A new perspective in grief

Typically, the beginning of a new year has always prompted in me a fresh resolve to begin or recommit to a resolution that fell by the wayside long ago; usually a casualty of the inevitable hurly burly of life and the big beautiful mess that it so often is. The turning over of a brand new calendar page will evoke in me an optimism for the year that lies ahead. I am an optimist at heart and therefore am hopeful that a new year will be a little better. Summer has naturally been a time to take stock and plan for the year ahead.  However, this year I’ve approached things very differently. The events of the past 18 months have left on me a big heart wound. Last year was filled with so much sadness and grief, one does not simply turn the page and move on as if all that was in the past has no lasting impact on the present. While the end of a year naturally brings to a conclusion some things, feelings and emotions are a little more elusive to box up. Rather than resolving to do and be someth

Van Gogh Inspires

 I have long admired the work of Vincent Van Gogh; his use of colour and texture has always given me pleasure and his subject matter has been of an engaging nature. However, it wasn’t until I saw his work in the flesh (so to speak) that my appreciation and love of him grew. I can recall quite vividly the first time I stumbled upon one of his most famous paintings. Up until that point, my exposure to art had been 6 years of study at school and a board game called ‘Masterpiece’ (which was a family favourite we often played on holidays). At school, I’d had the privilege of seeing exhibitions of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, both of which I enjoyed, but never Van Gogh. It was not until the first year of living in London with my family, that I unexpectedly came to behold his ‘Sunflowers’. I had been through several rooms of the gallery, when I realised that there was a growing number of paintings I recognised from the well-worn board game I had played many years previous. A growing sense of excitement and anticipation rose within me. I had just spotted Renoir’s ‘The Umbrellas’ (another favourite); confirming an emerging theory that every painting in the board game was there in the gallery. One room later…tucked in the corner… much smaller than I imagined, but oh so much better… there it hung, next to another of his famous works ‘Van Gogh’s Chair’. Postcards and prints can never do justice to the vibrancy and impact of his work. It was on this day, I fell in love with Van Gogh. I happily returned many times to view this painting, but  wished I could see more.

So it was very pleasing to find that this years Winter Exhibition at the NGV was Van Gogh’s Seasons; a priority for any fan. Yesterday, I had the treat of going to view it with my husband (another art appreciator). He told me that the best way to really appreciate art was to go around with an audio guide (a practice I had never really thought much of, feeling like technology hampered the experience, rather than enhance it). However, when I noticed that the audio guide  was narrated David Strachen and the voice of Van Gogh was read by David Wenham, I conceded. How glad I was that he convinced me; I am an audio guide convert. 

The first room we entered, was set up like a theatre, and showing on a large screen was a 9 minute movie, setting the scene for who Van Gogh was, his journey to becoming an artist and what inspired him most…the changing seasons in nature. It was an excellent way to begin the journey of what was to be a fascinating, surprising, intimate and sorrowful insight into his life. 

The exhibition began with a collection of work that Van Gogh had put into a scrapbook, that was a source of inspiration to him. It then moved into a room entitled ‘Autumn’, a season he declared to be his favourite. In this room it showed a real progression of his works and ideas; centring around this season.

The next room was ‘Winter’, and here his work displayed the inner conflict he had with not only himself, but his family and with the growing divide between his interest in tonal, depressing colours and subject matter, and the reality that a paying client was more interested in light and colour. It was in this room, that the audio guide was most helpful; giving insight to personal experiences that drove Van Gogh to change the way he painted. Something of which I had no knowledge of.

Following Winter, was ‘Spring’, and the art work birthed from this period mirrored his “new birth” as an artist fascinated with colour and texture. Throwing off the constraints of conventional artistic discipline, he played with new brushstrokes and colour combinations; of which he is most recognised for now. 

The final room was ‘Summer’, and here it displayed a glimpse into the brilliance of his unique talent. While he was prolific in his output of wonderful paintings, sadly his life was cut short in the height of his career; his battle with mental illness being the cause.
The final painting was a self-portrait accompanied with a quote, “It requires a certain dose of inspiration, a ray from on high which doesn’t belong to us, to do such beautiful things.” A lovely way to bring closure to such an inspiring exhibition. 

Not only did I find pleasure in what I saw and learned of Van Gogh and his work, I was also inspired personally. While he was a gifted artist, his process (perfecting and honing his skill) took many years. There were times when he had to adapt, to be open to others suggestions and be willing to put in many hours with little reward or recognition. I see myself on a creative journey also. While I am under no illusion of being brilliant, or even mildly talented, I have a growing view of myself as a writer; but at present a little discouraged and very unsure of how to progress. As this thought begins to take shape and grow roots, I am encouraged by the stories of other creatives whose lives reflect a journey of trial and error; discouragement and success. More importantly though, it is the hand of God upon this journey, that gives me hope. In his quote, Van Gogh acknowledges a source of light outside of oneself, playing a vital role in creating beauty. I believe the ‘ray from on high’ is the Creator God. Not only does he bestow the gift of creativity upon us, as we are made in his image, he enables us to grow and become who he intended us to be from the beginning.

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