When did I become fascinated with Van Gogh? Well, it was the time when my sister Grace imparted to me the subject of the song “Vincent” by Don McLean. In my 12-year old mind I felt a pang of sympathetic sadness for the artist when he was yet alive and as years passed on I would make it a point to recognize that when people said “Van Gogh” with paintings, it would be about this painter. It wasn't long after that that Newsweek reported one of Van Gogh's paintings named “Irises” fetched $53.9 million at Sotheby's in New York, in 1987, it was the one with the white vase and was labeled as the most expensive painting ever to be sold at the time. “A painting of oil on canvass done by a man who was penniless and mad trounces the world of the arts and culture.” Said I back then.
So it goes that in an immense sense, Van Gogh became my doorway into studying paintings; his style which was “post impressionism” in my view is the most genius and innovative of all the movements in paintings. Even after having delved into other forms like the Rococo, impressionism, German expressionism and the vast morphologies of abstract and surrealism, I am still most captivated by the originality of Van Gogh's strokes and vibrancy. So intimate did I become with Van Gogh's work that I even began to pronounce the “Gogh” as “gokh” like the Dutch, instead of the usual “gow.” In connection with this, I did dabble on paintings and sketches because of the man's ability to evoke artistry even to the ones who aren't so inclined.“Starry Night,” “The Sower,” “Sunflowers,” his still life(s), along with paintings of Van Gogh's peers like Paul Gauguin and Paul Cezanne moved me.
As I grew older and as life continued to present reality to me - in flagrante delicto, such idealistic and dreamy times of my personal belle epoch was set aside. However, when I finally came face to face with one of the painter's “Irises” and one of his self portraits with the straw hat at The Met, I literally thanked the Lord God in Heaven for taking me to that place. Yes, we all have our own Holy Grails.
Most recently, I ran into a video-documentary about Van Gogh based on the correspondence he had with his brother Theo. The film was called: Van Gogh: "Painted in Words"; it was very well presented and stars the luminescent Benedict Cumberbatch as the painter. The subject was about Van Gogh's emotional journey paralleled with the evolution of his craft. As it happens, there are more stories to be told about him besides the madness, and self-mutilation. There was his admiration for the working class, his desire to be a clergyman and his innocent belief in love. What was revealed in his letters was a tender-hearted man behind the bold and decisive genius of the art.
His work was far ahead of his time but hardly any recognized him when he was yet living, however, as if to make up for it, forms of today's pop culture from the "Starry Night” pastiche in Woody Allen's “Midnight in Paris” to Don McLean's song “Vincent” to Dr. Who's episode of “Vincent and the Doctor” pay homage and even seek to rectify the inequity of Van Gogh's living days. But oh dear, not even a Time Lord's time machine, nor a high-grossing Woody Allen film could undo it all for Vincent van Gogh. His art lives yes, but as for the man, McLean's elegy echoes centuries of truth about the artist, “This world was never meant for one as beautiful as him.”