancy.

On this occasion, during my own space, I was invited to consider what I might paint on different canvases, representing past, present and future.

There was a small picture on the wall in the place where we were meeting, which I photoed and subsequently drew. I also added some thoughts inspired by the painting. The waiter in the South London (?) cafe, gazing out wistfully, seemed so full of 'possibilities'. But would (s)he ever move beyond the present and embrace these possibilities.

contain, form barriers,
part of our bounderies,
create 'insiders' and 'outsiders'
- 'us' and 'them'

keep down the noise,
dim the sound, protect secrets,
minimise interfering disturbance
- double-glazing.

distort our vision, imperfections
and colouring, dirt and dust,
frames and curtains
- 'open' and 'closed'

increase perspective, create yearnings,
opportunities, possibilities;
dreams and visions
- double-gazing.

I don't see things clearly, but here was a glimpse, as 'in a glass a darkly'

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Good Samaritan

As part of the Street Angel training, when we were considering our values, we looked again at the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37) An amazing story of real non-judgmental compassion. Van Gogh captured the scene so well (a mirrored image of a painting by Delacroix) the moment when the Samaritan lifts the injured man onto his animal to convey him to the Inn. He was apparently staying in a mental institution at the time he did his painting (May 1890). I found it a stunning, totally absorbing image so had to have a try....

In my version too the priest and the Levite (the professional) can be seen receding into the background. It represents for me a committed openness to and engagement with the other (esp traditional enemies), whatever the consequences might be......

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Chair without pipe

Vincent's Chair with his pipe' (1888) must be one of my favourite Van Gogh Paintings.
My version does not have a pipe. But I remember once having a 'vision' of a chair which somehow represented completeness and stability. I subsequently wrote a paper called the Broken Chair all about a consultancy I was involved in Gujranwala Pakistan about broken trust, symbolised by a broken chair leg. for me it has come to represent key values:
Rugged simplicity,
Open honesty,
Firm humility
support and trust