Vermeer - Who and Why?
Johannes 'Jan' Vermeer is a 17th Century painter from (what was then) the Dutch Republic. Forgotten after his death, with his paintings often attributed to his rival (I suggest) rival Pieter De Hooch, Vermeer was critically re-appraised, and his stock continues to rise.
Why do I want to tell this story?
1. The fascination of the paintings.
The initial attraction was Vermeer's paintings, which I consider sublime, historically pioneering and significantly, with formal similarities to comics.
They are praised as being proto-photography, and he was one of the first to paint what was visible to the eye, rather than understood by the mind. While de Hooch used optics (apparently) to render (I have vermeer say) "whatever appeared before his eye", Vermeer constructed his scenes carefully, pre-empting the cinematic concept of 'mis en scene', and Jean Luc Godard cites him as "the first cinematographer". Again pre-emptying photography (and comics!) Vermeer was master of choosing 'the golden moment'.
2. Formal similarities to comics.
His paintings also seem to contain, time, narrative and sequentiality. For example the painting (above) known as 'Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window' vividly shows a present moment as the woman reads the letter. Yet the letter must tell of events in the past, and (if, as I propose, the letter is seen as important, and bad news) will shape her future. While the painting is ostensibly a single moment, it can be read sequentially. If we read from top left to bottom right, we first see the billowing red curtain - looked at on it's own it could be seen as flowing blood, foreshadowing the tragedy reported in the letter. The letter appears to crumple as she reads it (in other paintings by him letters are crisp planes). Our eye then tumbles from the letter down the chair and carpet to the plate, from which the fruit appears to spill, as if in reaction to the contents of the letter.
3. I believe I have, and can communicate, interesting insights in the paintings.
I believe I can both communicate existing thinking on his work, and offer some fresh perspectives.
This reading of the above painting is my own, (which I haven't seen reflected in the few studies of Vermeer), but I think it's a compelling enough vision to pursue.
i see in a number of Vermeer's paintings, the attempt to articulate inner experience (an abiding concern of my own comics and other art work) through carefully constructed portrayals of the exterior. Of writers on Vermeer, I have only found Mariet Westermann to identify this "What makes Vermeer's [paintings] interesting is the way they articulate thought in pictorial terms".
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Graham Johnstone ~ Master of Design - Comics and Graphic Novels student 2016-17