Vince Laws: Making van Goph Smile

Vince Laws writes: Work-in-progress photos for Making Van Gogh Smile. I had previously painted Selfie with Van Gogh when I started reading Van Gogh’s letters. I got to a point where I wanted to give him a hug, and painted Hugging Van Gogh.

After reading that Van Gogh had lost most of his teeth and tried not to smile, I wanted to paint him with a smile on his face. I started with a simple sketch to place his head and mine, and offered him some sunflowers.

I go over the first sketch with more detail. At this point I’m wondering about having crows and a landscape in the background.

Next I blocked in the background, played with radiating patterns using a palette knife, changed to me holding a palette, and a paint brush, and literally painting Van Gogh’s smile. There are no photos of him smiling, so I gave him my teeth.

I didn’t like the position of the palette. It cuts Van Gogh’s head off at the shoulders. I tried lowering the palette and making it much thinner.

It was looking messy. I needed to put in one background colour and look again. Van Gogh was interested in colour theory, so I’ve been investigating it myself.

There’s a competition in Japan for a painting on the theme of Smile. I’ve had this in the back of my mind. I got out my book about Japanese Colour Prints. Van Gogh really like Japanese prints, so I put in Mount Fuji, looking a bit like a fruit lolly. I found a waterfall and added that as Van Gogh’s shirt front.

I didn’t like that palette, it had to go, and one hand with it. Too much.

I found a print by Katsukawa Shunko, Head of a male actor taking a female part, from 1787 and I just knew I wanted to wear that outfit! Surely that would make Van Gogh smile?

First I added the hair and comb and ribbons…

 …and then the white make up…

…more white make up, and I’m starting to think Mount Fuji has to go, it’s too much, distracts from the two heads…

… until everything fell into place, Van Gogh’s painting smock transformed into a Las Vegas catsuit, with a waterfall and unicorn decoration, based on Katsushika Hokusai’s The Waterfall of Yoshino, 1830. I transformed myself into The Courtesan Oh No Cocoa with fresh magnolia blossom clenched between my teeth, a symbol of hope.

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Together! 2021 Disability History Month Festival. 11 November-9 December 2021. A Month of inclusive Dance, Drama, Exhibitions, Family Activities, Films, Poetry and conversations, all free and from the comfort of your own home. Including the international Together! 2021 Disability Film Festival. Supported by the National Lottery Community Fund and Arts Council England.