This year, an unusual movie composed entirely of original oil paintings by over 125 artists had its premiere. Called Loving Vincent, it focuses on the aftermath of the death of Vincent Van Gogh and is a monumental effort by artists who came together to prove that a truly memorable piece of art takes time and hard work.
It also stands in stark contrast to much of what passes for art these days, where examples of overreach are everywhere. To cite just a few examples: Yoko Ono premiered an installment at London’s Serpentine Gallery titled “To The Light,” which consisted, in part, of three mounds of dirt. Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ 1991 work “Untitled” consists of only stacks of printed paper. And when Tangerine, a film (directed by Sean Baker) about transgender prostitutes, premiered at the Sundance Film festival, most critics praised its miniscule budget—due, in large part, to the fact that it was filmed on an iPhone 5S. Baker said “it was surprisingly easy” to make.
Loving Vincent offers a different approach to making art. Though Van Gogh’s art was shocking in his day, he crafted his paintings with technical skill, precision, and emotion. He did not paint them to make a political statement or as an attention-seeking stunt to annoy the art world.
Directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman decided to use Van Gogh’s style, with its thick brush strokes and impressionistic allure, for much of the movie, as well as featuring oil-painted scenes in black and white during flashbacks. These detailed and powerful scenes pay homage to the refined skill of Renaissance artists and the Dutch masters and ground the film in the history of art in a way that even many contemporary museum exhibits don’t succeed in doing.
The film also teaches the audiences about the many varieties of oil painting as it displays the work of Vincent Van Gogh classics such as “Starry Night,” “Portrait of Dr. Gachet,” and “Wheatfield with crows” alongside dream-like landscape painting and evocative portraiture of the movie’s 65,000 hand-painted frames. A team of 115 artists from around the world worked to create the film; it took years to create just ninety-five minutes of movie magic.
At the beginning of the project, Kobiela thought she would do the whole project on her own. “Originally I planned to paint the whole film,” she says. “But the only shot I managed to paint myself was the black and white one when the boys are throwing stones at Vincent,” she told The Guardian. She soon realized she would have to work together with other artists to make something truly compelling; each painted frame mattered, even if it only ended up appearing on screen for a moment. “I didn’t even create a minute,” Natalie Gregorarz, an artist who worked on the film, told the Detroit Free Press. “I think I created, like, 12 seconds or something like that of the whole movie and I worked there for about six months straight.”
Today, contemporary art tends to fetishize the individual genius and to emphasize the brash or political statement. By contrast, Loving Vincent contemplates beauty, perspective, and technique while also showing that together, artists can make lasting works that rise above the common stock.
In a letter written only a week before his death, Van Gogh wrote, “We cannot speak other than by our paintings.” If he is right, Loving Vincent speaks to viewers about the value of human cooperation and the beauty that can emerge from a labor of love. Each frame of the film testifies to the painstaking work that art demands. The work of each artist proves that working together we can make something far greater than we could alone.
Image: Good Deed Entertainment