Santa Barbara Van Gogh exhibition inspires public art and sense of community

“Through Vincent’s Eyes” is the first exhibition of the new Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA) and includes several works by famous Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh.

Several Van Gogh-themed events also take place throughout the community – and one of them has an unexpected connection to world affairs and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

SBMA Deputy Director and Chief Curator Eik Kahng explained what the exhibition is not.

“We’re not emphasizing the kind of sectarian obsession with life, the supposed suicide, the severed ear incident and all those very familiar myths that surround the idea of ​​Vincent as a self-genius. invented and somewhat naive,” she said. .

The goal, Kahng said, is the opposite.

“Which shows how sophisticated he was, how grounded he was in the art world of the late 19th century,” she said.

With twenty Van Gogh originals on loan from around the world and multiple paintings by notable artists who influenced him, Kahng said the galleries unfold to reveal Van Gogh’s journey as a painter.

“It’s not just about having Vincent in Santa Barbara, which of course is his own draw; it’s having Vincent and literally some of his most admired friends and colleagues represented in the same space,” she said.

She said much of what is known about the artist’s career, which spanned just ten short years, can be found in the detailed letters he wrote to those close to him.

Through these letters, she says, it is clear that her worldview was influenced not only by other painters, but also by musicians and writers. Some of his favorite novels are on display.

“He admired works of fiction that he knew so well he could recite them from memory, and he often transcribed long passages in his correspondence with family members and friends,” Kahng said.

Patsy Hicks, director of education at the SBMA, said the museum partners with various organizations for Van Gogh-related events and activities for all ages – from opera to poetry to classes. paint.

Through Vincent’s Eyes is the first exhibition at the recently reopened museum and includes several works by the famous Dutch artist.

“It’s an exciting reopening of the museum to be so connected to the whole community, and it’s a perfect parallel to Vincent’s way of seeing the world which is multidisciplinary,” she said.

A community activity coordinated by the Santa Barbara County Office of Arts and Culture is a series of sunflower sculptures on State Street. Although Van Gogh’s famous sunflower paintings are not in this exhibit, they are among his most recognizable works.

Kym Cochran, theme artist and co-founder of The Environment Makers, the local company that designed and built the six giant sunflower sculptures currently on the sidewalks near the museum, said she built the 10ft-tall rods and worked with community volunteers to make the round centers and petals.

She said six local schools received a flower for students to paint.

“We gave them paint kits and they all had the same exact colors, same exact photo references for inspiration. We included photos of Vincent Van Gogh so they could understand the impressionist style,” said said Cochran.

She said she was overwhelmed and delighted with the finished products.

“They came back and all six are so completely different. Walk up Carrillo Street in Victoria and you’ll see how very different they are,” Cochran said.

Student Nico Friedman from Goleta Valley Secondary School worked with other students during lunch breaks and the study hall to paint a flower.

Friedman said they made an effort to paint like the famous artist, but also added their own style.

“It came in two pieces, the petals and the actual center where you could find the sunflower seeds. For the middle we tried to nail his style more because that was going to be our part of Van Gogh I guess,” did he declare.

Thinking of the community-inspired project, Kym Cochran said that after two years of the pandemic, the sunflowers on State Street bring a smile to people strolling downtown.

Cochran said that over the past two weeks she knows flowers have also taken on added meaning for many people, as the sunflower has become a symbol of support for Ukraine amid the ongoing Russian invasion. .

“Sunflowers have so many meanings. One because it’s a community [art] project that the whole community supported, then for the deep meaning of Ukraine and sunflower,” she said.

“Through Vincent’s Eyes” is at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art until May 22, 2022. The sunflowers can be found on State Street between Victoria and Carrillo streets. For more information on tickets and events, see the website.

Christopher S. Washington