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Friday, August 6, 2010

Today At A Framing Shop ...

My friend Stacey took a photo in my new neighborhood and presented it as a housewarming gift. She had it matted and framed, but ... without sounding like a douche ... it's really not my taste. And, although I love my new place, the neighborhood isn't going to be awarded anything by the mayor anytime soon. But a gift from a friend is a gift from a friend, so I decided to see if a different frame might be an easy fix.

I know framing can be expensive, but I decided to look at a local frame shop with a clear price "ceiling" in mind. I didn't get much further than the front of the store. See, there was this box of large prints marked "Great Art, Bargain Prices." And the only visible clerk seemed to be busy with another customer, so I thought I'd just work through the box to see what was considered "great" and a "bargain" in this place.

I knew it was mine the minute I pulled it out of the box and looked at it full on in all its cellophane-wrapped glory. Wheatfield with Crows by Vincent van Gogh ... painted the year of his death. It had been a favorite of mine since a barely-passed college art history course. The blues and golds of the painting seemed to vibrate ... both on the slide in that long-ago class and on the print in my hand. The work was also part of a series that was supposed to be views from van Gogh's cell in an asylum ... the guy was supposedly a serious nutjob!

I got the attention of another clerk who I hadn't first noticed ... an older woman who was really well-dressed, like out-on-the-town groomed. I was white knuckling the print, so I think she knew I really liked the piece ... or was hyped up on Red Bull. And so she told me a few things about the artist that I did not know.

The story of Vincent Willem van Gogh is not that of a typical world art icon. Born to Dutch parents in 1853, van Gogh was described as a serious, quiet, and moody child. Through a combination of Catholic education, home schooling, and boarding school (he was sent away from home at age 11), van Gogh eventually became employed by an art dealing firm and found success in both London and Paris. He was around 20.

van Gogh had always been accomplished at sketching ... a family "trait" accredited to a famous great uncle who was a renown 18th century sculptor ... so his love of art was genuine. He did, however, become jaded by the art world. His family was concerned with his brooding nature and odd bouts of depression, but supported his endeavors as best they could. At age 24, he left the art scene ... many say he was fired ... and flitted from a variety of menial labor positions and attempts at teaching. At around 27, he turned to his second love and another family focus ... ministry. van Gogh's father was a pastor, and van Gogh found a fulfilling job as a minister's assistant. Eventually he trained and tested to become a full pastor, but failed the attempt.

Not completely deterred, van Gogh became a missionary in a mining region in Belgium. To help pass the time and collect his thoughts, he began sketching people he saw in the community. It was at this time that he produced The Potato Eaters, his first notable work, at around the age of 32. He was also overheard during "fits of raving and screaming" and asked to resign from his mission work.

Disheartened, van Gogh returned to his family but within a year had moved on to Paris where he discovered the French Impressionist movement. He soon adopted many of their signature concepts such as the beauty of ordinary subject matter, brighter colors, very pronounced brush strokes, and the attempt to capture movement and light. These techniques became a cornerstone of the van Gogh we know today.

Over the course of the next few years, van Gogh moved about France (and much of Europe) and fretted with his art. He developed strong tendencies for drinking and smoking. And his battle with obvious mental illness continued at a frantic pace. At the age of 37, Vincent Willem van Gogh died from a self-inflicted gunshot would. He was largely unknown as an artist, with nearly 2,000 artworks to his name. Many were completed during the last two or three years of his life ... these would become some of his best known pieces and would secure him a position as one of history's greatest painters.

My print would be ready ... matted and framed ... in about three weeks. It was gonna run me about $260. The photo from Stacey went back home unaltered.

POINT OF RANT: Great art has no "ceiling" ... and I'm a pushover destined to live in debt.

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