The paintings of Don Van Vliet
December 14, 2011 8:29 PM   Subscribe

Don Van Vliet is self-taught. He neither expects allowances for the amateur’s lack of dexterity nor permits any technical deficiency on his own part to limit his scope. Nobody's understanding or forbearance sets limits to what he does - any more than does the fear of going wrong. The lacerations, transgressions, and awkward moments that he introduces are unpredictable, as is their duration; when he takes the figures that confront him and tugs them out of shape, he simultaneously tugs himself out of shape - and out of his own limitations. - Roberto Ohrt
posted by Trurl (14 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
(h/t to holterbarbour whose splendid Ask MeFi question inspired the post)
posted by Trurl at 8:31 PM on December 14, 2011

Once again I would be remiss if I didn't mention the astounding Great Pop Things. I wonder what the people on the moon are up to.
posted by mintcake! at 8:45 PM on December 14, 2011

Bongo Fury blew my mind.
posted by mintcake! at 8:47 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

One of the things I find surprising about Van Vliet's paintings is how simply visually pleasing they are, given how rebarbative much of his musical output can seem. There are simple pleasures (as well as some great wonders) to be found in Beefheart albums too, of course, but I've never found them anywhere near as broadly and directly accessible as his paintings.

I suspect that this might have more to do with my expectations of music than with a real divergence between his use of the two means of expression, because I can see the shared subjects and techniques.

Anyway, my world is markedly richer for Don Van Vliet having done what he did.
posted by howfar at 8:50 PM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

One of the things I find surprising about Van Vliet's paintings is how simply visually pleasing they are

That's really true. This is unbelievalby smile-inducing.
posted by mintcake! at 9:11 PM on December 14, 2011

I like his paintings, but looking through the painting titles makes me wish that there were Beefheart songs attached to them. "See-Through Dog With Wheat Stack Skirt", "Candle Powered Rodeo Ghosts", "Ten Thousand Pistols, No Bumblebees", "Meaty Blond People Danced At The End Of The Hall Yellow & White", "Circles Don't Fly They Float #2", "Water Cut In Half", "Rumfhala Horror Puppet", "Tint, Blush, Coo", "God's Empty Socks", "Pig Erases Statue In Passing"...
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 9:36 PM on December 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Don Van Vliet deserves to be referred to in the present tense for all time, just because.
posted by Spatch at 10:15 PM on December 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

...looking through the painting titles makes me wish that there were Beefheart songs attached to them.

Some of the songs seem to have paintings attached to them.

"Like steppin’ out of a triangle
Into striped light"

posted by StickyCarpet at 10:19 PM on December 14, 2011

Trout Mask Replica turned me on to PCP as a teenager. God Bless you Don.
posted by WhitenoisE at 10:31 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Van Vliet, pbuh, turned me on to abstract expressionism - tho' not directly thru his own paintings. I was standing in front of a Jackson Pollock in Tate Modern, not for the first time, thinking "I just don't get it. What is this about? Why is this even here?".

Previously, I'd asked the same question of any art expert unwary enough to admit their calling and had various answers about communicating states of mind and emotions, but whatever the language they could see, it was lost on me.

Another pal, who had given me my first Beefheart CD and is another fully paid up member of the freak music fan club, had told me that he admired Van Vleit's paintings even more than his music, and that too had left me bemused. That was also in the back of my head as I stood there like a goon.

"So," I told myself, "what happens if you try to imagine how Beefheart would play this painting?"

Right question. It took about two minutes, I guess, to map the swirls and shudders of the painting to some internal Magic Band logic I'd imprinted over the years, and then Yer Actual Epiphany happened. Ka, as they say, boom. Probably the fourth time that's happened to me in my life (Van Gogh's Yellow Chair, some Blake etchings, a late Turner) but by far the most transformational in terms of coming out of nowhere and changing my mind completely.

Thanks for that, Don.

(Have also tried a similar trick subsequently with Pop Art, which I still find sterile as sand, but god knows what music would actually work. Nursery rhymes, perhaps.)
posted by Devonian at 2:11 AM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

This one, to me, best reflects what I picture when hearing his music. All delicate and wild, about to fly apart at any point, but holding together just enough to be something complete.
posted by orme at 4:47 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

The drawing on the cover of Doc at the Radar Station led to an epiphany of sorts for me. It was really hard to get past "Oh Beefheart, he's crazy, man" until seeing that. It helped get my brain around both his art and his music, and understand that he's not being random for random's sake.
posted by ardgedee at 6:00 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

As a young adolescent, Van Vliet was sotted by a TV producer while he was making little clay sculptures of animals at the zoo. This led to him having a regular segment on a local children's show, sculpting little animals. None of that footage has surfaced.

He identified as an artist long before he went into music.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:08 AM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

There is footage of him sculpting little clay animals on TV as a child in my mind.

Seems reasonable that the visual art should be more immediately accessible. You can look away from the art. The music you have to turn off or run away from, and it just keeps coming, no time to process it. But it isn't really harsh or discordant. It's just (well, not just, but at the basic level I'm qualified to say vague unsubstantiated things about) unusually structured. Some of the tracks on something like Trout Mask Replica can strike the brain as surprise surprise surprise surprise surprise surprise for three straight minutes, if you've never heard anything like it (which I hadn't), and it's hard to get a sense of how the pieces fit together if you can't fall back on your understanding of what guitar-based music usually sounds like to help you remember the parts you just heard before whatever's happening now. Too much for the working memory to take. It's kind of like getting used to an extremely unusual accent, if not (I mean not for Safe as Milk or anything but) to another dialect.
posted by Adventurer at 11:29 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

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