Archive for van gogh

Inspirations and Influences: Van Gogh’s Blues

Posted in Inspirations and Influences with tags , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2014 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols


Van Gogh Night Cafe

  The Night Cafe in the Place Lamartine in Arles, by Vincent Van Gogh. Oil on canvas. 70 x 89cm.  Painted in Arles, September, 1888. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery.  It is thought that this painting was created and offered as a rent payment by
Van Gogh to the owner of this cafe.


Neither of us like being amongst throngs of people, which is why we arrive at LACMA at ten a.m. on a Saturday for the Van Gogh to Kandinsky exhibition. First in line and groggy from the pool-playing marathon the night before, we are scrolling through my iPhone looking for my second favorite Van Gogh of all time. I spent a summer in New Haven in my late 20s with a boyfriend who was as an adjunct architecture professor at Yale. Many of my days were spent roaming the streets with my ten-year-old daughter looking for a good slice of white clam pizza, books from the secondhand stores and New Englander wool and tweed cast off skirts from the thrift shops. Not a day passed without my post-lunch visit to the University Art Gallery to steal a glimpse of The Night Café in Place Lamartine in Arles. The billiard table sliding down a wood slat floor, the yellow schizoid reverberations off the lamps, and that signature variation on teal blue green that creamily swathed the ceiling presented me with a surreal sense of calm during a summer I was miles from home.



 Van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait,” 1889, on Loan from the National Gallery of Art, Washington » Norton Simon Museum


My first favorite Van Gogh was spotted two Christmases ago when the Norton Simon museum imported it for the holidays. In person, the eerie strips and dashes of blue on the face reminded me of the underpinnings of things—cold veins in a vampire’s skin, the dry astringency of nervous disorders, arteries striving to burst out of a coolly, composed societal façade. The fact that the piece was a self-portrait of the artist made all of these associations seem ever more poignant.



  The Poplars at Saint-Rémy (Les peupliers sur la Colline), Vincent van Gogh, 1889, Oil on fabric.
The Cleveland Museum of Art, Bequest of Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. (1958.32). Photo © The Cleveland Museum of Art


Another perk of not liking to be around lots of people and getting to museums early, right when they open, is that we are able to beat the masses squeezing into to look at once towards four square feet of wall at a time. When we enter the LACMA exhibition we are first with only a few others around us. So when we come to what is now my third favorite Van Gogh of all time, The Poplars at Saint-Remy and we both take in a simultaneous and audible rush of breath as if we we’ve both been punched in the gut and accidentally say the word “Fuck” – it’s okay because there is no one around to hear us. We agree that it is perfect with its lush olive greens and chalk whites and indigo shadows and the house squeezed between the trees as if melting into the landscape that no one else would have been able to pull off. I am overwhelmed by the growing bubble of yellow bliss inside my belly that blooms and threatens to inflate, internally pop and lift the top of my head right off.

I have come to realize how much of my love of Van Gogh lies in his resonating blues, both literal and emotionally metaphorical; his fragmented perspective of reality that by slashing it into brushstroke sized pieces actually reveals the fact that we are all cut from the same molecular matter; and his all inclusive planes that expose the inherent connection of all.




An Artist’s Eyes Are Her Own

Posted in On Being an Artist with tags , , , , , on January 2, 2013 by Kimberly Cooper Nichols


In progress, “Unto” (Kimberly Nichols)

It was a very intense year for me in 2012. Life as I knew it pretty much turned upside down by my own intentional hands. It started out scary but with perseverance turned out blissful; bringing me into the space of my authentic self in ways that I could have never imagined without taking the journey. One thing that froze was my art output but there was a reason for that.

I had changed considerably and I wanted to cut myself off from the impetus of just “making” from the trajectory from which I had come and simply give myself time to simmer in the present and ponder my identity as an artist. Doing this caused me to lose a lot of things such as a bevy of instant fans who loved what I appeared to be more than knowing who I really was; my old persona in my artwork that stemmed from my traumatic childhood and the workings towards figuring out who I was as a woman; and a lot of friends and connections who only really wanted to be around what I represented to them in their mirror projections rather than the gritty, primal person I slowly, over a 12-month period in a new and strange land, was nurtured into becoming.


Van Gogh’s “Self Portrait” on loan at the Norton Simon Museum

I also was struggling with the age-old artist’s insecurities of whether or not my work was good enough, something that plagues us all constantly. I started my new project nonetheless, only because it was impossible not to (nothing makes me feel more alive and full of meaning than laying out a row of color tubes and cleaning off the brushes in anticipation of what’s to come upon the blank cardboard), and the other day after visiting the Norton Simon exhibition to see an “on loan” Van Gogh portrait, I had a revelatory experience that has since set me back on my road to just doing the work and turning off the critical brain.

As I looked at the intense master’s brushstrokes and the weirdly blue skin tinges on his brow and the scattered way he viewed everything in his gaze, I realized that he was doing nothing more than laying down colors and shapes and impressions precisely as he saw them, and that is exactly where the magic occurs. When we show the world what we see, in the exact way that we see it, no one else can ever do the same and in that specific fact lay the genius of the art piece. I began to look at each painting in the museum’s great classic hall from the Degas to Lautrec and knew that each of them claimed the same thing. It didn’t matter that Picasso was making weird marks on paper and cubing up faces and torsos into odd juxtapositions because he wasn’t thinking that while he was concocting, he was simply translating his eye sight into his handiwork. I realized, that we as artists, are all just trying desperately to do the same and that instead of being so freaked out that I don’t fit into any mold with my art work, I should instead focus on continuing to represent the visions in my head exactly as they are because in that lies the beauty rather than in the end product.


Channeling Monet (Kimberly Nichols)

I walked up to the glass door that separated me in the Norton Simon’s Sam Francis room and channeled Monet. Instead of looking outside into the grassy gardens and seeing what everyone else saw, I decided to chunk the landscape up into color and landscape, noticed the way the yellow bush boldly threw its reflection across a tiny lake. I realized that seeing is our biggest advantage as artists and that articulating our sight is the only responsibility we carry – the pure thing that occurs once we actually bear evidence is the gold that carries the most weight.

I was able to go home afterwards and strike up the brushes with glee, no longer looking at my own creation as an outsider wondering where in the hell my work fits into the larger aesthetic scheme of things and thrown back into the beautifully raw basics of just wanting to put marks on cardboard and educe the emergence of what it is I was trying to relate from my particular brain outward into the world. And that is all that really matters at the heart of things.

So in this vulnerable fashion The Fool piece begins – first work an awkward and gawky, semi-translucent human, willing to work hard to acquire her own wings. Ruddy cardboard, the palette of traditional tarot cards, the notion that a person is ready to roam into finding when their heart is on fire, and the metaphor of love is all I have as I begin to walk along my very own and very long way …