invited art critic Alicia Stubbs to pick one of our images and write approximately 500 words concerning it.  Alicia has spent her life studying the Post-Impressionists, has a developed interest in modern  photography, and is widely published in both fields.

Door In Door Out


Alicia Stubbs

A  painting which fascinates me very much by Van Gogh is CORRIDOR OF SAINT-PAUL ASYLUM IN SAINT-REMY.Unlike other masterpieces by the same artist this picture while striking did not convey much to me when I first encountered it. As opposed to the astounding, idiosyncratic beauty of Starry Night, for example, or the fearful banality of the lives depicted in Prisoners Exercising, I felt little. Neither the form nor colours nor the subject matter assaulted me or assuaged me as Van Gogh usually does. I was frustratingly bereft of my usual stimulated appreciation and I took this lack of communion with the work as a challenge. I returned to the image frequently over a span of some months and obtained a good copy I could study while trying to empty myself of preconceptions, the literal, everything “of the surface”. I tried to feel rather than see. Eventually and fervently I came to believe I knew what I was looking at. To the profoundly ill Van Gogh, incarcerated in the asylum at Saint-Remy, the picture represented a painful stasis, Van Gogh's own, with that corridor and its exits representing the encroaching, sentient assaults on his locked-away madness and the dread claustrophobic possibilities of close but unseen places. The veneer of calmness which the painting possesses was but a bright mockery of the fearful possibilities which connive out of sight. When I later read Van Gogh's biography this interpretation, for me at least, was reinforced.

So I declare an interest in corridors and such passageways inherent to architecture.

The website invited me to write on the subject of one of their photographs, a image by Andi Toal entitled AGED OF DOORS. Andi Toal is an occasional contributor to the site and here his picture shows nothing but a section of a closed door.

The door is old and metal. It is battered, rusted, grimy, corroded, mildewed, the paint flaking, the surface looking abrasive to the touch. A partial semi-circle etched into the marble below its front edge attests to its tight scraping back and forth across the years

I feel certain that this particular door has a window and that Andi Toal has deliberately ignored that window, cropped the photograph to below it and further downwards to include the floor. This cropping is why the photograph is effective. The photographer captures all the fascinating textures of the metal and marble, all the tell-tale signs of age and history, but he also avoids permitting the viewer to know to where the door leads. The burnished brass door-knob, presumably a somewhat more modern replacement, assures that it leads somewhere, but whether to another cloistered walkway, another room or even straight to grass and sky it's impossible to tell.

I wonder then as I do when I encounter any aged door, how many previous hands, young and old, have turned the handle and pushed the door open? Where were those people going? Were they on a journey? Or had they arrived? A worn door handle itself is not dissimilar in heritage to an old coin, passed from hand to hand and pocket to pocket. Prior to the decimalisation of our monetary system, it was common to squeeze in the hand pennies, half-pennies, sixpences, half-crowns, coins that others had touched for a hundred and fifty years and more. My uncle possessed and I as a child reverently fondled Russian coins from the 1700s. This door-handle is that same thing: a handshake with the people of history.

The photograph therefore brings conflicting appreciation for me. It reassures me. It's warm and human. It holds a thousand transitory tales. It's lineage sits on the brass handle like benign germs. As a physical object it is beautiful. But it causes me to stop. It compels me to confront the unknown. It beckons to a place of a nature I cannot tell. It's a pull into some long corridor and it projects trepidation and hesitation. Buried within me is some of Van Gogh's rooted, accosted, watchful fear and this atmospheric, peaceful photograph digs in there and raises turbulence.

There's of course nothing in reality to link the two pieces, one being a masterpiece. They couldn't be more different, even leaving aside the circumstance that the dates of creation are one hundred and thirty years apart. The bridge between them is me and me alone and my history and my own perceptions. Which is as it has to be; as is often said, we simply see what is already within us.

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