CORK-born artist Sandra Hickey recently fulfilled a dream.
She went from being a lifelong lover of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh’s work, to one of 125 artists from over 20 countries chosen out of 5,000 applicants to work on the Academy Award nominated film, Loving Vincent; the first ever fully painted feature film.
A Polish production released in 2017, Loving Vincent — which has recently been released on Netflix and DVD — explores the tragic last days of Van Gogh’s life and asks the question: was the gun-shot he died from self-inflicted or was someone else involved?
To bring their unique 95- minute feature debut to life, creators Dorota Kobiela, a Polish painter, and British animator Hugh Welchman spent two weeks shooting scenes, mostly against green screens, with actors Douglas Booth, Saoirse Ronan, Chris O’Dowd and Helen McCrory amongst others.
They then set about finding a group of painters who would paint the 65,000 oil paintings on canvas in Van Gogh’s unique style, which would make up each of the films 65,000 frames.
Partially funded at the time through a Kickstarter campaign, the filmmakers sent a call out across the internet looking for oil painters, and thanks to her brother Brendan this call landed on Sandra’s Facebook page.
Having completed her Masters of Fine Art in Painting at the National College of Art & Design in 2013, Sandra was 29 (a year older than Van Gogh when he started painting). She was still living in Dublin at the time, working on her own paintings but paying the bills by working in retail because, “art jobs are hard to come by”.
Sandra quickly sent her digital portfolio to the production team and received a call to travel to Poland where applicants had to first produce a short animation.
Having passed this stage she was trained for three weeks to paint in the style of Vincent Van Gogh. She was successful and picked to join the production team.
Sandra spent six months in Gdansk, Poland, working with 87 other artists. There were also artists working on the movie in Athens, Greece and Rowsclaw, Poland. Interestingly, in an industry normally dominated by men, 61% of Loving Vincent painting animators were women.
Each artist worked predominantly by themselves in separate PAWS (Painting Animation Work Stations).
“We had our canvas, paint, monitor and camera but we had the images and animation of the artist that was working on the scene before yours,” Sandra explains. “So you had to use the same colours, mixing them up under a different light, and you had to use exactly the same brush strokes as the artist before you and, of course, the exact same brush strokes as Vincent Van Gogh.
“This way the animation would run smoothly and you wouldn’t be able to tell that there were 125 artist hands at work but just one”.
When Sandra finally saw the completed product first at a painters premiere in Wroclaw, Poland, and again at the London premiere, where composer Clint Mansell’s (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) score was added, she admits: “It was amazing to see your scenes and all the other artists’ scenes up on the big screen. We had envisioned how our brushstrokes would look on a giant screen but seeing it was another thing. Each brushstroke is massive on the screen. It was a very proud and humbling experience. I couldn’t believe I could be part of something so wonderful, that my paintings would be part of something so beautiful.”
Loving Vincent uses 94 of the artist’s paintings as the film’s settings and features 12 paintings per second, which means that every second of footage shown took over a week to create.
Since its release, the groundbreaking film has grossed over an estimated $30.5 million worldwide on a budget of $5.5 million. Closer to home it is the most successful film ever shown at the Triskel Christchurch Cinem.
Born in Knocknaloman on the Cork/Kerry border, Sandra studied Art, Craft & Design at St John’s College in Cork before advancing to get her degree in Fine Art — Painting at the Limerick School of Art & Design and her MA in Dublin.
Sandra, whose favourite artists include Roderic O’Conor, Jenny Saville, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Vincent Van Gogh, admits she has painted and drawn for as long as I can remember.
“Painting has a hold on me like no other, it possesses the ability to both calm and torment a soul in equal measures and I wouldn’t want to be without it. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been sure of... art and creating is something I couldn’t live without.”
Sandra has been living back in Cork for over a year. She is currently preparing for a solo show at St. Peter’s, Cork, in May of next year and she recently received word that one of her paintings had been selected for the Royal Ulster Academy exhibition, running this month at the Ulster Museum, Botanic Gardens, Belfast.