Friday, September 28, 2007
Van Gough, me, and the angel of the possible
When I was a kid I believed adamantly that I couldn't "really" draw. (See my earlier post on this, "Comfort," if you like.) Which is not to say that I didn't draw. I drew constantly, copying comics, illustrations, photos, anything. My mother would look over my shoulder and say, "That's wonderful! You're so talented." And my response was always, (in a dismissive, frustrated wail) "I'm NOT talented! It's just copying!" In art class, I always felt in awe of people who could pull an image out of thin air and put it on the page before them. That was real talent. Still, I kept up my inadequate copying and, eventually, began copying in "pleine aire" from the world around me.
So I was reading, in the New York Times this morning, about a new Van Gough exhibit at the Morgan Library. The article says, "He [Van Gough] writes, as if about a disability, that he can make art only from real models, things in the world. He says, '...I have such a fear of separating myself from what's possible."
I read that and thought, "I know that fear! That's my fear." I grapple with it still. I've written a children's book that I want to illustrate myself. I even have a publisher that will look at it. But children's illustration seems so firmly set in the realm of the imaginary, seems so much the province of those amazing people who pull pictures out of empty air, that I don't know where to start. I'm a person of very few fears. I've swum after highly poisonous sea snakes just to see where they hid. On my first day of first grade, my school bus was turned back by a guerilla armed with a machine gun, and I thought it was a great lark. I've had dysentery and most of the parasites known to man and felt that they were more than worth the great joy of going barefoot and eating street food during my childhood in Asia. But I am truely afraid to set pencil to paper - to try and make this little picture-book world come into being because I'm afraid I will have to leave behind my inspiration, my lifelong crutch, my angel of joy, the visual world before me.
Van Gough, speaking of Rembrandt's self portraits, wrote, "Rembrandt, behind this old man who bears a resemblance to himself, paints a supernatural angel with a da Vinci smile." Yet "Rembrandt invented nothing, and that angel and that strange Christ - he knew them, felt them there." I've had glimpses of that angel, or one of her lesser followers, when I draw. And having seen her can never stop looking for her. Van Gough wrote, "I adore the true, the possible." I guess I'll just have to find a way to bring that angel of the true, the possible, with me into the pages of my children's book. Wish me luck.