I attended the Beyond Van Gogh show this week and to say it moved me deeply doesn’t begin to cover it. I was expecting to be impressed but this was so much more.
I’m familiar with his story through books, movies and from his own words in his letters to Theo. But this? This was on a completely different level and hard to explain. It was an experience of the senses. I glimpsed the man behind the art.
On the screens, I observed how Vincent worked. At points in the show, the animation gave the impression of the work moving from sketch to colour. Or the brushstrokes moved as an invisible hand appeard to lay down paint. At one point, while taking a photo of a group, his portraits were being projected and from behind the group, Vincent winked at me!
I can’t talk to him and ask what it all meant to him so when I returned home, I got out my book “Dear Theo” to read again. After experiencing the show, the words in his letters hit differently. This time it’s not an intellectual exercise in art history. My reading has shifted and I sense the real person, pen in hand, sharing his day and thoughts with someone who cared.
Here was a lonely man trying to speak through his art to a world that couldn’t be bothered. The fact that his brother loved and supported him for so long tells me he was lovable but others found him too intense and focused. They didn’t get too close. And his paintings were too different for the art world at that time. I wish I could send a message back to tell him how much the world appreciates him now.
One other thing that shifted for me was my understanding of “voice”. In the past I thought “finding your voice” meant settling on a certain style. As in “I am a landscape painter” or “I am a floral artist”.
But as Vincent’s work surrounded me in that room, I saw just how many different subjects and styles he progressed through. His was a very personal journey to finding his voice as an artist. Each step was important in that process so that one day he could paint “Starry Night” and “Irises”.
Vincent showed me that voice is found at our core if we are willing to do the work and make the journey. An artist’s vocabulary is brushstrokes, medium and colours. As van Gogh came into his full creative power, his vocabulary pulsed with energy and colour that still speak and inspire.
Two things that remain eternally true and complement each other; in my view are: don’t snuff out your inspiration and power of imagination, don’t become a slave to the model; and the other, take a model and study it, for otherwise your inspiration won’t take on material form.To Theo van Gogh, The Hague, November 1882