Classmate and fellow artist Hector Chan recently went to Amsterdam and visited the Van Gogh museum, followed by an exhibition of cat paintings. He proposed we made work toward the idea of Van Gogh having a cat. His premise being that Van Gogh may have been less lonely with a cat and therefore his work would have been different.

For me, the interest is in Van Gogh’s role in creating/propagating the romantic myth of the tortured and sensitive artist. It is a stereotype that very much persists today among artists and the wider public. I have been thinking about how Van Gogh’s life (and work) would have been different if he was born a hundred years later, and how this could reimagine the role of the artist for contemporary times.

To start this project, I have begun working on large cyanotypes of a wooden chair. Van Gogh’s paintings of his and Gauguin’s chairs are portraits of a sort, and I am trying to follow this with a more modern, photographic portrait. I intend to arrow the chair front and side, like a police line-up. One would assume police line-ups were straight forward and accurate, however they are no longer performed as they have been found to be incredibly inaccurate: victims often pointing to the wrong criminal or pointing to no one at all. This idea of the semblance of truth is appropriate to depictions of Van Gogh. Though he clearly had mental health problems, these are often focused upon and exaggerated in lieu of his other characteristics: everyone know Van Gogh cut of his ear for a woman, though few members of the general public know that he worked at a school in Ramsgate, or that he would take long walks to Brighton and London.



James Sirrell