|Charles Garabedian, Starless Night, 2009, acrylic on paper, 48" x 81". Collection of the artist. Photo courtesy of L.A. Louver Gallery, Venice, CA.|
|Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night, Saint Remy, June 1889, Oil on Canvas, 29" x 36" (MoMA)|
|Click on image to enlarge|
But the really interesting thing is their differences — and their subject matter couldn’t be more different. The Van Gogh, of course, is about the awesome power of God or nature. The man-made structures of Saint-Remy, even the church steeple, look puny in comparison to this cosmic spectacle. Garabedian’s subject, on the other hand, is about man-made ruination. The only celestial activity in the bleak sky is smoke from the village inferno (Vietnam?), and the earth has become a desolate and ravaged ruin. Even the strangely beautiful pool of water looks toxic (radioactive?) in this context.
But it gets even more horrific. The crouching, hollow-eyed soldier, his face demonically glowing from the village fire, is holding something, and I think it’s a hand grenade. After laying waste to the village, is he intending to kill the sleeping soldier and himself too? And the ordinariness of the act, like the soldiers executing prisoners in Goya's Third of May or Manet's Execution of Maximilian, makes it even more chilling.
Starless Night is a very depressing painting — and unfortunately for us, it says a lot about our era.
Charles Kessler is an artist and writer and lives in Jersey City.