Sun Obsession

A Love Affair with Sunflowers

Just an hour’s drive south from Surabaya in East Java, the city of Malang may be a sojourn for city slickers to escape into the highlands to cool off. For half of the year, the evening temperature in Malang averages around 17-20 degrees celsius – a perfect range where a wide variety of flowers and vegetation can thrive.

A horse ranch in Batu, just 20 mins away from Malang city sprawls in a park where the locals call Peternakan Kuda Mega Star. Gleaming in the morning sun, it was not surprising to find the true star of the show to be the majestic seven feet tall giant Helianthus or the Common Sunflowers. They gaze and pivot their seed filled heads to soak the golden sun rays as if that what they feed and live for.

As if hypnotised by some magnetic power, the Sunflowers’ heads are transfixed to gaze the sun as it moves across the sky, from east to west, from dawn till dusk.

The golden yellow hues exude some kind of energy that overpowered my intent of riding the horses which were supposedly the main attraction here. Saving the horses from yet another aimless trot around this rustic ranch and lost myself in a blanket of colours. The hues of the Zinnias in violet, fuchsia and yellow were so intense that the scarlet Rosella and Celosia seemed to pale in comparison. However, they were no match to the glorious globes of the American Sunflowers that dominated the landscape. I was elated by its sturdy stems, its tactile appeal and richness of their colours instead. There is something about the sunflower. Its densely packed centre invites you to just fondle with your fingertips, as they later unveil seeds that can be harvested for a variety of uses.

Instantaneously, the notorious Fifteen Sunflowers in a Vase by Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh, came to mind. I blamed my preoccupation with flowers as a teen to this particular painting. An infectious melody from Starry Starry Night by Don McClean, meant as a tribute to the painter released in 1971, not only took me down the nostalgic lane, but unfolded a curiously new world just waiting to be explored. Van Gogh’s tragic death (on my birthday), did not help make sense of the coincidence – so my fascination for the sunflowers persisted.

Arguably, critics differ and raised many questions about the motivation behind this famed painting. Art historians deduced that the medication prescribed to Vincent altered his perception or view of the world. Conversely, his time at the asylum were more contemplative than had a rehabilitative effect to his condition. We can only conclude from biographical references to his mental health that the practice of painting was only cathartic.

In 2016, this posthumously famous painting was valued at £53.5 million, tripling a previous record and ushered a new era in top art sales.

Some claim it became an obsession because Vincent did not only paint one in a large canvas, but a total of five versions. An obsession one would say? Vincent originally painted the sunflowers to delight his artist friend, Paul Gauguin in Arles. Notably, the Sunflowers were painted primarily in three shades of yellow ‘and nothing else’. Coupled with his pointillistic approach to painting on canvas – this technique in itself was a breakthrough because it was so different from the paintings produced at the time. Vincent’s brother, Theodore saw this unique talent and gave all that he had to support and finance his work. In fact, Theodore’s belief and love for his brother was the reason for Vincent’s posthumous success.

Just as the Sunflowers captured Vincent’s imagination, sunflowers are so easy to love and a delight to watch – especially in time lapse. If only we could stand still and watch the world move with the Sunflowers we can only begin to understand how important we that we find time with people that matter, and to cherish what we have because Time is in fact the greatest healer.


By Who
Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh

1888 – 1889

Arles, South of France

What Colour
3 types of yellow & ‘nothing else’

How Many
15 Sunflowers

How Many Versions
A total of 5 times


The yellow flowers produce small grey or edible seeds found naturally in dark green, black or sometimes striped shells called “husks”. Sunflowers are actually native to North America and evidence suggest that sunflowers were cultivated as long as 3000 BC! They were first discovered and taken to Europe, and then spread to Russia where they were first commercialized as a crop and harvested for their oil.

Health Benefits

Sunflower seeds, like nearly all types of nuts and seeds, provide a healthy source of essential fatty acids; their specific fatty acids.

Additionally, sunflower seeds are also an excellent source of fiber, amino acids which make up the building blocks of proteins, B Vitamins, phytosterols, and more.

Consuming healthy fats actually leads to a healthy cardiovascular system, a stable healthy body weight, and reduced levels of body-wide inflammation.

Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of many vital nutrients including Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant found in many nuts and seeds, but sunflower seeds are one of the best natural sources of this antioxidant, which works hard to fight free radical damage within the body.