22 October 2018

Starry Bike Path?

I know I've posed more than a few ridiculous questions, on this blog and away from it.  I seem to have a penchant for them.  So here comes another:  If Vincent Van Gogh were to design a bike lane, what would it look like?

My question isn't, I believe, as frivolous or flippant as it might seem.  I've long felt that we are more sensitive to light and color when we're pedaling. (At least, I feel that I am.)  That might be a reason why cycling and photography go so well together, and why any number of riders I've known (including current riding buddy Bill) are fine photographers.  

I also have another reason for my question:  There is actually a Van Gogh bicycle path in the Dutch town of Nuenen, where Vincent (Yes, I'm on a first-name basis with him! ;-))worked from 1883 until 1885. During that time, he completed The Potato Eaters, one of his early masterpieces.

Interestingly, the path is more evocative of a later and better-known masterpiece of his.  I am talking about Starry Night, which has inspired all sorts of other work--including the only Don McLean song besides "American Pie" most people can name.  

To me, the path is a work of art in its own right.  Although the swirls and colors in it echo Vincent's painting, it has a different effect:  The painting is its own dynamic, while the environment of the path creates its plays of light and color.  

The path, designed by artist Daan Roosegarrd, is paved with colored stones that are charged in daylight and emit twinkling light--mostly in blue and green--at night.  When so lit, the path displays parts of the painting as you ride on, or look at, it.

From what I've read and heard, the Van Gogh path has turned Nuenen, near Eindhoven, into an atrraction, if not a destination, for tourists.  While it contains several homages to its most famous resident, most Van Gogh pilgrimages include Arles, the Provencal town where he painted Starry Night, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.  Only those who are really in the know about the artist make a detour to Nuenen, whose other distinction is that it was the site of a battle in the significant, but unsuccessful (for the Allies) Operation Market Garden in World War II.

Some folks thousands of kilometers away believe that they can help to continue the revitalization of their city by capturing Nuenen's lightning (all right, light) in a bottle.  It's a "rust belt" city in the US that, like a few others, has sought to revitalize itself by using its history and culture to create a vibrant arts scene.  

In other words, Hamilton is trying to do what a much larger city at the other end of Ohio--Cleveland--has been doing.  Other cities in that part of the United States, like Grand Rapids, Michigan and Milwaukee, have had recent success in stemming, at lest in part, economic decline wrought by the relocation or disappearance of manufacturing industries.

In such cities, as well as in neighborhoods like Bushwick, Brooklyn, the emphasis has been on public art, like sculpture and murals, that can make use of industrial sites and structures as a backdrop, or as material for the works themselves.

Something like the Van Gogh bike path would fit such communities, especially one like Hamilton, which has a very popular bike/walking path along the Miami River.  It also just happens to pass the Fitton Center for the Creative Arts and a sculpture garden.  Wade Johnston, the director of Tri-State Trails, thinks it would be a great spot for a similar sort of path--or, at least one where "public art and beautiful landscaping" could "promote a sense of place" and--not insignificant to city leaders--"encourage reinvestment in Hamilton."

As much as I love art, I am enough of a realist to acknowledge that the arts can't replace high-wage factory jobs.  But, as neighborhoods like Bushwick and cities like Cleveland (once the butt of jokes, many of which referred to a river that caught fire) have shown, the arts can provide other opportunities and encourage talented, creative people to live and work in areas other people abandoned.

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