This post was originally in XStitch Magazine Issue 14: Mixtape 3, and has been adapted.
Vincent van Gogh is one of the most revered artists in the world thanks to his post-impressionist paintings, and with that comes an admiration that has resulted in his artwork and himself being considered to be some of the most influential in Western art.
I’ll say that again, Western art. You see, despite this prominence and recognition in Western art, Vincent van Gogh didn’t care for it in the slightest. Instead, he was interested in Eastern art, or more specifically Japanese woodblock print in the ukiyo-e genre.
In 1854 Japanese trade opened up across Europe and van Gogh was enchanted once he saw his first Japanese print. Over his lifetime he ended up amassing over 660 prints, and plastered his walls with them. In fact, in his painting Portrait of Père Tanguy, reportedly painted in his own home, the background is covered with them. We will never quite know who van Gogh’s favorite artist was, but we do know it was his favorite art style.
“I envy the Japanese the extreme clarity that everything in their work has. It’s never dull, and never appears to be done too hastily. Their work is as simple as breathing, and they do a figure with a few confident strokes with the same ease as if it was as simple as buttoning your waistcoat.” Vincent van Gogh, 1888
This was all unknown to me in 2009 when our very own editor chose my work to display at an exhibition. Honestly, at the time I hadn’t really found my niche and to me it was just a novelty that I was chosen, however, I went along and thought I’d have a great old time. That was until I met someone. Someone that inadvertently shaped my internal idea of self, but also the work I create. And he did it with a few simple words; “Lord Libidan is my favorite cross stitcher”.
He didn’t know I was Lord Libidan, in fact, I was eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation, but that didn’t stop me laughing at his comment. You see, no one would pick ME as their favorite cross stitcher; that simply couldn’t happen. Now, it was a busy, hot and packed exhibition hall, and he could very likely have been dehydrated, starving, and delirious, and to this day I still think he meant someone or something else. But those words stayed with me, and not due to the fact that it helped my ego, instead of that it humbled me.
The reason it humbled me, was that while he had a favorite, at the time, I didn’t. This guy had not only studied my work before, but managed to pick me as his favorite cross stitch artist. Yet I couldn’t name my own. And that’s a big problem. A big problem due to cross stitch inspiration.
I’ve since found my favorite embroiderer and cross stitcher; Tom Katsumi, who’s been in-between these very pages alongside my own work. I’ve seen his pieces and I stand in awe. Not only have they accomplished works of art in themselves, but he pushes boundaries that I only wish I could have thought of. Not only that, but he makes it look simple, coming up with idea after idea, and frankly leaving me in the dust. But it’s thanks to Tom, that I realized what I wanted to stitch, where my creativity lay.
I know quite a lot about ukiyo-e now, and it’s one of my main influences, I’ve even made a pattern for our Orient issue based on one. But Tom is still in my mind every time I make a pattern, even though his work is very different to mine. He’s my favorite, sure, but he’s in my mind thanks to something else. He’s in my mind as I’ve studied his work.
My all-time favorite embroidery is also one of Tom’s. It’s a little crop circle. I’m not a massive fan of aliens, nor crop circles, so why is it my favorite piece? The tire tracks. Anyone can look at a crop field, but it takes a very very keen eye to identify that crops don’t grow as tall where the tractor tires roll. Tom caught this detail. So from now on, every time I make a pattern, I look for the tire tracks. This is a process I call Katsumiserie.
Random word, I know, but that’s where we get back to van Gogh. You see, van Gogh is known for his post-impressionism to us. However, to him, his artwork was Japonaiserie, a term he coined to express the influence of Japanese art. Van Gogh’s favorite artists were in his mind every time he took to canvas too, and to him, the masters were those of Japanese woodblock print movements.
“All my work is based to some extent on Japanese art,” Vincent van Gogh, 1888
I pose, that everyone needs a favorite. It doesn’t have to be someone famous, it doesn’t have to be anyone in this mag, it doesn’t even have to be a cross stitcher. But to have that one person you look to, you investigate, and allow them to inspire you. That is what everyone needs.
That inspiration could take the form of slight changes in your work, or even mimicry. Vincent van Gogh copied three prints, Sudden Shower over Shin-Ōhashi bridge and Atake, Plum Park in Kameido, and The Courtesan. Pop these into google images and his versions come up first thanks to his fame, but to him, the real masters are the Japanese artists. And if those artists can influence someone so much they can become a master of Western art, so can someone you pick, to make you a master of
Much like van Gogh, Japan has inspired many of my works too, like my Moonlight In Yasaka Pagoda cross stitch and Morning At Hot Spring Resort In Arayu cross stitch. We’d love to know who or what inspires your works too!