Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Elephant No. 9: Vincent Van Gogh Elephant

There's something kind of fun about making elephants in the style of artists who probably never produced elephants. Today's elephant was inspired by this week's news story about the first full-sized Van Gogh painting to be discovered in 85 years. Sunset at Montmajour languished in the attic of a Norwegian industrialist for six decades, because he'd been told it was a fake. To read the full story, click here.

Van Gogh was the first "real" artist I liked. I begged my mother to buy me a book of Van Gogh prints—at the supermarket of all places—when I was about 11. And to her credit, she bought it for me that very day. Along with the 23 other books in the series over the months that followed. I love my mom.

Familiarity with Van Gogh's work, however, did not necessarily mean that I could draw or paint anything that looked like something he might have dreamed up. And an elephant? Even more beyond the realm of possibility. Still, I'm always game for something like this, and if it was a massive failure, so what? Nothing ventured, nothing gained, after all.

I started by staring at numerous Van Gogh paintings in my books and online, trying to deconstruct the main elements of his style. I decided to go with bold outlines, vivid colours and an, er, muscular painting style consisting of a lot of short, sharp strokes. To read more about Van Gogh and his style, click here.

Irises, 1889
Vincent Van Gogh (1853–1890)
Collection of the Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Needless to say, I wimped out and sketched something in pencil first. The idea of boldly splashing paint on a canvas and hoping it looked like a Van Gogh gave me hives. Of course, I sketched it so lightly that it doesn't photograph very well. I used a canvas board measuring 9 x 12 (22.9 x 30.5 cm) for my surface.

I had decided to use acrylic paint, rather than oil, because I didn't want to wait three months or more for the paint to dry. Patience is not one of my virtues. I began by painting some of the outlines with thick paint. I had also decided I could use any colours I wanted, because Van Gogh was no respecter of a realistic colour palette.

Now that the initial outlines were more or less set, things got more interesting. I slathered on paint with what for me was a certain sense of abandon. I also tried to stick to bright, acid colours, because Van Gogh liked them, and so do I. However, it started to look a bit too chaotic, so I began to overlay grey onto the elephant.

As a last touch, I decided to give the elephant a "Van Gogh stare", just because.

This was quite a fun—and surprisingly freeing—painting exercise. The result is probably nothing like what Van Gogh would have done if faced with an elephant, but I like it a lot anyway.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Although Van Gogh was born two centuries too late to meet Hansken the elephant, she was a favourite of artists when she arrived in Amsterdam in the mid-seventeenth century. The story below is from my original Elephant a Day blog.

One of Europe's most renowned elephants was Hanksen, whose name is a Dutch derivation of the Malayalam word aana, meaning "elephant". Born in Ceylon (today's Sri Lanka), Hanksen was brought to Holland in 1637, when she was seven years old.

When Hanksen arrived in Amsterdam, the artist Rembrandt—who was quite taken with the exotic creature—made several sketches of her. For the next eighteen years, Hanksen toured Europe, performing to the delight of both the nobility and the paying public in Holland, Germany, Switzerland and Italy.

Ein Elefant (An Elephant), 1637
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669)
Charcoal on paper
17.9 x 25.6 cm (7 x 10 in.)
The British Museum, London

Taking Roman author Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23–79) as their authority, Europeans of the seventeenth century believed that elephants were highly intellectual, able to understand human speech, follow commands, and write words in the Greek alphabet. It was even thought that elephants had a sense of religion, as well as a conscience.

Although Hansken fell somewhat short of this lofty ideal, she did have many clever tricks in her repertoire. She could fire a pistol, wave a flag, beat a drum, steal money from people's pockets, put a hat on her head, and pick up coins from the ground.

Hansken died in November 1655, greatly mourned by many—including artist Stefano della Bella, who memorialized her in death.

Elefante morto in Firenze, adi 9 di novembre 1655
Stefano della Bella (1610–1664)

To Support Elephant Welfare
Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary (Thailand)
Wildlife SOS (India) 
The Elephant Sanctuary (Tennessee)

No comments:

Post a Comment