Unreal Nature

January 26, 2017

The Observer’s Odd Way of Looking

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… Within the conflicting, intersecting systems of the lines, van Gogh has introduced connecting parallels and continuities.

This is from Vincent Van Gogh by Meyer Schapiro (2003). After a biographical synopsis, Schapiro does close readings of single pictures. Here he’s writing about The Chair and Pipe painted in 1889:

The Chair and Pipe, 1889

… The chair, a familiar object that we scarcely know after years of use, has been transposed to the canvas with great fervor; its form and weight and rigidity and texture have been realized in a most complete manner. Van Gogh’s conviction about the importance of this chair penetrates us and holds us, until we feel a mystery in its presence. This mystery grows when we see the chair in its surroundings, which are also tangible objects but incomplete; none is an object-for-a-spectator, none has been singled out for a privileged presentation.

[line break added] Underneath the simplicity of the objects, we encounter the difficult involvements of coexistence in the unsteady bewildering crisscross of the chair legs and rungs with the joints of the tiles — an involvement that is mostly an affair of chance juxtaposition and perspective, the observer’s odd way of looking, which determines an intricacy useless for our knowledge of the chair and ordinarily unnoticed. But not altogether so, for the oblique position of the chair frees it from the surroundings and suggests the freedom of the human being in this rigid geometrical world.

Within the conflicting, intersecting systems of the lines, van Gogh has introduced connecting parallels and continuities. Clearest is the yellowish right angle traced on the door and fitted precisely to the leg of the chair. At the foremost lower rung a zigzag line of the floor reaches from leg to leg. The crossing lines of the rush seat belong as much to the network of the floor as of the chair.

The color too has an aspect of intricacy in the scale and contact of tones. In the high-keyed scheme, the richly varied yellow, strengthened by the white wall, lies between the orange-red tiles and the cool green door, and is recalled in both through yellowish lines that repeat the directions of the chair. Correspondingly, the blue-green of the door reappears in blue outlines of the yellow rungs and legs, and the darkest brown tones of the tiles and in other contours of the chair.

My most recent previous post from Schapiro’s book is here.




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