Local Artists Inspired by Vincent Van Gogh's Iconic Painting, "The Starry Night"


Art quilt by Martha Ressler

Poem and Art Quilt Celebrate Van Gogh's Birthday

Art quilt by Martha Ressler 

by Jane Stahl

Today would be post-impressionist artist Vincent Van Gogh's 171st birthday, if he were around to celebrate it. And yet, it occurs to me, in some ways, he is very much alive. 

Van Gogh was born in Holland. Despite his brief career, during which he is said to have sold only one painting, he is "now viewed as one of the most influential artists, having helped lay the foundations of modern art." Though immensely talented, his life was plagued by bouts of mental illness. He spent several years in an asylum; but shortly after his discharge from the facility, he died from a "self-inflicted gunshot wound."

Recently, Martha Ressler, a local fabric artist, and local writer Phil Repko felt motivated to memorialize Van Gogh's "The Starry Night," perhaps his best-known painting. 

Martha's quilt appropriates the "flourish of the brush" found in Van Gogh's famous painting. In the painting, color was the chief symbol of expression; and, according to vangoghgallery.com, "Blue dominates the painting, blending hills into the sky. The little village lies at the base in the painting in browns, greys, and blues. Even though each building is clearly outlined in black, the yellow and white of the stars and the moon stand out against the sky, drawing the eyes to the sky. They are the big attention-grabber of the painting."

Coincidentally, local writer and educator Philip Repko shared  a poem he'd recently composed entitled "Starry, Starry Night." The poem was inspired by Don McClean's 1971 song, "Vincent," which is a musical response to Van Gogh's iconic painting that reflects the "loneliness that echoes endlessly" in the life the tortured artist "suffered for [his] sanity."

Why these local artists were inspired within a few weeks of one another by Van Gogh's memory remains unknown. But I find myself inspired to join their commemoration on the anniversary of his birth.

Starry, Starry Night
~by Philip Repko

No need to emphasize the breadth
By repetition.
The painting and the sky and too the song
May just be perfect.
Somehow on planes of comprehension
A single tune stands tall
For melding perfectly, the power brandished
By the humble authors.
A flourish of the brush conveyed the pitch
And tone within the strum.
The human eye has never seen the sky
Shine quite that bright
Or hold a glass up to the melting mind.
For certain neither artist walked the grass
Beneath a sky that cried
So hard and made the whole world sad
With reckoning. Palettes
Carefully prepared for only anguished joy
Must be by definition most ephemeral.
Now I understand, what they tried
To say to me.
We have suffered for our sanity,
But we can’t be free.
Vincent caught a moment only seen in darkest night
And Don sang from a soul that understood
If only in the black of pain
A loneliness that echoes endlessly.   

[Find more detailed information about Van Gogh here]

Martha Ressler makes, teaches, and tirelessly promotes art quilts, which are a creative visual work that is layered and stitched. Ressler was a painter who loved to sew, so she has found her medium. She moved from Pittsburgh to Berks County where she has found renewed inspiration. Ressler is preparing an exhibition at Art Plus Gallery in West Reading, beginning August 11, 2024 and titled "Van Gogh Is in Stitches."

Phil Repko is a career educator in the PA public school system who has been writing for fun and no profit since he was a teenager. Phil lives with his wife Julie in Gilbertsville and is the father of three outstanding children, two of whom are also poets and writers. He vacillates between poetry and prose, as the spirit beckons, and is currently working sporadically on a novella and a memoir.

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