Loving Vincent

The faces stare me down with unbalanced eyes and colors swirling.  Fixed on a museum canvas, only imagination could add to Van Gogh’s story of their lives.  Until last night, when I saw the film “Loving Vincent”, which joined oil paintings and animation in a mixed media never seen before.

My eyes were captivated from the opening credits, backed by Van Gogh’s famous starry night.  The movement suggested by the original now consummated with frame after frame of motion.

The creator Dorota Kobiela described¹ the approach:  the entire script was rough draft filmed with live actors, then artists used the footage as reference to oil paint onto canvas.  loving-vincent-002Once an initial scene was captured onto film, the artists then brushed over the same canvas to move the story forward.  This was repeated over 65,000 times to make the 90 minute film, with over 100 artists contributing, mostly in Kobiela’s homeland of Poland.

The result is magical: Van Gogh’s fields and unbounded skies are finally set free to shimmer-wiggle under the starry night.

Without a doubt, Van Gogh’s work stands (er.., um.., hangs) on its own, but here we can see the powerful effect of artists collaborating through time, building on each other’s work to create something none alone would have.  Vincent captured a moment in time; this film presses ‘play’ to see time move forward, animating the faces and giving voice to those surrounding the feel-everything artist.

Van Gogh’s fields and unbounded skies are finally set free to shimmer-wiggle under the starry night.

We can get stuck in the way things are, unwilling to imagine them differently.  Kobiela and her co-director (and husband) Hugh Welchman here have taken a huge risk, further interpreting paintings that haven’t changed for 100 years, and it pays off richly.

Interpretation has always been integral to viewing paintings, Van Gogh makes it clear that painting itself is an interpretation.  “A Work of Art”, observed Emile Zola, a literary contemporary of Van Gogh, “is a corner of creation seen through a temperament.”²

Vincent_van_Gogh_-_Portret_van_de_postbode_Joseph_RoulinOn her podcast The Lonely Palette³, Tamar Avishai agrees, describing the portrait of Postman Joseph Roulin (played Chris O’Dowd in the film), who by virtue of Vincent’s obsessive letter writing, saw him on a daily basis.  They came to be close friends, and in this portrait seen above, he is listening intently and openly, caring and wise.  His eyes seem to be reflecting the painter’s need for compassion.  Avishai concludes, “That’s the thing about Van Gogh.  Even his portraits of other people are self-portraits.”

“That’s the thing about Van Gogh.  Even his portraits of other people are self-portraits.”

Indeed, there is a bit of myself in everything I write, all the better to acknowledge it.

If I describe to you my bride, aren’t my verbal paint brushes already swishing about, dipping into the only palette I have to portray her qualities?  (A surgery report once described her as a “Right-handed, {redacted}-year old, instructional aid”.  That’s all.  Nothing about her humor, blue sky eyes, or generous spirit). When I tell you of my belief in God, aren’t I emphasizing those elements that match my worldview and minimizing those I don’t?

What would Van Gogh say to all this? Before painting Roulin he wrote his brother Theo these words:

“I should like to put my appreciation, the love I have for him, into the picture. So I will paint him as he is, as faithfully as I can—to begin with. But that is not the end of the picture.”

— Vincent Van Gogh

vincent letterLoving-Vincent-collage


¹ Podcast: Studio360 from PRI podcast covering the film Loving Vincent.

² Walther, Ingo F., et al. “Vincent Van Gogh: the Complete Paintings.” Vincent Van Gogh: the Complete Paintings, Taschen, 2006, p. 278.

³ I just discovered this podcast, The Lonely Palette, and will likely be binge listening. Here’s the episode referred to:  Episode 16 Van Goghs Postman Joseph Roulin 1888

Portrait of Joseph Roulin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Featured Image by Carmen Belean for the movie Loving Vincent. See Loving Vincent

3 Replies to “Loving Vincent”

  1. You always inspire me. To remember that we will never in this lifetime get a full rendering of Who God is encourages me to humbly keep seeking to see more. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Watched Loving Vincent and was moved by the mixture of visual and verbal messages. I feel like my left and right lobes we’re both firing. As my wife and I sat there with the predominantly grey haired intelligencia of Santa Barbara, I recognized some fellow art students who weekly face a canvas or paper, who wedge a lump of clay, I was encouraged by the amount of resources this community has to offer. During the end credits a woman was singing along to the Don Maclain cover of Starry Starry Night. She was on key and her volume allowed for at least six to seven rows to enjoy her crooning. Fitting end to a fun evening.

    Liked by 1 person

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