Vincent Van Gogh died at 37, painted for just about a decade, yet holds an outsize place not only in art history but in history, period. His starry skies and blazing sunflowers stun viewers still, and have influenced ways of seeing for well over a century.
Photographers Lynn Johnson and Patricia Lanza followed Van Gogh’s footsteps through the places he lived, studied, and paid tribute to what they see as his “most enduring muse — the sun.”
In The Van Gogh Affect, their work both documents the sources of the sense of color and space that was way ahead of his time, and delves into the mind of the artist who has had a profound effect on modern perception.
About that title: They are artists, not grammarians, and they work from the heart, not a grammar book. Johnson, who decided on the title, told us, “The word ‘affect’ has a more emotional significance than ‘effect,’ thus the choice of word in this title.”
“Traveling and working in France fostered one of the most prolific periods of Van Gogh’s life. In a very short time, he produced hundreds of oil paintings and drawings; indeed, some of his finest masterpieces were created between 1884 and 1890. Following in Van Gogh’s footsteps, the route of the sun, I sought to capture with a camera what Van Gogh dreamed on canvas,” says Lanza.
Van Gogh’s grounding in place is so strong — witness one of his most famous works, his bedroom at Arles — so central to his vision that for Lanza and Johnson, visiting those very spaces in France, Belgium and the Netherlands was integral to the work in this exhibition. Lanza’s process went even deeper than travel — she pored over material objects that were part of Van Gogh’s world from a tea towel (a sample of the cloth he painted on) to the staircase leading to the room where he died. These sensory ephemera offered “textural evidence” that made the artists’ connection with Van Gogh more tactile and immediate.
“We are all artists and, in some way, identify with this eccentric man whose paintings grace everything from the secret spaces of elite collectors to the walls of museums and your favorite coffee cup. His art is both spectacular and accessible: Van Gogh makes us believe we too can be artists,” says Johnson.
See her work, and Lanza’s, and dream your own, at Snap! Downtown from Friday through May.
THE VAN GOGH AFFECT
Photographs by Lynn Johnson and Patricia Lanza
opening 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12
on view through May