Van Gogh #2 Starry night

My Van Gogh Sunflower experience at the international exhibition at the National Gallery Australia bought to mind another Van Gogh moment many years ago when I saw a version of Van Gogh’s Starry Night for the first time at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV).

The curators for this exhibition had also hung the painting so that the viewer first saw it from a distance. While the sunflowers dazzled me at a distance, the Starry night painting, completed in the same year (1888) had a mesmeric quality. I stood transfixed as the stars seemed to twinkle from afar. Starry Night, like the Sunflowers, is a medium sized painting (72.5×92 cm) and the optimum viewing point for many paintings of that size is much closer than where I stood on those two occasions. 

It never ceases to amaze me how people stand right on the ‘do not cross this line’ mark in front of art works at galleries. The descriptions besides the works encourage this behaviour, as do the crowds at blockbuster exhibitions, but most artworks, particularly larger pieces, look better from a distance.  I like to view artworks by moving around them; up close to see how the artist applied the paint and the techniques used; at various distances to find the optimum viewing point and to minimise  glare, and, if there are not too many people around, also to look from a number of different angles.

Finding the optimal viewing point for a work is an intuitive, individual process to a degree, but is also dictated by the work itself.   Fine small pencil drawings or old and rare prints that are displayed in low light for preservation purposes necessitate close up viewing. (The reading of the descriptions is in sync with the viewing distance in these situations.)

That the Starry Night painting stood out so strongly from a distance, spoke of Van Gogh’s virtuosity. He used his complimentary colour scheme powerfully so that the Dark Prussian Blue, Ultramarine and Cobalt Blue of the sky and river made the yellow stars pop out of the background, giving this relatively dark, low key painting a glowing  quality even from a distance. Technically the application of blue and yellow paint needs careful consideration so as not to end up with green where the two colours mix. 

As I marvelled at Van Gogh’s skill, the crowd broke my reverie. This blockbuster exhibition was in the days when only epidemiologists and pandemic specialists concerned themselves with the possibility of a virus that would spread so fast and widely with terrible consequences for so many people, and affect all aspects of our lives – even the way we view art in galleries.

Back then, blockbuster gallery goers moved slowly in a continuous mass, edging along the ‘do not cross this line’ mark, jostling for a better viewing position. I had plenty of time to see the Van Gogh at more than one angle while I moved slowly with the crowd. When I saw a small viewing gap, I’d dart out quickly to view the painting from different distances before reclaiming my position in the line.

The Starry Night on the Rhone, held by the Musee D’Orsay, does not appear on the coasters I bought at a tourist kiosk along the banks of the Seine in Paris but two other more ubiquitous night sky paintings do, one painted before the Rhone painting, the other after. Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum Arles which predates the Rhone painting is a night scene awash with bright yellow and orange light, cafe patrons and people on the street. The yellow facade of the cafe building dominates, with just a small corner of sky anticipating  the nocturnal sky paintings. 

Less than a year after the serene view of the Rhine, Van Gogh painted another Starry Night inspired by the view from his window at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy. This painting, held in the MoMa collection New York, was done quickly over several sessions and has an altogether different feel, perhaps indicative of the artist’s mental state.  More turbulent, full of movement, and unsettling energy the painting, for me has a sense of foreboding. 

I have not been lucky enough to see the originals of my two coaster paintings but even if I have the chance, the Rhone painting will always be a special and favourite work. I discovered in this work a painting that looked equally good no matter where I stood. Vastly different when viewed up close, but still utterly compelling – from every viewing point. That’s a very rare achievement.

Creating a garden path with a barbed wire grass edge

The clump of Barbed Wire Grass along the edge my garden path grew from wind blown seed. It gave me so much joy to see this plant which miraculously found its way to the edge of the path.

Then I noticed Mother Nature at work again. One-by-one three little grass seedlings appeared in a line on a bare patch of sand just off the main path. I could easily have mistaken them for weeds, but as they grew I realised they were native grasses of some sort. During a dry spell, each time I watered the banana plants nearby they had a little sprinkle of water too. Before long they were swaying in the breeze.

Then seed heads appeared. More Barbed Wire Grass, growing in a line creating an impromptu path to the banana patch and the wilder part of the garden where I let the natural vegetation reign. I call this ‘Zeroscaping” – Mother Nature plants a seed, you just need to notice, wait, then marvel at the design.


It prompts an artistic response too. I placed some mosaic tiles in a line to to create a more defined path. They are temporary with some round stepping stones underway, started at the Easter Sunday Mosaic Workshop.

Plant Notes: Cymbopogon refractus is a clump-forming Australian native perennial that is 1m in height when in flower from December to March.  Its seed heads,  look like barbedwire, hence the common name.  In a garden setting, it makes an unusual edging for a path, could be grown in swathes or used as the part of a layered planting. This grass needs no fertilising, can be cut back after it flowers and is easy to grow and maintain.

Van Gogh #1- Sunflowers

Most people are familiar with this sunflower painting, so ubiquitous are Van Gogh’s works. I imagined the father telling his daughter, “See, this is the original”, studying the painting to find the signature.

No matter how good the reproductions of this painting, none will prepare you for the extraordinary luminosity of the actual work.

I had one of those rare viewing moments that stay with you forever. Looking from a distance, I had an uninhibited view of the sunflowers. The painting glowed, commanding attention, although hung in another room on the wall where it could be viewed before entering.

The curator of this exhibition understood that, whilst comparatively small, this painting holds drama when viewed at a distance. Luckily we had booked for the first viewing session and got to the gallery early enough to be almost first in the queue, enabling me to have an unobstructed long view. It was an unanticipated magical moment.

Botticelli to Van Gogh Exhibition, National Gallery of Australia, 5th March – 14th June 2021

A dog designing garden paths

Instead of growling at your dog for trampling your flower beds why no let your pooch create a pooch path?

That’s what my amazingly creative sister did. She’s using her garden as a 3-D canvas while taking a break from other creative pursuits.

Meanwhile, Kaiser, her German Shepard provided a helping paw, showcasing his talent for path creation.

Rob noticed that each day Kaiser had his little walking ritual. Being a Shepherd, bred for guarding, his walks naturally included fence lines and the perimeter of the house. Rob decided to make some real tracks dictated by the places Kaiser went. Yes she did have to move the odd flower bed but that didn’t deter her. Kaiser loves his paths. They’ve added and extra dimension to the garden, suitably transforming underused awkward places into magical walkways. Who would have thought an ageing much loved four-legged member of the family could spark such creative flair?

Branching out in a new direction

judetullochartist is having a makeover. My goal is to create a visually exciting, thought provoking “destination” for people who are lovers or creators of art, and who like to experience the world through an “artist’s eye”.

In the next twelve months, I’ll be rethinking and re-designing my whole site, looking for ways to make it more appealing with a greater focus on art. That doesn’t mean the end of blogs about travel; it means that the travel part of my blog will be through the lens of an artist, which has always been my intention anyway.

As I observed in my last blog, the danger of being an artist who doesn’t really fit anywhere, is falling into solipsism – becoming self absorbed – creating art in a vacuum that doesn’t reach out to anyone. And I am betwixt and between, not a professional artist as I don’t earn a living from my art, but not a hobbyist either.

Nor I am part of any art scene, although I do have artist friends, and hover on the edge of groups from time to time. ‘Outsider artist’ works for me as a conceptualisation. It certainly beats ‘wanna be artist’ which sounds quite derogatory. Perhaps I’ll find my place as an artist and art lover in the virtual world. I invite you to join me, it could be a fun place to be.