For my daughter Lorin’s birthday I copied Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” as this is her favorite painting. I shared in my first “Painting Impressionism, Introduction” blog that my Art journey began with helping Lorin prepare for UIL Art Appreciation in 1995. From this experience, Lorin also began to love art, Van Gogh became her favorite artist and her favorite painting, the iconic “Starry Night”. She was able to see this painting for the first time at the MoMA during a trip to New York when she was a senior in high school. Lorin had applied to NYU to study drama and her Dad and I took her to tour the campus.
So why is this painting so iconic to the art novice as well as the expert? When one thinks of da Vinci, Mona Lisa automatically comes to mind; Van Gogh? “Starry Night.”
In “Starry Night”, Vincent Van Gogh uses a phenomenon of nature and expresses his impassioned response to it on canvas. “Starry Night” impresses us first of all by its large sense of movement and energy which covers the entire canvas. The main focus is the magnificent sky filled with haloed stars and an incredible moon, very similar in color and magnanimous presence to our recent Super Blue Blood Moon. In fact, the phenomenon of this Blood Moon was captured through photos from around the world and shared on Social Media. I believe that this same feeling from gigantic forces which pull our tiny part of the universe together is similar to what Vincent Van Gogh tried to communicate in this painting. Of course, the magic of a starlit night cannot fully be conveyed by a literal painting or by a literal photograph.
So how was Van Gogh able to express this magic? Several things came to my mind as I copied his painting.
First, Van Gogh showed movements of light with all the energy of nebulae. Notice the halo-like forms around the stars and the moon. I tried to reproduce this to no avail. Each individual star had its own brilliance. The moon, while can be the primary focus in most night-time paintings, does not dominate the sky but takes a lesser place.
Next, the cypress tree in the foreground is a central figure as it is closest to the viewer. In many reproductions of this painting, the cypress looks black. However, as Van Gogh never used black paint, I chose a combination of Viridian Green and Alizarin Crimson. It was challenging to allow light to show through the strokes to also show movement in the cypress so it was not just one big blob of paint!
Of course, gazing into a starry night is a very romantic subject. It would be a rare subject of an artist who was not a passionately sensitive. For all that we know about Van Gogh, it was the perfect subject for him as he felt so deeply and intensely about the wonder and the awesomeness of nature.
The third way Van Gogh expresses his magic is through the technique of painting which gives it a dynamic quality. Each brush stroke is visible and he probably used very thick brushes and a palette knife to convey this. In addition, the composition and form are opposing. Notice how the horizontal, luminous sky and ground contrasts with the looming, dark vertical cypress tree. Within this brilliant sky exists two large interlocking spiral forms which provide great movement across the entire picture. The spiral changes direction which was challenging to convey in my painting. Adding to the energy of the painting are the yellow/orange, circular halos surrounding the stars and moon. This adds more contrast to the sleepy, dark village below painted in cool greens and blues.
Finally, one of my favorite images in this painting is the church and its steeple which I chose to make a central theme of the city below, as Christ is central to Lorin’s life. I also brightened the surrounding houses in my copy and added more purple hues than Van Gogh. This was my first attempt at painting with acrylics and I also combined this with watercolors, of which I am more familiar. This was also my first full painting flying solo, without the aid of my art instructor, Marie.
The picture below of Lorin and myself, 2012, was taken in the Netherlands, Van Gogh’s birthplace!
Happy Birthday little LorLor! I love you, Mom
Copyright 2018 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)