Vincent van Gogh – my favourite

Granted, he is one of my absolute favourites: the great Vincent van Gogh – outsider, desperate, fighter and believer. The man who goes against the tide and goes down – must go down. An “underdog”, but so completely different from the protagonist in Thomas Bernhard’s novel. A man who perishes in a society that cannot see the obvious and remains trapped in its conventions.

The key biographical data should be sufficiently known – forgive me for wanting to write about his painting without detours. As an example of his early phase I have chosen the painting “The Potato Eaters” from 1885. Already in this painting the complete conflict of van Gogh is laid out. All that these people mean to van Gogh, what he associates with them, simply cannot be depicted in traditional painting. The poverty, the age, the simplicity, the pain. At first everything begins in familiar ways: the anatomy, the composition of the picture, the central source of light with its surrounding shadows. And already the painting literally starts to jump out of the joints. The farmer’s wife on the right almost pushes it out of the composition to the side. The faces and hands have to grow so that the space for such enormous shadows, which only the painter can feel, can be created. It is one of the first paintings in which the act of applying pure paint, already belongs to the artistic statement. The colours are not applied, they are pressed on and smeared. It is a real tour de force. A tensile test of empathy and truthfulness, against learned painting convention. All the paintings that will follow from now on, know only this one idea: the search for the immediate, authentic expression. The moment of absolute sublimity. Van Gogh is the first painter to press the paint directly from the tube onto the canvas. Everything else takes time, distracts him. With the tube he can work on the canvas in staccato, a ductus of tube paint is created. He recognizes that the application of the paint shapes the message of the painting. He senses that the contrast can be effortlessly increased through the three-dimensionality of the application. In his following paintings he uses all means to increase the expression to infinity. Shimmering complimentary contrasts that bend rhythmically around the motifs. It is an elemental force that van Gogh ignites there. Perspectives become completely useless and dissolve. Surfaces begin to dissolve or at least compete for the depths of space, with underlying levels. This painting is so extraordinary that even today it is clear why he was despised for it during his lifetime.

Everything that had an academic, painterly value up to this point is questioned in van Gogh’s painting.

copyright Tobias Vetter