The Colors of Van Gogh: Inspiration Versus Influence

Willows at Sunset, Vincent Van Gogh

“Willows at Sunset”, Vincent Van Gogh

If I could pick only two painters whose color work I connect with most, it would be Vincent Van Gogh and Pierre Bonnard. They both painted from nature, yet used their own imaginations to create scenes entirely personal and unique. Their colors amplified reality, yet not to a garish extent. They knew how to balance pure color with the mixing of tones and neutrals, resulting in bold color which was still harmonious.

In “Willows at Sunset”, the narrow strip of blue is the most intense of all the hues, followed by bits of greens and yellows. Just bits. All the other colors in the image are very toned. I would have loved to stand over Vincent’s shoulder as he mixed his palette! Wouldn’t you?

"Dining Room on the Garden," Pierre Bonnard

“Dining Room on the Garden,” Pierre Bonnard

In this charming painting, I love the bravery of the artist who knew how to paint images classically with complete skill, yet by then had chosen to render shapes and objects in a most unrealistic way. The result is a painting that is now a personal expression of the creator.

And since we are talking about color, Bonnard has found a color palette that seems to exude a kind of joy that comes with understanding that mixing color can be a playful thing. I love the “Mystery Woman” in the right, kind of lurking in shadow. It adds a sense of drama and intrigue, don’t you think?

Vincent’s painting is very strong and intense. Bonnard’s is a little lighter in mood, but with a hint of wonder. Color plays a very important role in both paintings. I tend to look at paintings like these as if I am gathering in the whole effect of color. (Later I can sample the individual colors and make a palette with Photoshop, for instance, if I wish to study more carefully.)

"Chez Vincent", 36 x 48", Acrylic on canvas, Karen Gillis Taylor, 2015

“Chez Vincent”, 36 x 48″, Acrylic on canvas, Karen Gillis Taylor, 2015. Click for larger view.

“Chez Vincent” is one of the paintings I will be showing at my May 2015 art exhibit at Studio J Gallery in Denver. I decided on that name because I just could not stop thinking of some of Van Gogh’s paintings that contain a similar color palette. After that, I imagine an artist’s studio upstairs in the lightest color building to the left. (Maybe another artist lives there? Wonder who?)

When I reflect on color inspiration, I think of Van Gogh and Bonnard. When I think of subject matter inspiration created from imagination, Chagall and Paul Klee are on my short list. Their work came just from their own heads. How did they do that? I think I know.

I become inspired so easily by what I see on a daily basis, be it from an art book, a museum show, or a walk in nature. What about influence? I think that might be a deeper process that comes about in our brains and visual memories.

If I become inspired by the paintings of certain artists more than once, even many times, then I realize their work is beginning to influence me. I feel a strong connection to their work that I like. From that, I can take away something special I have admired. I will not copy their art, but I will be happy that it might help to add some spice and flavor to a new painting my own imagination begins to envision.

This quote by Van Waldron suggests the value of influence to be gained from certain artists or teachers beyond a fleeting moment of inspiration. I think I have learned this over the years, a good lesson.

“All art is based on observation, and this, in its time, must be disciplined to be of any value. Vague recollections are of no value to the artist. Know what you are looking for and why, and then record it. Then look again, for what you missed.” -Van Waldron



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8 Responses to “The Colors of Van Gogh: Inspiration Versus Influence”

  1. bobgillis Says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, observation, and process, Karen. As always, there is a parallel world in music, but to hear it described in the words of an artist, helps me to see it with fresh eyes.


  2. Rolina Says:

    Excellent post, sometimes I think we are lucky to have so much in the past (and present) to refer to. Like Isaac Newton, we can see further because we are standing on the shoulders of giants.


  3. Leslie Ann Clark Says:

    I love seeing your paintings matched up against the old masters! Only you are a young master! Truly you have mastered color!!!


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