Vincent Van Gogh: My Passionate Ignorance
By. William Soriano
Once upon a time, I must admit that I was one of the most ignorant people that I knew.
I am probably still that way, but I am doing my best to change that. The words that I write, that I am always writing are my continuous attempts at making up for that ignorance. This story is about Gogh.
All of my life I was obsessed with love, or as I put it then, infatuated with love. I was around 20 years old at the time and I had gone through twice that amount in girlfriends and relationships attempting to find my one and true love. Of course, being immature, where I found success I too found failure, lots, and lots of failures.
I was born in California and moy first year in Kansas I was in 4th grade and I have a memory of being in Mr. Brummel’s art class and staring at the painting the Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. A few times a week for a year I would stare at the blue swirls of the sky with dots of yellow stars. Later, when I would be considering a tattoo, wondering how to tie my passions of love and art, I thought nothing would be more perfect than that same painting that I knew I had loved passionately from such a young age.
I of course didn’t want to blatantly rip off Gogh, so I had the colors changed from blue to red to represent that burning desire. I was going to have “Love” written on the inside of my forearm to help illustrate my subtle meanings. Luckily, Carlos Ransom, tattoo artist at Big Daddy Cadillac’s, Lawrence, KS, made up some fib about needing to wait for another session to add “Love” and the elements specific to it. “It needed to heal” so I would have to wait. However, he as an artist, a polite one, really hated the addition of text so chose to trick me instead of argue with me.
This was a lie I am eternally grateful for.
I bring this up because I was just recently struggling with working on a book that I’ve been designing for class. I have a 13” MacBook Pro, and although a retina, it’s very difficult to work efficiently when only so many application windows could be open and seen. Giving into my own personal addictions I purchased a very expensive 4k display. Basically the equivalent to 4 HDTV’s smooshed together in 28-inches. My productivity level went from a tortoise crawl to a ADHD hare, so fast that time I found enough time to waste by watching a massive IMAX movie like Van Gogh: Brush with Genius.
So, now is the time that I make a huge confession; I have never ever seen a painting by van Gogh. Never in person or in a reproduction with higher quality than a postcard or poster akin to a dorm room wall. I've also never stared at a piece of artwork and been moved to tears.
I've always known about the time he removed his ear and gave it to a woman. It's funny, in 4th grade it was a woman, in high school it was a prostitute, and now as an adult it was a woman whom he loved who worked in a café* that he frequented. I tell these things because although all true, there is enough variation that even if I had been a diligent student of life the story outside of this film wouldn't have held the meaning it does today.
The director of the film, a Frenchman, told the story through the narrative of Van Gogh using letters he had written to his brother Theo. It followed a woman, Helen, who worked in the Gogh museum. She sat alone in a concrete room at a table in the center with the grey bars of safe making the room appear more prison cell than vault. Along the wall beside her were shelves lined with green metal boxes, in them every letter than van Gogh had written. The woman was absolutely beautiful, dark brown hair, deep matching brown eyes, and a Mediterranean bone structure. Helen would delicately examine each page fascinated while the camera took close ups.
Between live action shots of Helen, it was the director, François Bertrand, in the south of France with a camera taking shots of the locations that Gogh had painted in his work. Between those scenes and the rest were extreme close ups of the actual paintings, details that from behind a velvet rope, or on an inexpensive reproduction you simply wouldn’t be able to see.
I watched captivated, jaw dropped, my face inches away from the brilliance of colors shimmering before my lit up cheeks. Listening to his story, his passion, finding out that he had created over 900 paintings in his lifetime, had at one point been a preacher, but was dismissed for being overzealous. After losing of his ear van Gogh committed himself to an asylum.
He might've been insane, abnormal, but he was aware and responsible enough to recognize his struggle and to seek action on repairing it.
In the end, tormented, overworked, and alone van Gogh took his own life. He was a genius, a diligent genius who painted with the academic mindset of improvement. His narrative, the paintings, the locations, the story behind them, as filmed by Bertrand, changed my opinion of van Gogh. The result is that I now know why I have his work branded on my body till the end of time, almost as I had always known, just absent the facts.