Of Blossoms & Boats: Van Gogh at the Hermitage.

Refreshed from our wine-and-cheese induced sleep, Abby and i awoke in Amsterdam ready to brave the cold and wanting to explore. After a delicious breakfast at the hotel (have i mentioned the cappuccino machine?) we took a gander about the southern canal/De Pijp neighborhood, drinking in the quaint little bridges and houses stacked against each other.

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Some ten minutes away was our destination: The Hermitage Museum. Since the Van Gogh Museum is presently undergoing renovations, the bulk of their collection is temporarily housed here. I’d been waiting to see this exhibit really since my 12th-grade AP Art History class, when i’d first really studied Vincent.

It was sublime. Is there really any other word for visiting with Van Gogh’s work?

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Unfortunately, photography was strictly forbidden, so i have no photos to share of the actual exhibit. In some ways, i find restrictions like this liberating because it means i’m truly present with the art instead of constantly fiddling with the shutter speed on my Olympus.

Some of my favorite things we saw, though, were not the most famous members of the collection (like Wheat Field with Crows, though that was transcendent). There was a whole section devoted to Van Gogh’s study of Japanese prints, and his painted recreations of some of the prints in his own collection. To see how these pieces really shaped Van Gogh’s perspective as an artist in his formative years was really cool – especially the harsh angles and vibrant colors.

But lest we forget, the more famous works were also amazing to see. I hadn’t known that Almond Blossoms was painted for Vincent’s newborn nephew. Somehow, this idea that the blossoms were meant to celebrate new life made this work all the more endearing.

And the greens! Oh, the greens! I’ve always been enchanted by Bedroom at Arles­ and its quirky, incandescent spirit (my Art History teacher said once he always felt like the chairs were about to start dancing around the room). But it is even more lively in person – the dark patches outlining the bed and making up the floor are such rich tones of emerald that they illuminate the whole work. I was utterly intoxicated by the greens – the fishing boats at Saint-Marie series had me entranced.

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Bedroom in Arles, 1888.

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Almond Blossoms, 1890.

Fishing Boats at Sea, 1888. (I bought this one on a postcard!)

Fishing Boats at Sea, 1888. (I bought this one on a postcard!)

Some two hours later, we exited the gift shop (postcards in hand, of course) and made our way to Kerkestraat for the (aforewrittenabout) bike tour! Our afternoon was thus consumed by exquisite art and wheeling about town – what more could you want from a long weekend in Amsterdam, really?

That was really the bulk of our first day; the cold was too potent to spend too much time out with the sun going down. We returned to our new favorite bar/café, Onder de Ooivaar, for yet another round of wine and cheese. The next day promised a tour of the Anne Frank House, eating our way through the Albert Cuyp Market, and GIANT YELLOW wooden shoes!

current jam: ‘tout doucement’ feist.

best thing: ravioli.

of note: photos of van gogh’s paintings from here. 

Strolling through the Galleries: The 2nd Friday Art Walk

(Part 5 in my Hometown Tourist Summer Blog Series)

It’s no secret that the community i grew up in was deeply invested in promoting, sustaining, and enabling the arts. As a child i was lavished with creative camps in everything from clay handbuilding to playwriting, and such youthful pursuits translated naturally into a high school spent in arts-focused English classes and afternoons spent serving as a board member for a student-run theatre company. It was an enormous privilege to partake in such a vibrant and encouraging community, and a privilege doubled in magnitude in an economic climate wherein arts programs are the first to be hacked from public schools. But Carrboro-Chapel Hill’s investment in engaging young people with the arts extends far beyond painting classes for fourth graders: it is integral to the identity of the community itself. Prime example? The 2nd Friday Art Walk.

Over a decade old, the tradition of the 2nd Friday Art Walk is put on (to my knowledge) by the Carrboro Arts Center. Spanning the width and breadth of these two towns, the Walk encompasses all manner of galleries, knick-knack shops, and coffee corners whereupon local artists exhibit their work free to the public. Some places have hors d’oeuvres, some have wine tastings, and still others use the Art Walk to showcase more permanent collections of artistry and craftsmanship. While the various nooks and crannies housing these pieces are, in their large number, too far apart to be entirely within strolling distance, tackling one section of town for an evening of art appreciation makes for an illuminative and eccentric night out – perfect for an inexpensive date, art lovers, parent-child bonding time, or a too-cool-for-you night out with your hipster friends.

I had incidentally done the Art Walk in my years prowling the streets of second-hand clothing stores and cheap Tex Mex cuisine, but never had i prowled such corner shops with the intention of appreciating their small-wall galleries. Once again, in an effort to rediscover my hometown as an adult, i decided the time for conscientious and intentional art-walking had come. With camera and map in hand, J and i decided we would tackle the main streets of Carrboro for our first true Walking-with-Wolves-Art-Things Experience.

Alack, my timing couldn’t have been more imprecise. When we left for our sojourn, the heavens had thrust themselves wide and rain poured forth in torrents. Naturally, it cleared as soon as we made it to the first gallery stop on the walk (the ArtsCenter itself!), but it nevertheless left Carrboro glistening with the still air and fresh scent of a world recently drenched.

Though our clothes were damp, our mood and determination remained protected by umbrellas, so we continued to peruse the galleries lining Main and Weaver Street. As i did not have explicit permission by the artists to photograph their work, i didn’t take any pictures of the pieces on display. I can assure you, though, that there truly was something for every modern and post-modern taste; photography (my favorite a collection of prints taken in Tanzania (of course)), mixed media, up-cycled crafts, watercolor landscapes, acrylic portraiture and cityscapes, each piece truly rife with the joie de vivre of this corner of Carolina.

(art reflections, art in progress)

Easily my favorite pieces were in the This & That Gallery, which houses a number of small beauties for purchase on any given day, but for the occasion housed the prints in question of my much-missed East African trees and wildlife.

After exhausting the lanes of downtown Carrboro, we stopped in at Elmo’s for a bite of dinner before heading out to another (shamefully) first for me – Caffè Driade. This coffee shop is now officially my most favorite coffee place in all the triangle, and possibly the East Coast – so much so, i think it deserves its own blog post at a later date. But for now, i will say this: the garlands of fairy lights strung over the tiered back patio encompassed by the tall oaks and forest encompassing Chapel Hill made for a beautiful end to a beautiful evening – reminding me that art is foremost, for me, found in what is all around us.

If you’re ever in want of a free, fun, and unique way to spend a Friday night, i highly recommend a romp through Chapel Hill/Carrboro on the Art Walk!

current jam: ‘payphone’ covered by walk off the earth

best thing: showdowns.