Exercise in Analytical Ekphrasis – Van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait: Saint-Remy, 1889″

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Vincent Van Gogh’s final self-portrait (“Self-Portrait: Saint-Remy, 1889” oil on canvas) displays the fervor and fragility of his life through contrasting colors and brushstrokes. This was the last painting he created before committing suicide, and thusly it is poignant in both its context and form. His face takes center stage, both compositionally and chromatically. In this way, the eye of the viewer is magnetized to his auburn glow of fierce resolution. From the center, the swirls grow and the color changes starkly from red into a circuitous blue. The hypnotizing background, with its aforementioned calming tones, envelope Van Gogh and become one with his body: his suit is composed of an identical pattern to that of the background. The all-consuming swirls are characteristic of Van Gogh’s style: they allude to his desire for the infinite in nature. Like the infinity symbol, they wrap around one another in common hues and almost caress the subject with an eerie ease of consumption.

He uses his brush in a similar manner, building the energy from the eyes, which he draws tightly with attentive strokes. The energy spreads though the sporadic, quick dashes on his face, into the dark ripples of his jacket, and finally into the rolling turbulence of the glacier blue background. The circular strokes that spiral from him translate the voluminous capacity of his internal crisis. His eyes look into the distance and not at the viewer: his mind is entirely somewhere else. His gaze is strong and determined, as if he is calculating every thought amidst the wallowing background of blue. Thus his piercing eyes are not focused on what is happening outside, but rather inside his head.

Despite his fixed look, the painting is not entirely restrained. Instead, the leading tones of soft blue and sea green render the painting oddly calming. However, paired with his tawny mop of hair, the combination of colors emits a conflicting feeling to the viewer that perfectly conveys the psychological tone of the portrait. It is as if Van Gogh is the eye of his own storm, staring into the divine light if you will, and away from his reality of melancholic blue. With great contrast from the sea of blue-green swirls, the course, rigid red hues of his hair look as if they brimming the surface of water, clinging to air, to reason. His strong gaze pierces through the blue abyss as if he is taking a final look at reality.

Waves of Worship

*This poem is a Pantoum, a traditionally Malaysian folk-poem composed of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza serve as the first and third lines of the next stanza The last stanza ends with the opening first an third of the first for a circular, encompassing feel.*

~~~~~~~~

 

As the tide rolled in I watched You slumber,

Beneath an aisle of waves.

Sleek and slender I worshipped You tender,

In a shrine of seafoam rays.

 

Beneath an aisle of waves

Your fallen limbs sprawled on a trail of Passion.

In a shrine of seafoam rays,

The sea adorned You to cloak Your ashen

 

Fallen limps, sprawled on a trail of Passion.

I laid You down to rest,

The sea adorned You with beads to cloak Your ashen

Corpse, your deeper senses blest.

 

I laid You down to rest

And beheld the spiring waves tower over Your

Corpse, your deeper senses blest,

Alas, for all that you are, fallen angel, a spirit pure.

 

Behold! How the spiring waves tower over You –

If only I were of their almighty kind,

Alas. For You are a fallen angel, a spirit pure,

As I exist as thoughts, how blind!

 

If only I were of their almighty kind,

As the tide, I would roll in to watch You slumber,

And exist not as thoughts so blind, but

Sleek and slender, I would worship You tender.

.

.

By Quincy Childs

When We Were One

*This is a Persona Poem, written from the point of view of an elderly widower who writes this to his deceased wife as a way to cope.*

 

I hear your voice always.

I wake up to say I love you,

I bathe in your spirit of eternal sunrays

And drift away in your gaze of crystal blue.

 

I keep your image in my mind

Sealed to the dry canyon of my heart

And in the cavern of my rind,

I bathe in the remembrance of your art.

 

I live in your memory, I tighten my hold

As you twirl and dip in translucent tides

And draw me deep into your soul, a threshold

Of Purgatorial gates where darkness subsides.

 

There was a time when we were One,

When you opened my heart in the darkest hours,

Only to leave it to fold like a collapsing lung

Amidst a breath of silence and fading flowers.

 

Mornings bring solace, the day’s first blush runs

through my veins, but the light falls at a constant slope,

And my memories sink beneath the night’s slipping suns,

Under phantom truths that rise above the wane of crescent hope.

 

With darkness upon me and curtains drawn,

Is when I feel most like drifting off to death –

Yet I, sensing the imminence of night upon,

Wait resigned, slave to the slow of ancient breath.

 

I listen to hear your voice always,

I keep your image in my mind,

So I wait another fortnight and dream of days

In eternal horizon, when I may leave this darkness behind.

 

For I hear you chant, as you used to some time ago :

Darling when the time comes for us to go,

Let’s mix our ashes and be together

So we can swirl our souls into the ether.

By Quincy Childs

Analytic Ekphrasis on “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” by Pieter Bruegel (16th C.)

“Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” illustrates the setting for the Greek myth after which it is named. The myth tells of the young boy Icarus who took flight from imprisonment in Crete with pair of wings his father fashioned for him. Imprudent to his father’s warning to avoid proximity with the sun, the boy soared into the horizon with a surge of exaltation and was burned by its rays. With a charred set of wings he was expunged to the sea to die. The painting illustrates the imagined setting of this tragedy: a tranquil Spring morning where life ruptures in the flourishing pageantry of new life. In the midst of this seasonal splendor, the crashing death of Icarus goes unnoticed. More poignantly it shows that the daily motion of pedestrian life is essentially unaffected, signalling the vanity of one’s existence in the greater cycle of life. Just beyond the budding cliffs of the landscape, the farmer tending to his plough, and the self-absorption of life at the edge of sea, the tragic legs of Icarus are suspended as he plunders beneath the sea’s surface. There he goes down, unnoticed, drowning into irrelevance as a new day begins.

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