Sunday, October 11, 2009
The Starry Night has been my favorite painting since college. I've always been a fan of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, and of Van Gogh in particular. Several years ago, when I finally got around to doing the backpacking through Europe thing, I visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, along with many many others, and got to see a fair sampling of his work in person. Then, on my way home, I stopped through New York to visit some friends and attended the opening of MOMA Queens, where I got to see The Starry Night.
I'd always loved Van Gogh's work, for many reasons, many of which are intuitive, even visceral, and thus very difficult to put into words, but the underlying fuzziness and feeling of motion and movement inherent in the techniques of the time and the particular school of which Van Gogh became something of an exemplar have always appealed to me greatly. The bright daylight colors of Vincent's Bedroom at Arles and the various Sunflower paintings feel like a sunny afternoon encapsulated on canvas, a moment in time made manifest for the ages in such a way as to transport the viewer not there so much as to a sort of higher, vaguely Platonic realm of there-ness. It's the same for his more nocturnal works, like The Cafe at Night, and especially The Starry Night. I have a poster of it in my room to this day, a bit worn around the edges, since I've had it since halfway through college, and it's one of the first things I see when I wake up there. Being a naturally nocturnal sort, I've always had a certain inherent sympathy with the night paintings, and The Starry Night, with its hazy stars and the sense of movement in the air, like the way the air moves when the pressure drops and a storm's coming in, never fails to transport me. And when I saw the thing itself, the actual painting rather than just a mechanical reproduction, it absolutely took my breath away. The thing about Van Gogh that fails to translate in prints and posters is the sheer texture of the work. The man really slapped on the paint. It's almost as if he painted with a putty knife instead of a brush. It was all I could do not to reach out and touch it, though I didn't, of course. But powerful as the poster in my room has always been to me, it pales in comparison to the real thing, in the way that a picture of the woman (or man) you love pales in comparison to her actual presence there with you in the room, her skin available to your touch, her scent on the air, all the tiny secrets of her body there for you to learn and to know.
Anyway, The Starry Night was today's Astronomy Picture of the Day, and so it was one of the first things I saw when I woke up this morning and turned on the computer, and it made me very happy, and made me think of that poster I've had so long, and the time I saw the original there on the wall in Queens, and I thought that I would share it with whoever might happen by the blog today. Enjoy. I know I do.