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The Black Place II 1944 Georgia O’Keefe

Toni Ortner

When black is center

nothing can remain

wind flays air

clouds sting and burn

black tears white to shreds

no space

dead place

heart twists and turns

no green

no sun

no dream.

Inside that funnel nothing but screams.

If you have been there you know what I mean.

The Langlois Bridge at Arles, 1888

Charles Monette

Van Gogh painted the Langlois Bridge at Arles with oils 4 times, made two drawings, a watercolor, and a sketch.  Long a favorite of mine, I recently researched how this painting came to be.

While working and studying in The Hague, Vincent had built a perspective frame.  This enabled him to create a more precise proportion of items near in relation to those faraway.  The symmetry and balance depicted in this painting are harmonious,  grounded, the colors light, the lines simple and elegant. 

The Langlois Bridge at Arles, 1888 is a beautiful reflection of Japonisme, the influence of Japanese art on western art.  In 1867, there was a World’s Fair in Paris and Japanese art was very popular.   Ukiyo-e, Japanese wood block prints, caught the eyes and became a source of inspiration for the impressionists.  Monet, Degas, Gaugin, Toulouse Lautrec and Van Gogh marveled at the works of master landscape printmaker, Ando Hiroshige.

Vincent bought Japanese prints to decorate the walls of his studio, becoming an avid collector of more than 400 prints.  In his study and assimilation of Japanese art, he was struck by Ando’s seeing from a different vantage point and his distinctive compositional strategy.  The flat decorative aspect of Japanese art differed greatly from Vincent’s heavy impasto strokes, yet he recognized beauty in ukiyo-e, copied it, blended it into his own.

He told Theo, “I want to use colors that compliment each other, that cause each other to shine brilliantly.”  Complimenting the Japanese, he said, “ I envy the Japanese, the extreme clarity of everything in their work.  It is never dull and it never seems to be done in too much of a hurry.  Their work is as simple as breathing”

In Van Gogh’s bridge, we can see his understanding of the functional aesthetic, the workings of the pulleys and lines to open and close the drawbridge.  Though built of massive timbers and support ropes, it appears light and delicate, at rest in his depiction.  However, the potential to open, to allow, is manifest.  The balance of the bridge brings balance to his painting.

In my first look at this painting long ago, my eye was immediately drawn to the black figure of the woman walking across the bridge with the umbrella.  Protected from the fierce glare of sunlight in southern France, she lends perspective as she follows a horse and cart in front of her.  There is no hurry in this tranquil scene, yet motion is palpable… of the woman, of the driver, the diminutive horse and of the bridge itself.  “Simple as breathing!”

Van Gogh wrote to his friend and fellow painter, Emile Bernard, “If the Japanese are not making any progress in their own country, still it cannot be doubted that their art is being continued in France.”  Van Gogh was continuing it, and making it his own.  He had already made copies of Hiroshige’s prints, The Bridge in the Rain and the Flowering Plum Tree.

In Vincent’s bridge, the pale muted hues of blue sky and canal contrast with the faded orange of the abutments and shoreline in a way that harkens back to Hiroshige.  He also outlines facets of his painting in black, another homage to the style of ukiyo-e.

The drawbridge on the canal reminded him of home, of the Netherlands, most likely a comforting association.  I can feel Van Gogh’s calm, his patience in this painting, his unhurried breathing.  I can imagine the warm sun and the flowing water slowing his brushstrokes to a meditation in this contemplative rendering. 

Studying this painting beside me as I write has been calming, a peaceful estimation on a carefree, thoughtful, grey-cloud sodden day.

In Arles, the reflections of bridge and sky and cloud grace the slow flow of the water.  Van Gogh gobs his paint heavy-white on the large cloud left of the cypresses, but otherwise his strokes are flatter and smoother and relaxed a la Japonisme.

Years ago, before I’d ever heard of Japonisme or ukiyo-e.  The Langlois Bridge at Arles, 1888 had captivated me, made me intuit something Japanese… just a feeling, a sensibility.  Perhaps it was the construct of the bridge that spanned the canal like a weeping Japanese pagoda tree.  Gentle as it was strong… and it was very strong!

This is the lone painting of the drawbridge viewed from the right of the canal.  The other three are views from the left with washerwomen doing their wash.  I like the others, but this right side looking speaks to me… It’s sharper, clearer… maybe he wasn’t distracted by the chores of the washers.  He had found and realized the Japonisme, “the extreme clarity of their work.”

The painting, a canvas approximately 20 by 25 inches, now hangs in Cologne, Germany at the Wallraff-Richartz Museum.  The bridge is long gone, bombed by the Germans in World War II.  Reconstructed in concrete, it is now known as the Pont Van Gogh.

The Langlois Bridge at Arles, 1888 is a favorite of mine.  I can see why Vincent wanted to spend time with it, paint-watercolour-sketch- draw it more than once.  Maybe harboring thoughts of Hiroshige, perhaps a ukiyo-e print beside, he was inspired, then conspired as the paint began to flow,


Robert Oeser

This graffiti attributed to Banksy has been haunting me of late.

The associated reference from the Christian gospel might well be:

. . . behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him."  Matthew 2:13-15

But it  was also famously asked,  

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know 

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offense." [Mending Wall, Robert Frost]

And still more recently, in January 2017, Pope Francis told the Spanish daily, El Pais that the Germans in the 1930's looked for "a savior who gives us back our identity and let us defend ourselves with walls, barbed-wire, whatever, from other people who may rob us of our identity. And that is a very serious thing. That is why I always try to say: talk among yourselves, talk to one another." 

And so should we ask ourselves again, what is it that we seek to wall out?  

Homage to Milton Avery

Elizabeth Hill

“To be able to be oneself and not have to disown one’s values to please another-

that is what intimate love is all about.” ~ Milton Avery

I’ll never forget when, in my early days as a sculptor, I stood in one of galleries at The Whitney Museum, completely immersed in paintings by Milton Avery. For me, it was love at first sight.

Avery’s masterful handling of color made me feel as if I was looking at sculpture rather than painting. Though reproductions of his paintings can look flat at a glance, seeing them in person revealed both visual depth and volume in three-dimensional space. It appeared to me he was using color like patina on sculpture, which had always been an integral part of my own process in sculpture making. 

Looking closely at each painting, often with squinted eyes, I could feel the brush in the artist’s hand sometimes stippling, other times swirling, and also smudging layer upon layer of luscious colors to create visual depth, excitement, and volume, ultimately giving each figure, landscape, or interior a pulse.

Rather than creating depth of field with traditional perspectival illusion, Avery tipped images up to view and used a variety of color application techniques depending whether the image was a hard or soft surface, inanimate or biomorphic. I found this added magic and playfulness, as well as movement to the images.

I especially respond to his figures that are not simply generic, but also describe individual personality and attitude. No doubt he accomplished this through discernment in editing into essential forms, which are representational without needing to be naturalistic. Simply stated, Milton Avery’s remarkable paintings are form as color and color as form.


Phil Innes

I don’t know exactly what it is about this one. Is it the crude marks, daubs, or the outrageous, if entirely harmonious colors? Les toits de Collioure, 1905, oil on canvas now resides in The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia.

A Van Gogh

Phil Innes

I began looking for Monet landscapes, especially those with women in the foreground, and this image is remarkably similar, but is a Van Gogh, evidently from his earlier years in Belgium. There are some foreshadowed aspects which remind me of Starry Night a dozen years later, but here the warmth is all in the town itself, and a pity we could not contain Vincent in our society in some similar sense of warmth and inclusion.