G- Vincent Van Gogh…A-Z Challenge.

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

As you may recall, my theme for the 2018 A-Z Challenge is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Today, we’re off to catch up with Vincent Van Gogh, the “Painter of Sunflowers”, who is equally well-known for his Starry Night and many other iconic works. I might be mistaken, but it seems to me that Vincent Van Gogh somehow opened Blake’s “doors of perception” and possibly even saw a glimpse of something in between Heaven and Earth. He was indeed a visionary genius.

If you are interested in some musical accompaniment, here’s Don McLean’s Starry Starry Night

It’s no secret that “Vincent The Man” was more beautiful, intricate and complex than any of his paintings. While his self-portraits barely scratch the surface, the inner man is best revealed through his letters to his beloved brother, Theo, an art dealer who financed his entire artistic enterprise. Indeed, these letters are considered masterpieces in their own right.

“But what is to be done? It is unfortunately complicated by lots of things, my pictures are valueless, they cost me, it is true, an extraordinary amount, even in blood and brains at times perhaps. I won’t harp on it, and what am I to say to you about it?[1]

Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh  Arles, 17 January 1889

Yet, it is also well-known that Vincent Van Gogh had a tortured existence. That, despite the vibrant colours almost glowing in his later works, he experienced extreme hardship, failure and rejection most of his life. Indeed, he only sold one painting in his life time. That’s hard going. So, you could say that all these failures added up and that these, combined with his psychological troubles, caused him to cut off his ear and ultimately commit suicide.

Or, so the story goes…

Meeting Vincent

Trying to remember when I first “discovered” Vincent, is like trying to track down the origins of a dream. There are endless stars and nebulae with no beginning. His paintings expressed an anguish, an inner-chaos which I couldn’t put into words. You see, I spent the first 28 years of my life living with undiagnosed, untreated hydrocephalus, which I jokingly call: “a harbour in my head”. In the year leading up to surgery, I experienced a myriad of bizarre neurological symptoms. So, you could almost say those swirls in Starry Night, had moved inside head. Indeed, my head was like a pressure-cooker about to explode. So, it’s no wonder Vincent made sense and somehow he cast a light out of the darkness. Indeed, it was the light of a thousand stars.

In April 1992, my best friend and I touched down in Amstersdam. I was a 22 year old Australian backpacker, and I’d just finished my university studies. It was an exhilarating time. My cocooned world of intensive study had sprung open, and I’d flown to the other side of the world. You can’t get much more liberated than that, and being in Europe for the very first time, was incredible. It blew me away.

In those early days, we not only visited the Anne Frank House, but we also went to the Van Gogh Museum. It was there, seeing Van Gogh’s paintings in the flesh, that Vincent suddenly came to life with the force of a thousand stars. That was now over 25 years ago, so much of the detail has faded. Yet, I still vividly remember how his paintings came to life. Indeed, I could swear they were moving. You know, the irises, the sunflowers… The whole experience blew my mind.

A few months later, I even visited his house…The Maison de Van Gogh in Cuesmes, Belgium near Mons. This was where Van Gogh worked as an itinerant preacher. That was yet another mind-blowing Vincent experience.

Vincent and I were growing closer…

Starry Night MOMA

Vincent Van Gogh “Starry Night”, Museum of Modern Art, New York.

His Paintings

When it comes to Vincent’s works, I find it hard to pick a favourite. Of course, there’s Starry Night, but I also love his Sunflower series. I love sunflowers, but when you hear that the Amsterdam Sunflower contains 32 different tones of yellow, you’ve got to respect the mind-boggling genius of the man, and his sensitive attentive to detail. As a cafe lover, I adore Cafe Terrace At Night 1888.

After immersing myself in all things Vincent for the last couple of weeks, I’ve also been struck by an intriguing pair of paintings: Vincent’s Chair With His Pipe (1888) (left) and Gauguin’s Armchair (1888). The two chairs are like chalk and cheese and were painted while Gauguin stayed with Vincent at the Yellow House in Arles. Vincent’s chair was comparatively simple and painted in daylight. On the other hand, Gauguin’s chair was much more sophisticated, and it was painted at night. Van Gogh seemingly hero-worshipped Gauguin and bent over backwards to prepare the Yellow House for his arrival. This included painting the first of the two sunflower paintings to decorate the walls. He also had furniture made and asked Theo to help Gauguin out of his financial woes . However, their friendship became rather tempestuous. During a heated argument, Van Gogh cut off his ear and Gauguin returned to Paris.  The breakdown in their friendship must’ve devastated Vincent.

Van Gogh’s Last Days

Unfortunately, no discussion of Vincent Van Gogh is complete without addressing the psychological/psychiatric struggles which plagued him towards the end of his life. These, as you may well be aware, culminated in him cutting off his ear and ultimately committing suicide by shooting himself in the stomach. He died two days later.

Vincent was only 37 years old.

If you are a lover of Van Gogh’s and are particularly interested in his last days, I strongly recommend you see the movie: Loving Vincent. It’s now available on DVD. They have animated hundreds of his paintings in the movie, and also question whether he actually took his own life.

So, without any further ado, here’s my letter to Vincent Van Gogh:

Maldives Postage Stamps

Letter to Vincent Van Gogh

Dear Vincent,

Vincent! Vincent! Wherefore art thou, Vincent? You appear before me like a dream, an apparition. Stars are swirling through a wave of blue, carrying me to a place inside my head, which exists somewhere beyond the lines.

Like you, I feverishly work away. Not for dollars and cents or immediate payment, but through a belief in something bigger. I don’t know whether you can set a dollar amount on that. Yet an artist, a writer, needs to eat and pay for their kids’ school shoes and excursions. These realities place a sense of gravity on even the most inspired imagination. That is,  unless we have no strings, no ties to hold us down to the earth, and we can just do as we please. However, that life is not for me. As much as I might crave time and space to write and “be”, I’d die in my own orbit. My family and I are one, interwoven, yet each is our own being (however that works).

Vincent, I hope you don’t mind me dredging up the past. However, there are many doubters among us, who could ironically also be termed: “believers”. I just find it hard to accept that you took your life. That after suffering for so long, why then? Your paintings might not have been selling, but you were producing masterpiece after masterpiece. Surely, you could see that. What went wrong? Indeed, I’m even starting to wonder if you even shot yourself at all. Did somebody else pull the trigger, and you wouldn’t say? Please speak up now. Send me a letter. It’s never too late.

Your loving friend,

Rowena

Van Gogh Crows In A Wheatfield

Vincent Van Gogh, Crows in a Wheatfield, Van Gogh Museum.

Letter From Van Gogh

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your letter. My old friend Joseph Roulin from Post Office in Arles delivered it this morning. We were both overjoyed.  Joseph’s been missing the old post office. You’re the only one who ever sends a letter around here and we’re all trying to work out who’ll be next.

By the way, I loved the stamps. Who would’ve thought!

Sorry I can’t help you with the details of my final days. I’ve put all those earthly matters behind me now.

However, I wanted to send you a fragment of a letter I wrote to my brother, Theo on the 21st July, 1882:

“What I want and have as my aim is infernally difficult to achieve, and yet I don’t think I am raising my sights too high. I want to make drawings that touch some people.”

That’s what it’s all about.

I’m not sure that I regret not finding fame and fortune in my life time,. However, it baffles me that I could be spat upon and ridiculed in life, yet hero-worshipped in death. Does that make any sense to you?

Your friend,

Vincent

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincent_van_Gogh

[1] http://www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/19/571.htm

http://blog.vangoghgallery.com/index.php/en/2012/07/29/van-gogh-and-gauguins-chairs/

The Yellow House, Arles

 

Further Reading

https://www.facebook.com/VanGoghMuseum/videos/10159187334010597/

DVD: Loving Vincent

Brainpickings: The Fluid Dynamics of Starry Night

The Unexpected Maths in Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night

 

 

 

 

22 thoughts on “G- Vincent Van Gogh…A-Z Challenge.

  1. Jacqui Murray

    The older I get, the more I appreciate Van Gogh. Notice I didn’t say ‘like’. He’s still not my type of art but I see his genius. Nice chat, BTW, with him!

  2. gaiainaction

    Hi Rowena, what a wonderful blog post! How nice to read your letter to Vincent, and his reply to yours. I enjoyed it very much and admire your imagination and also your love of Vincent and his paintings. Once I stood in front of his Starry Night at the gallery of Yale University in New Haven, I did not expect that it would do any more to me than the Kandinsky’s, the Rothko’s, Picasso’s or Pollock’s paintings. But I received quite a surprise at how Starry Night struck me, I stood there for a long time, it brought me into another world, gave me a glimpse of a larger universe. This was in 2008, ten years ago…. I relive it quite regularly.

  3. blikachuka

    I love Van Gogh- I don’t know when I fist started becoming aware of him, but I remember deciding that I liked impressionism, and he was probably my top impressionist, and then around the same time there was the Dr Who episode Vincent and the Doctor. It was one of my all time favourite episodes. I think that cemented my love. I have seen Loving Vincent at the theatre- very interesting but I wish they had an answer. but then I guess there wouldn’t be the mystery.

  4. Liam

    Vincent Van Gogh is among my favorite artists. I know I’m not along in this sentiment because on my visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, I was overwhelmed by the crowds which seemed to be at least 6 people deep at every painting. Luckily, I’ve been able to spend time up close with his paintings in Boston and New York.

  5. Wolf of Words

    One of my top 5 favorite painters but partly because of the story behind his paintings. As somebody who has suffered from depression, he is a beacon from the past. At some point I need to watch the new animated movie but the portrayal on Doctor Who was inspiring.

  6. Rowena Post author

    I didn’t see the portrayal on Doctor Who. Might try to Google that. I’m grappling with his mental health status and there is doubt about whether he cut off his ear or took his life. He certainly had troubles at the end of his life but he also had a lot of clarity. His letters to Theo, reveal logical, sequential thinking and he was also planning ahead and thinking of the future. He was also painting intensely, not shutting himself away and lacking in motivation. I could see him becoming quite manic, and that inevitably has it’s crashes.
    I have read quite a lot about neuroprocessing and how the brain is plastic and receptive to change. That when you have repeated activities, the wiring in your brain changes and neurons expand and contract.
    What I think is happening with a lot of highly successful people, is that they might’ve started out with natural talent and an obsessive personality style where long hours of training and practice and the success that comes there way becomes a very powerful force. However, all of this is putting them out of sync. It’s like going down a tunnel and they keep going and going and going until they’re completely unbalanced and potentially have little capacity to perform every day tasks and function in the real world. So, that instead of just pursuing that one direction, I feel they need to counterbalance it. I am finding that quite a few creatives like Charles Dickens, Degas and Van Gogh did a lot of walking and I think that might’ve settled the mind.
    My 12 year old daughter does a minimum of about 6 hours dancing a week, but she also does scouts. Yesterday, she had open day at dancing and performed her ballet solo in her tutu and went off to a scout camp last night where they were out in the bush and sleeping in tents. Trying to fit all of this in, is tricky but I’m hoping it keeps her head sorted.
    Personally, I find my family relationships and responsibilities keep me grounded. Yet, the more writing I do, the more the routine goes out the window and I really struggle with consistency. I’m must more of a boom and bust person.
    Does any of that ring true for you?
    Hope you have a great weekend. I’m trying to catch up today and will be writing an overview of the week.
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

  7. Rowena Post author

    Oh I wish I’d seen “Loving Vincent” in the cinema on the big screen, but I’m glad to see it now. I’m going to Google that episode of Dr Who and see if I can find it.
    I agree about trying to find some definitive answers about the end of Van Gogh’s life. I also read that Gauguin might’ve cut off his ear with his fencing sword. That would change how you read the end of Vincent’s life considerably, especially when you consider the location of the bullet in the stomach. Why didn’t he shoot himself in the head or mouth? Or, maybe he was frustrated and didn’t want to die. It was more a case of causing self-harm. I’d love to get inside his head and find out what happened and even more so, to rewind time and save his life. Who knows what we’re missing out on…
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

  8. Pingback: Letters to Dead Artists Weekly Round-Up… A-Z Challenge. | beyondtheflow

  9. Wolf of Words

    It does ring true for me. As a creative, my mind often races with ideas but also with anxiety and taking a walk or going to the gym helps immensely. I agree you can’t get hyper-focused on one thing for too long or you’ll start to go “mad”. And yes routine is hard unless I force it on myself which I have been trying to get better at.

  10. Rowena Post author

    Thanks, Tom. I’ll have to use that link instead. I’ve been having to do this series on the run, although I haven’t been very focused today and my son took over my main computer and I’ve been battling on with dodgy wifi.
    It just hit me that I could be chilling out and relaxing. That all this pressure is self-induced…a real masochist.
    Hope you and the fur ball are going well.
    xx Rowena

  11. subroto

    I knew you were going to feature Van Gogh 🙂 I wonder if you have seen the brilliant drama- documentary “Painted With Words”. It is made using the letters from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Vincent and is truely heart breaking and yet wonderful to watch.

  12. Pingback: A-Z Weekly Round up…Letters to Dead Artists. | beyondtheflow

  13. Pingback: Letters to Dead Artists – Weekly Round Up…A-Z Challenge | beyondtheflow

  14. Rowena Post author

    Vincent is one of my all time favourites and I feel happy when I look at his works. They don’t seem like works of a madman to me. I’m not sure whether we’ve already discussed the recent movie put out about Vincent Gogh where they animated his paintings and looked into where he took his own life. I also read something that suggested he didn’t cut his ear off, but Gauguin accidentally sliced it off with his fencing sword and they kept it secret. There are other artists where I find their work very intense but not Vincent. There’s loads of sunshine, light, appreciation of things. Could point to a manic phase but he’s not all dark and foreboding. Any thoughts?
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

  15. Pingback: Reflections- Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge 2018. | Beyond the Flow

  16. Arly Marv

    Discovery is such a great thing. It’s bought me here to your post.

    I came across one of Van Gogh quotes. “ I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart.”

    Reading your post bought so much clarity and understanding behind the artist.

    I’ve learned so much from reading here.

    Artist go through so much in their depth of commitment to their work.

    Thanks for sharing and keep posting.

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