Art & Decor Trends

The Sunflower Effect: Art Coming to Life (Part I)

Vincent Van Gogh's The Sunflowers It was around four o’clock in the afternoon in a room of Postimpressionistic art at the National Gallery in London. A row of rigid, backless wooden benches cut across the center of the room, and the bright fluorescent lamps hanging from the high ceiling infused the atmosphere with a sickly yellow light. The scanty group of listlessly wandering visitors barely disturbed the oppressive silence.

A couple walked in accompanied by their young daughter. She seemed to be about six years old, her small stature and innocent, large brown eyes making her look even younger. Her frail figure was encased in a flowered pink dress and a yellow wool sweater, which offset her pale complexion. The family walked around the room stopping at a Van Gogh painting. The painting depicted a vase overflowing with vivid yellow sunflowers, which seemed to pop out from their flat blue background. Turning towards the girl the mother began to gesture towards the painting as if explaining something. To the child however, her voice remained unheard.

At first she seemed merely lost in thought, as if she was either not listening, or not hearing what her mother was saying to her. She was staring fixedly at the painting, as an expression of fascination bordering on fear spread gradually over her face…

The sunflowers were motionless only a second ago, but they are slowly beginning to move. Some grasp the edge of the vase with their tentacle-like petals like insects preparing to crawl down the side of the vase, others stretch their green necks forward as if struggling to burst out of the painting. One sunflower slithers out of the vase and begins to make its way across the table top, towards the edge of the painting. Its featureless brown face, surrounded by a mass of writhing yellow petals seems to gaze out in silent menace as it gets closer and closer…

Van Gogh - Vase with Fifteen SunflowersWith a cry of terror, she backed away from the painting, almost tripping over her mother’s foot. Her mother stopped talking and looked down at her in surprise. Through the numbness of her horror, she could barely make out her mother’s voice: “Eleanor! What is wrong with you? Stop playing around and pay attention. I was just telling you about the artist who made this beautiful painting. Eleanor, are you listening to me? Eleanor?”

Eleanor glanced absently at her mother and then her eyes slowly drifted back to the painting. Now however, the painting was perfectly peaceful and motionless. Oblivious, her mother turned to her father. “I think we should take Eleanor home now.” She said with a trace of irritation in her voice, “She is obviously too tired to concentrate, and we can always come back another day.”

Assertively, Mother took Eleanor by the hand and led her out of the room. Eleanor followed, her eyes still fixed on the painting.

Van Gogh - Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers

That night, as Eleanor lay in bed in her ruffled nightgown beneath a fluffy blanket, neither the cheerful curtains on her window, nor the sight of her favorite toys could quell the overwhelming premonition of evil that was beginning to take possession of her senses. Everything felt somehow different, and even the comforting yellow glow of her nightlight, throwing spots of light onto her ceiling seemed eerie and disturbing.
Eleanor stared intently at the spot, her small fingers unconsciously grabbing the edge of the blanket, pulling it up to her chin.

The yellow spot on the ceiling grows in size and quickly multiplies into more spots which begin to morph into silhouettes of sunflowers. The sunflowers begin a wild, swirling dance that begins to move closer and closer to the bed as the sunflowers stretch their leaves like arms threateningly in her direction. Eleanor inches away from them in mute terror. One of her hands gropes desperately around the bed in search of something to use for protection, as she waves the other helplessly in front of the advancing sunflowers. The sunflowers are inches away from her. She begins to gasp for air, her hands still searching frantically over the bed. Just as one of the sunflowers gets close enough to brush against her face, she utters a strangled yell and conceals herself entirely beneath the blanket.

A week passed, and the doctor reassured Eleanor’s parents that she was getting better. Only Eleanor knew that this wasn’t true. She did her best to pretend to participate in normal, everyday life, but visions of the sunflowers only plagued her more and more…

Click to continue reading part II of this tantalizing story >

Katherine Blakeney

About the Author

Katherine Blakeney is an independent filmmaker/stop motion animator and writer. She is currently studying for her PhD in Film Studies at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, researching silent film adaptations of Victorian Gothic novels with a special emphasis on aesthetic and psychological representations of the monster figure. As a filmmaker she is inspired by Gothic art, Expressionism, and Silent Era film. She creates, designs, animates, and shoots her own animated short films in her studio in Edinburgh.