Loving Vincent: Man and Myth

Since his tragic suicide on 29 July 1890, myriad myths and legends have formed around Vincent Van Gogh. A somewhat morbid curiosity over the many demons that plagued him throughout his short yet eventful life has gripped art historians and art lovers alike. I too have succumbed to it, I believe the reason for this is that so much of his artwork is entwined with his mania, it simultaneously released him from his terminal anguish and helped to further it.

Like many people out there, I discovered the genius of Van Gogh very early in my life. My childhood home featured a very large and slightly faded art print of Van Gogh’s 1888 painting ‘Bedroom in Arles’. Purchased by my parents in the late 1980’s from a flea market, it was a dazzling spectacle to behold as a boy, the intoxicating primary colours attracted me, as such hues do all children. Even at that age, knowing nothing of the complexities of art, I was attavistically attracted to Van Gogh’s work, there was just something so otherworldly about it.

The innocent mind of a child can just see something pure and beautiful, of course as I grew, so did my knowledge of Van Gogh. I learned of a man who was beset by a crippling emotional pain, who led a life of heartbreak and bitter loneliness, a man who would eventually succumb to the black beast of depression.

The intensity of his brush strokes, his confluence of contrasting shades and the overall composition combine to give his paintings such a commanding presence. They are un-idealised yet at the same time are, they transcend reality just enough not to plunge into ugliness, as so many of the artistic movements have done since the early 20th century.

Blending Life and Art

Back in 2014, I happened upon an article in This is Colossal, telling of a crowdfunding campaign related to a new film about the artist’s life and his violent death. It was to be the first feature-length animated film to be made entirely from hand-painted canvases. It took nearly six years in creative development for the film to be released.

Created in Poland by the Oscar-winning studio Breakthru Films, ‘Loving Vincent’ is one film that I have been anticipating since first reading about it all those years back. The very concept of it is genius and with the raw emotion of Van Gogh’s artwork taking centre stage, the story is far more layered and takes on an entirely new visual dimension.

Two years ago, I spoke with Hugh Welchman, the man behind ‘Loving Vincent’. Finally retrieving snatches of the interview which I thought lost, I felt on the eve of the film’s release it would be appropriate to piece those snatches together. Welchman was an impossibly difficult man to get hold; however, what I did get from him that first time around was a glimpse into the vast creative process.

“The film comprises 62,450 frames and we’re working with 115 professional oil painters” he revealed. “I’ve had this fascination with Van Gogh for many years, there’s something unmistakable about his work and as an artist, he is just so inspiring. I and Dorota Kobiela (a Polish animator and filmmaker) felt we wanted a film that told the life of Van Gogh through his own work.”

The process of rendering the style and most importantly the movement so synonymous with Van Gogh’s oeuvre was undertaken in an intricately scientific manner. “Our studio has a specific number of workstations set up, where the lighting has been adjusted to give the artists, who we chose from around 500 applicants, the freedom to work easily. We needed the right artists who understood Van Gogh’s methods of composing a painting, especially when it came to his rendering of movement. If you look at a Van Gogh painting even the most sedentary of objects involves movement.”

All good art needs emotional content, and the art of Van Gogh is rich with emotion. “I think all of us involved with this project wanted to make that a major component of the film. Recently, my self and other members of the team took a trip to Van Gogh’s grave, and we could see the great emotional ties he still has with people. The graveside was filled with flowers from people who’ve come from all corners of the globe. His impact as an artist and the story behind the man is something that has never and I doubt ever will diminish.”