William Van Doren

Metaphysical sunset painter, self-taught. Painted every sunset for eleven years, 1-1-06 to 12-31-16. Experimenting with sunsets since 1995. Author, 47 Minutes on Christmas Eve (Third Edition). Currently completing The Sunset Chronicles: Paintings and Notes from Four Thousand Nights. 


See recent paintings on my Facebook Page@714bastille on Twitter; Instagram @williamvandoren.









The Green Barn (17 May 1984)

Breathing in and out the bird’s song
I sat on the wooden step
Four miles below the sun
Within the mown fields
Of middle May.

Breathing in and out the bird itself as he was singing
I sat on the sun-warped step
Exchanging atmospheres
With middle May
And acres of grass.

I am he who sits in middle May, deciding
To write.

On the fourth anniversary exactly
Of my father’s death
A heart attack at fifty-three
I now thirty-five begin again
Knowing that we never cease.

I of course remember the day
At age fifteen
I set out to paint on canvasboard the local barn,
The green barn
Newly painted
In the orchard hills.

The apple trees were years removed
Shoulders of earth showed hollows and curves
And waves of grass I climbed to meet,
Breasting them with canvasboard.

I tried to paint that green barn.
I used a palette knife.
The greens I made seemed repulsive to me – they were for the green fields, the green of the barn would be impossible without the right green of the flowing fields –
I painted in a sweat
I felt in despair the flowing fields were falling, slipping, even running away with every stroke,
With sweat, sun, bees, greens, no-good greens and so much desperate humid heat and sweat and sun I walked home,
I walked home, balancing the plastered board over barbed wire and gullies and through honeysuckle and under branches until
In the desolate back yard of Dad’s eternally half-finished patio and half-finished hull of a boat (he’d work on it seven more years before selling it not quite completed),
I scraped it all off.

Never again.


Never again the scraping doubt.
I wish I had that painting today,
I could make it right.
I could make it fourteen million different ways,
In oil, watercolor, pencil or pastel –

Or, like this:

The green barn,
Once a red barn,
Now a gold barn in the summer light,
A gold barn filled with silver blue,
The green barn painted sunlight green over gold and violet reflections,
Floats in the fire green, the sky green, the hard green, white, yellow and wet flowering and dry green
In the me green, heart green, hands and eyes green or turning green,
In the bird and turtle green,
Red and violet and gold.


Sunrise, Tuesday, 20 January 2009

From the Iwo Jima Memorial, Arlington, Va. Oil on watercolor block, 12 x 16.See Inauguration Day for the series of 21 paintings from that day’s sunrise and sunset.


Sunset, Monday, 5 January 2009

Washington, D.C. Oil on canvas, 16 x 20.

This was during my scouting trip for the Inauguration Day paintings – a sort of spooky-intense evening on the Mall, no one around, in freezing rain and sleet. I sketched the sunset, and took a sheaf of the day’s sketches back to my motel room in La Plata, Md., and painted this in the room that night. The subject was daunting, as was figuring out how to paint in oils without hurting the room (required a trip to the hardware store for a big dropcloth) – but it was a blast. I loved it, despite the somewhat modest carefulness of the product. And I ended my three-day reconnaissance completely devoted to the beauty, inner and outer, of the Lincoln Memorial. 


Sunrise, Sunday, 1 January 2006

William Theodore Van Doren. Sunrise from Stony Point, Albemarle County, Va. Oil on canvas, 14 x 18.On New Year’s Day 2006, I resumed the Book of Days, this time adding a painting of each day’s sunrise as well as the sunset. The series began 13 June 1995. At the autumn equinox 1997 I began painting consecutive days – each day’s sunset – and continued through New Year’s Day 1999. Consecutive sunrises and sunsets, beginning with this painting on the morning of 1 January 2006, comprised two complete years, 2006 and 2007. In 2008 I continued painting each sunset.


Sunset, Monday, 22 September 1997

Stony Point, Albemarle County, Va. Oil on canvas, 14 x 18.

Changing skies can seem like a large-scale riot, and very often the only way to avoid getting killed is not to stand by, or stop and study the riot, but jump in and be part of it.

This was the first of the consecutive sunsets – a painting a day of the day itself.


The Sunset (October 1995)

Sunset drags streamers over the horizon, pulls air out of the air, burns color down to ash, consuming every last obstacle of atmosphere, displacing place with time, only to kill time with space. It’s the accumulation of incident carried off for distillation. It brings seizures of realization. Not even slightly romantic in itself, it’s the wrap – sweet, sad, or muddled. It’s the truth. Because it’s the end, it’s the truth.