Van Gogh and McCullin at Tate Britain

We had a day visit to the new Vincent Van Gogh exhibition at Tate Britain that explored his time in England as well as his artistic influences and those he later influenced. On at the same time was a Don Cullin exhibition so after a strong coffee we rattled through that, and it was all well worth it.

Van Gogh spent time in London and this show was an overview of his time there. We saw a mix of Vincent’s own work as well as major influences on his style and those who took his style further. We had Millet works that Van Gogh was very impressed by and Howard Gilman who took the impressionist style further with the Camden Town group.

I found some of Vincent’s early sketches very impressive – and I’ve dropped in some below. He was a self taught artist and you could see his skill improving from basic to very subtle in his depiction of poverty and suffering.

His later paintings need no introduction and I must admit that I find some of his work rather primitive. However, his exploration of colour and movement in his work is always astounding and I learnt much from studying his limited palette work – where he explores just yellow or blue and limits a painting to a single tube of paint.

It’s quite something to zoom in on the work of any artist and none more so than Van Goth – where each pointillist mark can be seen. Imagining the thought of the artist as he drew his own eye was quite something and quite a moving experience.

I’ve seen the work of legendary photo journalist Don McCullin many times, particularly in glossy Sunday supplements in the 1970s and 80s. I still remember the shock of seeing constant world conflict in full colour propelled into our homes every week. In some ways this seems more powerful and graphic than the digital equivalent nowadays – having the images around our home generated more questions and discussion than I suspect is happening with the current young generation.

This exhibition was a presentation of 250 of McCullin’s photographs beautifully presented in deep mounts and simple black frames. I’ve dropped the stand out images for me below which range from a ban the bomb march in the 1960s to the Turkish invasion of Cyrus in the 1970s and the Irish Troubles of the 1970s.

Some of McCullin’s photographs have the appearance of a Shakespearean tragedy – figures in battle or mourning captured most impressively before the digital camera era. The Cypriot family leaving a funeral has a particularly haunting beauty that had a powerful effect.

Seeing photographic work in a carefully curated gallery space is a special experience – yes, we can view image online and in books but walking through a space and taking time to study detail and meaning has an impact way beyond any other format. Well worth the visit and I recommend you do the same!