Van Gogh’s energy, so evident in all his work, is not as easy to emulate as one might think. Follow the Master Forger as he helps three artists try to capture Van Gogh’s energy in self portraits. My first attempt at painting was a go at emulating Van Gogh. While the emulation was not so successful, a love of the incredible energy of Van Gogh’s painting style sparked the passion to keep painting.
“There is no blue without yellow and orange.” Vincent Van Gogh (from Brainyquote)
Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters preferred heavy applications of opaque paints. Among the favored paints of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists were the cadmium family of yellows, reds and oranges. The cadmiums make rich, strong dominant colors in any painting. Fears of toxicity with the cadmiums have limited their use for many artists. However, some minor precautions will prevent the harmful effects of the cadmiums allowing artists to make use of these paints without concern.
The cadmiums are toxic only if you eat them or inhale them. Chances of toxicity through the skin are limited but you probably wouldn’t want to paint yourself with them either. One source says a potential point of toxicity is smoking with cadmium paint on your fingers. The paint absorbs into the cigarette facilitating inhaling the paint into the lungs where it becomes carcinogenic. Best not smoke and paint at the same time. (Well, best not smoke at all but who’s lecturing!) If mixing dry paint pigments, wear an appropriate mask. If you are concerned with the toxicity, paint with colors labeled “hue” as in cadmium yellow hue. These are entirely free of the cadmium toxins. Listed below are links to safety sites with more information.
Taking proper precautions with the cadmiums will enable their use in myriad ways. Gary Bolyer on his website lists two important points to success with the cadmiums. First use only Cadmium Yellow Light and Cadmium Red Light. Secondly, refrain from mixing the cadmiums with white. Mixing with white will result in chalky, diluted colors. (Follow the link to Boyler’s site for more success with the cadmiums). Gamblin says cadmium yellow was preferred by Claude Monet because of its higher chroma and its greater purity of color. There is more at Gamblin’s site, as well.
Rumor has it that Vincent Van Gogh’s problems were the result of the use of the cadmiums. According to the rumor, Vincent had a habit of holding his cadmium paint saturated brushes in his mouth. So if you don’t want to go off the deep end and cut your ear off, keep the cadmiums out of your mouth. Don’t smoke them either. Otherwise, you can enjoy the regular use of these beautifully rich opaque reds, yellows and oranges profusely in all your paintings.
What makes people want to spend millions to acquire particular paintings or stand in line for hours to see a museum exhibition of art? We have likely read many different accounts on the subject from art historians, curators and critics. But do they really answer the question? Descriptions of paint applications, color combinations, subject matter, composition all come in to play. When looking at a great work of art, all of those features are plainly visible. Walking through a street fair featuring original contemporary art will likely also invoke descriptions of paint applications, etc. One such street fair I attended recently had many very good paintings. Why aren’t some of those artists in museums? What sets certain ones off as different? I doubt it has anything to do with cutting off one’s ear but that does add to the drama! One guess of mine is energy and magnetism. There is a palatable energy that surrounds the works. That statement may elicit metaphysical connotations but that is too simplistic! The energy and magnetism certain paintings arouse defies the average explanation. People are magnetically drawn to some art. Van Gogh’s paintings invoke that magnetic energy. His sunflower paintings are well known world wide. Much has been written and said about his life and his work. Do those accounts actually explain why many of us will wait in line to catch a brief glimpse of the sunflowers paintings? Does that explain why one sunflower painting went for multi-millions at auction in recent years?