Interpreting van Gogh

Jared Baxter researches religious themes in art

A local resident believes Vincent van Gogh included an image of the Last Supper in several of his paintings.

Those works of art include “Cafe Terrace at Night” and “Interior of a Restaurant in Arles.”

Jared Baxter, of Washougal, is scheduled to deliver the featured address in April, at the sixth Asian Conference on Arts and Humanities in Osaka, Japan.

In 2013, he presented his findings at an international academic conference in Brighton, England. Prior to his 20-minute presentation in England, Baxter provided an hour long talk at the Camas Public Library.

A year later, he explained how van Gogh viewed art at the International Academic Forum’s inaugural North American Conference on Arts and Humanities in Providence, Rhode Island. Those conferences attract professors, chancellors, Phd candidates and students finishing their masters degrees.

Baxter, 44, describes himself as a self-taught, independent scholar. He studied classical humanities at Davidson College, in Davidson, North Carolina.

“It gave me a terrific foundation to think and to write,” Baxter said.

“Learning how to look at art can open the doors of understanding to appreciate the beauty and mysteries that often go overlooked,” he added. “It enriches our life to do that.”

Baxter said art interpretation is not scientific or 100 percent certain.

“There are varying points of view, but compelling evidence to back my claims,” he said. “Symbolism can be subjective.”

Baxter first became intrigued by van Gogh 15 years ago while looking at a reproduction poster of “Cafe Terrace at Night.”

He looked at an image of a waiter serving, and he counted 12 diners.

“I was convinced I was staring at Vincent’s version of the Last Supper,” Baxter said.

He said van Gogh had a deeply religious background.

“He was a creative genius,” Baxter said. “Everyone loves his paintings.”

Van Gogh served as a missionary to coal miners in Belgium.

“A clumsy orator and zeal to imitate Christ that included giving his best clothes and belongings to the poor, he was fired by the church elders,” Baxter wrote.

A month ago, Baxter sent an email to a Huffington Post reporter who had previously written about van Gogh. An hour-long phone interview resulted in an article three weeks later.

The article mentions a paper written by Baxter was accepted by the Dutch Association of Aesthetics, but he did not attend the group’s conference last month, in Leuven, Belgium.

Baxter has also had two articles published in Eye magazine, an international quarterly review of graphic design for artists and design professionals.

He hopes to one day see “Cafe Terrace at Night,” in the Netherlands. Baxter saw “The Starry Night,” in the Museum of Modern Art, in New York City, in September 2014.

In recognition of the 125th anniversary of van Gogh’s death, a yearlong celebration of his life is occurring in Europe.

Baxter encourages local residents to look closely at art.

“You will gain an appreciation that maybe you did not have before,” Baxter said.

He said the Portland Art Museum, located at 1219 S.W. Park Ave, has a fantastic impressionism room that includes a van Gogh painting, “The Ox-Cart,” from 1884. For more information, call (503) 226-2811 or visit www.portlandartmuseum.org.

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