Manipulation of Process and Content Continuum
The simultaneous manipulation of both process and content in the same painting yields a continuum that includes Post-Impressionism, Symbolism, Expressionism, much of Early and Middle era Cubism, most Abstract Expressionism, and a variety of multiple combinations that fit the category.
Van Gogh's Elusive Inspiration
I was in a cafe in Berlin one night in 1993. The building had not been destroyed by war. Therefore, the original old window glass remained in place. I recall looking through that old glass to see what was going on out in the street, and I was immediately struck by what I saw. There, distorted in that old glass, was a vision that looked exactly like a mature Van Gogh painting. It was all there: the distorted lines, intensified brilliant colors and broken circles surrounding each source of light.
Of course, the glass revealed its secret only at night. It was not something you could see during the day. I am sure that Van Gogh noticed this same phenomenon somewhere in Arles. And he did the same thing I had done: he looked at the glass, not through it. With this revelation in his mind, and with the similarity of it to Impressionism, he began painting pictures at night. He did this so that he could paint exactly what he was looking at, reflected in the old glass of a window. The chemical composition of that old glass is the secret sauce that put Impressionism on steroids. It is what required Van Gogh to work at night and to use thick, heavy brush strokes to replicate the effect of light penetrating through old glass.
Van Gogh soon became known among the locals as the painter of the night. I believe that he quickly mastered this new technique and began painting pictures the same way during the day. Paintings began to pour forth in an explosion of creativity, and the result is now known world-wide as his signature style. The proof can be seen in any old glass window in the world under the right conditions and time of day.
It is known that Van Gogh painted Starry Night looking eastward from his second floor room at the asylum in St. Remy. No-one has ever asked whether the window was open or closed. I am suggesting here that the window was closed, and that Van Gogh painted what he saw reflected in the old glass of the window. It is the old glass that gave the sky its composition, texture and color.
It is also likely that Van Gogh painted the Night Cafe in a similar manner. He wrote to his brother, Theo, that he had worked on the painting for three nights in a row and slept during the day. Why would he work three nights if not to paint what could not be seen during the day?
The Cubist Epoch
The elusive quality of the cubist approach, especially the ovals and rectangles of the middle period, remained beyond my grasp for many years. The idea of multiple points of view seemed incomplete. One day, I decided to trace Picasso’s portrait of his agent, Henry Kahnweiler, to see what it might reveal. Half way through this exercise, I began to laugh. It was all so simple and right in front of my nose.
The methodology is not revealed by the linear fragmented lines of the composition. The secret lies in the spaces between the lines. It is here where the distinction between positive and negative space is severed, allowing color to flow freely back and forth between all areas of the painting.
In order to create this painting in the style of the middle Cubist period, one must first compose the subject and then decompose it by erasing half of the sketch in alternating sections. It is in the decomposing that the magic occurs. A new structure is created, and it can then be embellished or moved and repeated.