My Name Is Vincent [Script]

             My Name Is Vincent   (and I am a Dutchman)`

by David Noard

[The lights are down. They come up as Vincent enters, shouting …]

Mon Dieu … Mon Dieu … I flunked out, I flunked out! Now I do not have to learn Latin and Greek!  Now I can give bread to poor people. I never did see the connection between Latin verbs, Greek nouns and flour and yeast!

The way I just came in, ranting and raving like a wild man … that is how my uncle Johannes described me coming in his back door. I had been living at his place in Amsterdam and had flunked out of a tutorial program at the University. My grandfather, father and uncle had studied there and gone on to become pastors. I had intended to follow in their foot-steps but I couldn’t do the academic work and … and I flunked out …

And after some small talk, my uncle told me that I had been born to the wrong parents. He knew I loved to read, read anything, novels, poetry, natural history … and the bible.

He also knew that  because my parents were deeply immersed in the Dutch Reformed Church they were suspicious of all books, except of course the Bible. And my mother, God Bless, she often told the story that an uncle on her side read one, one French book ,and began drinking …

Well, maybe a couple days later I found the courage to go home … home to Etten … where my father was the pastor. My parents were not surprised I had flunked out. I was 25.  Had to do something with my life, get a job and because my father knew some people, I was sent as a lay missionary to a horrible mining area of southern Belgium, known as the Borinage.

But after a few weeks I was glad I was sent there. I could bandage the miners who were always burned in explosions. I could help their exhausted wives do the filthy, filthy laundry … and on Wednesday evenings  I held bible studies. But the first time I went down in the mines, down 2,000′, I couldn’t believe what I saw. It seems that the owners thought it was a good idea for the children to be down there with their fathers, down 2,000′, pulling carts of coal because the mine shafts were too low for the nearly dead ponies.

The miners wee cold, hungry. I gave them my clothes, food. And what do you think happened? I got fired! I got fired by the missionary committee. They said I was being too kind to the miners. Too kind? How do you be too kind to miners who are shivering and starving?  Well, you know what I did? I climbed onto the biggest, the highest, tallest pile of dung and yelled out: “Go to Hell missionary committee … Just go to Hell!” When I stumbled down, looked around and realized I had no job, no money, no food and no place to sleep. So I walked in this direction, this direction. I walked 40 kilometers, 90 kilometers,  in the rain. I slept in barns, bushes. I worked for my food. I learned that the size of a potato is determined by how fast you eat it.  If you eat a potato like a squirrel eats a nut … . bzzzzz, buzz … the potato is quickly gone. And it must have been small. But if you take a bite, chew it slowly, listen to the crunches, savor the juices, and be grateful for the existence of potatoes, then the potato lasts a long time and it must’ve been big.

And while I did learn to eat my potatoes slowly,   I still thought  someone had poured sand and rocks into my head. It always asked, “How can I serve? How can I serve?” I knew I needed help. I scrounged books. I read Shakespeare in the dark,  George Eliot in the snow, Dickens in the rain and Victor Hugo anywhere. I pondered, I debated, I screamed and I sobbed …

But then I saw a dead cicada!  Oooh … when I saw that cicada I began to buzz. Talk about a mind racing, talk about a kid, a kid walking in the woods, gathering bird’s nest and beetles from the ground. Back then I knew the fancy name, the  Latin name, Order Coleptra.

But oooh when I remembered sketching a cicada, when I remembered that …. oooh  something very special began to happen. I felt scared but I felt good too. A possibility was emerging. A burden was being lifted.  I felt lighter. A smile began at my toes, it was headed for my face and I called out to my brother … Brother Theo, can you hear me? [Delivered very emotionally because this is his epiphany.] Everything is ok, everything will be alright, all I have to do is to work and work and work, because I won’t be a pastor like our father, grandfather and uncle … no, no, no … I won’t do that. Instead, I will be an … artist! … I will serve  God by being an artist!

Oooh Theo, while you’re listening … please, please send me paper, pencils and reproductions of the old masters … that is how I will learn to draw … I’ll copy Rubens and Rembrandt …

Well, for the next five years, I practiced drawing.  I drew ducks and geese and hogs and dogs and flowers and peasants and people! I drew everything! I drew on paper! I  even drew in the dirt. I drew with a soft rock onto a hard rock. I carried a chunk of red chalk in my right pocket and a chunk of blue chalk in my left pocket. I drew from dawn to dusk. I drew from can’t see to can’t see. And my younger brother Theo,  younger  by four years, while he worked as an art dealer in Paris, while he fed and watered me, I practiced drawing …

I moved to Brussels.  I moved to Antwerp. I moved wherever there was helpful instruction. Once there was an instructor who said we had to  do  realistic, Renaissance-type drawing. Well, it seems that I had enlarged my model’s hips and when he came around to look at my work … he scratched through it, tore it into little pieces, threw it on the floor, stomped on it and said,  “Get out van Gogh,  get out!”  Well, on the way out of that door  I  yelled, “You  don’t even know what a woman is … she needs hips, pelvis and buttocks to carry her children!”

Another instructor said we should use our thumb,  you know, get the scale of the outhouse to the barn. [Vincent raises his thumb.] Well,  I  was totally  new to  fancy art theory stuff   and said it was the dumbest thing I ever heard of … and he  threw me out! But I did get revenge, on the way outta that stupid studio,  I offered that gentleman the International One-Finger Salute!

Well, as fate would have it, Theo invited me to Paris. I wrote back, “Oh Theo, thank you very much but I’m not ready for Paris. My drawing is not ready for Paris. I would be embarrassed. Another time? Love and a handshake, Vincent.”But after a year of  hard, hard  work, in February of 1886, I paid a homeless boy to deliver a note to Theo’s gallery: “I am at the Louvre, kneeling before a Delacroix.  Please meet me here.”

Me arriving unexpectedly must have been quite a shock  but my brother  was calm and gracious. I was neither. He was accustomed to city life …  people, people, people. Me, I was accustomed to country life … squirrels, rabbits and ducks.  And while I definitely did see people,  I never did see a duck!

Fortunately  I soon met the artist Camille Pissarro.  He was an old timer, had a white beard down to his waist and had  been friends with a couple heroes of mine, Corot and Millet. They were peasant painters from the Fontainebleau Forest, south of Paris.

Camille had held a palette for many years  and     became very helpful because …  quite often we would go for a walk … and I can still remember him telling me that “shadows are not only dark places but there is also  color in those shadows and it is our obligation as artists to find that color.”  Well, it took me a while but I did it!

 

After  meeting  Camille I met his son Lucien also a painter. And with financial  help from Theo I began studying at Cormon’s studio. That is where I met Emile Bernard who at the age of 19 had quite a mature mind.  I also met Paul Gauguin. If Monet or Renoir were in town, I might see them. Later I met Cezanne. And through my friendship with Bernard I met Toulouse-Lautrec whose family lineage went way, way back and… he was a  very  interesting man!   And I say that because  in spite of  being just a  bit over five feet, with long legs, short torso,   wearing short black hair and a scruffy  black beard, plus   having  trouble walking …  probably related to riding horses … in spite all f those  unusual characteristics, Toulouse could be and definitely was,   an aristocrat!

Many times I saw him in formal clothes, a top hat, on his way to the circus to sketch the prancing horses.  And ooh couldn’t he sketch  the hip of a  horse … .  It was as if  he casually reached out into the universe and from an abundant  inventory was  offered and accepted a most perfect,  most beautiful anatomical curve which he then   placed  on  the hip of a  horse. No other, no other  Parisian artist could do what Toulouse could do with a horse hip.   He also spent a lot of time in the brothels, drawing and  painting  the prostitutes … in a very respectful manner.   Later I wondered if  he saw the women as being in  difficult situations rather than seeing  and painting them as whores …  because his life was physically complicated?

But other  Parisian artists  …  Signac, Seurat, Gauguin, the Pissarro’s … and others too … they were all helpful in their own private  way. And if those hard-working,  creative minds and souls, had been elsewhere, my mind and soul would have been nowhere …

But in the same cafes where I was learning, so were others. I would see a young mademoiselle curled up with Victor Hugo.  Over in the corner a shopkeeper reading Dickens. There was always intense conversation. People in Paris unlike people in Amsterdam had strong opinions and were not shy. In Holland, there was a saying “There is always room for one more docile Dutch.”

But artists in Paris were not docile … because at that time artists usually worked   from a live model,  a still life or a landscape, but Gauguin thought it was ok to paint totally, totally    from memory and that the work could still be art.  But while myself  and others debated,  I  can remember   that there were shall we say … very strong conversations …

But you know, in addition to talking art theory, I also improved my social skills. So, by the time I left Paris in February of 1888, after spending two years with men who were more civil, I no longer thought that people who disagreed with me … my parents, school authorities, missionary committee, instructors,  I no longer thought they should be shot or stabbed …

But while I was still  capable of being a bit belligerent and making lots of mistakes and even though I was drinking too much and doing things my mother would not have approved of,  I was learning.

My brain was working better than it ever, ever had. And my paint brush was more inclined to follow the dictates of my mind.  My eye, it was   deeply infatuated with the Japanese print-makers and their large areas of strong, bold but shallow color.

And   of course,  being in Paris   with the Impressionists,  oooh it was quite a heady time for a curious painter,  a red-head from up North.

And sure there was the good  wine,  the bad wine and the valuable artistic friends, but you know what was best, what was best was that  I,  Vincent van Gogh, who decided to become an artist at the age of 27, was doing what God had designed him to do … be an artist!  This same God  said I might not be happy but I would be a painter.  Also, the two of us,  God and I, we agreed that Paris was an obligatory oasis for a wandering artist.

Oooh in this Parisian oasis,  there was so much to learn in terms of theory and craft. And even thinking about this brings a smile, so let me tell you a little secret …  One night after too much conversation and definitely too much wine, I went home into Theo’s bedroom and pulled on his big toe ’til he woke up … Then I said,  “I kept up with the bastards,  I did,  I did,  I did!”

And while most people may not know the particular  feelings of artists, most people do have an event, a day or an evening that is crystal, crystal clear, and I had one of those …

Emile  and I were in a cafe, having a rosé, talking art.  Later  he   more fully explained Impressionism …

He said it was predictable,   merely a logical extension of technology because telescopes had examined the far and microscopes had examined the near, and so,   wouldn’t  artists, being in touch with both science and  humanity, why wouldn’t they want to artistically depict light as it passed through a prism … Why wouldn’t artists want to offer art that warmly depicted  an “impression”  of that  wonderful, ir-repeatable  moment?

My young but  learned  and quite valuable friend Emile,   also mentioned that the Impressionists  would put thin brushstrokes of color alongside one another to create, to construct  form. He also mentioned that because of the French Revolution, most of the subjects now were middle-class, dancing at the Moulin Rouge or having a family picnic along the Seine. No longer was it appropriate to paint the decadent royalty …This pup of a painter mentioned that Monet was enthralled by sunlight, Monet marveled at newly revealed textures and  was amazed at how much a hay stack would appear to change when kissed by the sun or hushed by a shadow.

And too, because Emile lived, thought and painted in both the present  and the future,  he could not believe that there had been a near-riot in April of 1874 when the Impressionists first exhibited at a photographer’s studio by the name of Nadar.  The upper class, the rich, the ignorant aristocracy, they were saying, “The barbarians are coming,  Paris will fall. Lock the gates! Lock the gates!”

But because Paris did not fall we had another rosé and Emile mentioned that our friends wanted him to tell me something.  Immediately I panicked! What had I done? And in spite of not wanting to, I remembered my uncle Vincent, a Parisian art dealer, telling me: “You must be the dumbest van Gogh in all of Holland The dumbest.!” And maybe a year ago, Cezanne said to me, “You paint like a madman!”

Then Bernard stroked his bare chin, hesitated … and said, “Many artists in Paris think  you  could be a major painter. You think so hard! You paint so hard! You definitely are  able to put your very private, artistic convictions  on the canvas! And then we painters are left scratching our heads,   shaking our heads … and trying  to catch up!” Then he patted me on the left shoulder and was gone …

I was stunned. Glad he was gone.  I got dizzy. I got more dizzy, hung onto the table. I took a few deep breaths …  When my head cleared a bit, there I was in the small Dutch village of  Nuenen,  working on my first major oil painting,   The Potato Eaters

“These people are stuck. They have no choices. The only thing they know is work, potatoes and dirt.  They live in a hovel.  They are horribly malnourished. I wondered, how should I draw their faces, figures, postures? If I drew them honestly they would be ugly. But I had to draw them as they are,  I had to draw them honestly. I had to draw them ugly …

But what colors? The wives never wore a red, green, yellow or blue blouse.  Only bland blouses.  Could I add color that was never, never  in their lives? No! I couldn’t! Again that would be dishonest.  So I used this ugly mix of yellow, green, brown.  I used the colors of the poor.  I used poor colors.

Later  I showed that canvas to my cousin Anton Mauve, a fairly respected painter.  He said I should have used typical colors. If typical colors had been good enough for centuries, they should have been good enough for the amateur painter Vincent van Gogh!   And because I used dark colors, he said I was not an artist, he said, he said,  “I played in the mud!” That’s what he said! …  “I played in the mud!”  The bastard!

He didn’t know that I had sketched their hovel of a home … their hands, heads, bodies, a hundred times. He didn’t know I was so familiar with their lives that I did this painting back at my studio, totally, totally from memory.  Plus, I included a picture hanging on the wall!  I was furious! I was hot! I was boiling! I let him have it … I said, “Anton Mauve, the  colors I used were the colors of these peoples lives! You want me to lie about their lives, their reality? Is that what you want? Say so, damn it, say so, oooh great painter Anton Mauve.”   But he didn’t say so, he just got up from his stool, walked through the door and I have never seen him since. Losing that friendship or supposed friendship was a high price to pay for my artistic freedom  but if I had not  had my freedom, I would have been somebody else’s painter …

[The lights go down. Vincent moves to other side of the  stage,  the lights come up.]

Back in Paris I realized … Paris was a beautiful woman.  I had been willingly seduced.  But it was time to go.  So I asked around … where can I go … where is it warm, cheap? The chorus came back … southern   France, Provence, Arles …

So I jumped on the train and sixteen hours later I jumped off the train into two feet of snow. A  highly unusual situation. I took the snow as a good omen …

Set up my easel, broke out my paints. Painted plants in the window of a  butcher’s shop.  Met a sweet little old lady, grey hair hanging to her waist.  She asked if I’d do her portrait? I said of course. She sat so peacefully. Big, beautiful,  blue eyes, still a bit mischievous.

Next I painted a French soldier in a bright red uniform, a postman wearing both  a bright, blue uniform and a massive black beard. Then I got the cheapest room in town …

Earlier in n Paris I said to myself, I said, “When I get all of me running in the same direction, look out!” And so I said to Arles that old Roman town, “look out Arles, here I am, paints and all …”

And that’s the way it was. I got up early. I painted all day. Every month Theo  sent me 150 francs, $30, for painting stuff, room and board. One month, one month  I spent far too much money on materials and for four days, it was cold coffee … bread … that I had to pay for later.

But by now I could see that those hours, days, weeks, months, years of drawing were paying off.  I had taught myself to draw anatomically correct before I even tried to draw expressively correct. Paris had been good for me and now Arles was good for me. All the work I had done. All the listening, looking, thinking, talking, drawing, painting …

The ideas in Arles were overwhelming. New landscapes. New people with new ideas.  A new sky! The ideas careened against one another and  against me. Finally my brain sorted out a few things with the aid of my eye I suppose … and I found color everywhere!  In the wheat fields, the gypsies’ clothes, the gypsies’ wagons. In fact, color was the sunflowers,! Color was the  peonies!  Color was also a newly white-washed barn  and a blue, blue Mediterranean sky that I had never  seen before!

I found a house, a yellow house! Rented it. Invited Emile Bernard but he had already planned a walking tour through Brittany. I wrote Gauguin, Gauguin wrote me. I wrote Gauguin,  Gauguin wrote me.   Finally and probably in October of 1888,  after I had painted a few sunflowers for his bedroom, Gauguin moved in. It probably helped that he was represented by my brother’s Parisian gallery.

And Gauguin, after looking at the domestic chaos and my begging body,   offered to cook.  Then I ate food.  Real food!

But within a short time, out of a growing need for a bit of … shall we say …  domestic tranquility, we agreed to disagree … about everything …  salt, pepper, sugar, flour, art, life, death.  But also, because art was vital to both of us,  we talked more  about whether a painting, based totally upon memory,  could be art.    I was yet to be convinced … and    we talked, we  talked late into the night … we disagreed, we yelled … some dishes did not survive …

Two days before Christmas of 1888 we had a real row …  and that’s when the self-mutilation happened.  And for years, for more than a hundred years, the historical fact was that I cut off my ear, flush with the side of my head.  Well folks,  that fact is not a fact.  In fact, it’s a lie!

What I did during my first epileptic attack and during hallucinations of both sight and sound, was to cut off the lower lobe and a bit more of my left ear.

The hallucinations I mentioned, they were probably the same hallucinations that ravaged King George III.  And while I do not know any details of George’s personal life, I do know that myself,  my box of paints, my easel were minding our own business and WHAM … I was sick, horribly sick with ugly purple, green, red hallucinations …. my  head …  oh oooh my God … my head …

I was sick 30, 50 days. I recovered but remembered nothing. I could walk, talk, think, draw, paint.  But I lived in constant fear. When would the next monster appear and drag me off into its black cave?

Sometimes I thought about my life,  my medical problems.

I realized that I did  not have much of a role in whether I was gonna exist,  I was just here. And instead of having kidney, lung or heart problems, I had head, brain problems that affected my behavior   and so  I was ridiculed.  I wondered, if someone broke a leg or had a heart attack in public … or if their spleen burst as they exited the Louvre, were they ridiculed?  And if they were not ridiculed then why was I  ridiculed ?

Brother Theo, he was my anchor. He  loved me unconditionally. Sure we disagreed, we fought. He was usually correct. But he was not correct when he thought I had an infinite supply of courage. He was proud of my recovery, my resiliency but I wasn’t so sure. I thought my shoulders were beginning to droop   a bit.  …

But in spite of my sometimes poor health I had flourished. I had  learned to get the paint from the tube and onto the canvas.  Now I needed to get the ideas from my mind, body and soul onto the canvas.  And in Arles I was busy. I painted orchards … apple,  pear, peach, landscapes and little blue boats that had been kissed onto the beach.  In fact, during the fifteen months in Arles, sometimes sick, sometimes in the hospital, I sent Theo 187 canvasses …

Sure I was from a family that were known for their successes. Sure I was Dutch and accustomed to hard work. But there is an even more simple explanation:  I HAD TO PAINT. I HAD TO BE KEPT A- FLUTTER. I WAS THE BEE THAT HAD TO HEAR THE BEATING OF ITS OWN WINGS.

My only source of sweet nectar was to sit with my palette, a few tubes of  paint, oblivious to what else I knew I needed.

And the frantic pace at which I lived, thought and painted, probably indicated the reality that I was insufficiently loved.  Oh I did believe that Theo loved me and he knew that I loved him,  but there were major differences.

Theo did not have a still-born brother, born exactly one year, exactly  365  days prior to his own birth. When he came home from school, walked through the grave yard, he did not see the granite tombstone that read:  Vincent Wilhelm van Gogh, 1852.  He did not hear his parents on their knees saying, “If only the first Vincent had lived. If only.” Also, Theo had a wife and a child. I had a busted-up paint box, a few tubes of paint, some empty, some split, dried …  6-8 brushes, some broken …

But let me change the subject. Let me tell you what  Bernard  once told me about old art,  new art, old painting, new painting …  and remember, this is coming from a 20 year old French kid.

He said that in earlier art a book, a myth, a literary or biblical   ingredient   was usually present . …And then he said something that just totally amazed me … He said, he said  that another consistent ingredient of earlier art was … starch … yeah starch! And because art could not change it became rigid and began to chafe.

Then he got a big, big smile on his face and said,  “But new art   will be based on the composite experience of the artist, their ability to draw expressively and their sensitivities to color

Then very emphatically he added: “Henceforth the individual,  let me repeat  … Henceforth the individual will be more recognized!”

And while there  definitely was too much starch in Renaissance and French painting, there was not too much color in the south of France …  and oh didn’t I pursue that color. And I found color, not because color had become geriatric and moved more slowly.  Oh no, I found color because of an earlier debate  I posed for myself:  “Did I want to learn something significant and explore what had not been done? Did I want to take a glance inside myself? Did I want to find an original response to the world of windmills and trees, barges and boats? Would I be the frog that sat on the same lily pad, basking in the warmth of the familiar, the already known?  Or would I be the frog that jumped curiously from one lily pad to another?  Would I enjoy the tender taste of new ideas?” Well you know which one I choose and I really never had any choice … because … because I feel it is a human obligation to also grow above the shoulders.

But there are other reasons for  wanting to lead an expressive life … and those reasons include being told that poetry, painting, music, drama, dance were simply another way to love a larger circle. They told me that these pursuits were another way to say hello to another human for a long, long time, forever maybe. This struggle to be spiritual, to connect with other two-legged critters that inhabit this planet, that struggle is demonstrated by the making of art.

And oooh how I wanted to connect. Ooh how I wanted to connect. Oooh how I wanted to love,  be loved. But it didn’t  and I couldn’t make it happen.   Well once I did try but I see now it was a horrible mistake.

My cousin married a pastor. He died. Left her with a young child. During her mourning  they came to visit. My father suggested I take them  for a walk in the woods. It felt so good to hold the warm hand of the young boy. I pointed to a tall,  large oak where I knew there were baby squirrels. I pointed to a large, hollow log where I knew there were baby rabbits. I got down on my hands and knees,  so  did the boy.  But before I could say a word, he poked his head inside the  log.  In a flash,  he jerked his head out and his big blue  eyes were smiling … he was wiping his nose with his sleeve  … because momma rabbit knew he was not a fox and gave him a sloppy, wet kiss. He ran to his mother,

“ I just got a kiss from mommy rabbit. Mommy rabbit kissed me.”

Later when I was alone with his mother, I blurted out a marriage proposal and she ran off screaming to my parents’ home.  Immediately they left for Amsterdam. My parents didn’t speak to me for days.

They just shook their heads in disgust. How could I be so indelicate? How could I disregard the ritual of acknowledging pain and providing comfort?

Well, I didn’t bother to tell my parents that I was so lonesome, so in need of a conjugal life, a wife, a child … that I could not keep my mouth shut.   I was desperate to not be alone any longer.  I needed to be with someone. I needed to be something more, something I had not been. I needed communion. What could be better than communion with your God, wife, husband, children,  lover?

And oh, that word communion reminds me of two paintings. The first is Summer Harvest … it’s a pro-communion painting. The drawing is good,  strong, confident.  The soil was tilled, the seeds planted,  the rain and the sun brought  bountiful crops.

The family is healthy, happy. There are francs in their pockets, food and wine on the table and smiles on their faces. And because I waned to say that every thing is OK, I laid on the canvas all of those close but varying tones of yellows and greens, blue-greens and golds. I laid down a quilt, a quilt of color … colors that can lay warmly alongside one another for a long, long time, forever maybe. And when color can do that in this type of agrarian scene, the friendly colors suggest that the planet is not wobbling, systems are functioning as they have been designed.

And when I look at this painting, my nose smiles quicker than a cat can say Rubens and Rembrandt …

But this painting, a pool hall kind of a place, it is an anti-communion painting. My name for that painting was The Night Café. But I do think this painting is successful, not because it’s pretty,  goodness no. Instead it is successfully  ugly. My choice of reds and greens draw attention to both one another and simultaneously to the clash of complementary colors.  In unison, the clashing colors say, “Look at me. Look at me.  But not for  long or I will bite you . .. because I am …  we are ugly”

And while I did not know any details of these peoples lives, these people who had no place except this open-all-night café, I suspect they might have said, “Go, go away”. Or maybe, “Help”. Or “I know I’m ugly … but please … please buy me a pinot noir.”

The empty chairs, the abandoned glasses, the man in white, alone … all contribute to the presence of despair …  Nobody, nothing wanted to be next to one another, not even the reds and the greens.

Sometimes life is not nice. Sometimes colors are not nice. But I know  this is a good painting. I know I choose the appropriate colors because when my eyes look,  my nose wrinkles YUK!

But like I said, sometimes life is not nice and suddenly it was not nice to me  because the attacks returned and I did what men quite often do when they are lonesome and frightened – I took a mistress. This mistress was  typical, special, understanding but demanding  and posed no conflicts. Regardless of my insatiable appetite, my poverty, she never questioned, rejected nor abandoned me. And while I wouldn’t do this for everyone, I will tell you her name … [speaking quietly, secretively] Her name was Madame Painting & Drawing …

My mistress, she kept me fully immersed in my art. If I didn’t slay the dragons with the weapons I had been given, I could at least keep them at bay. And if I showed you a couple of these weapons would you recognize them? Would you realize how simple a struggle could be? Would you say, “I never knew that struggle could leave a legacy.” And as an artist I would have to admit that I too had underestimated the pleasures found at the end of a stick, either of this type or this type …” [Vincent holds up a brush & pencil.]

But you know, artists in the past were given tubes of paint labeled maybe  “Paris Purple”   or “Burnt Sienna.”  But I changed all that for myself and my followers. Instead of labels being based on  their geographical location or their manufacturing process, I labeled paints in terms of their expressive qualities. One label for obvious reasons was “Sunflower Yellow.” Another was known as “The Only Appropriate Red For the Walls of a Café In The Evening.” These new labels represented a major change toward the expressive use of color and a search for a painting style based  on my life. Me. Vincent.

But oooh the attacks returned. I wrote to Theo, “I am exhausted, frightened, I cannot take care of myself.   Can I go into a hospital?”  The answer was swift, the answer was yes and the hospital was in Saint-Remy just a few miles from Arles.

I had intermittent attacks. I struggled. I knew my paternal uncles were subject to bouts of depression and  depression is often genetic. In fact, my youngest brother Corrine, Corrie to me,  was a suicide. My closest sister, Wil, spent many, many years in a hospital.

Occasionally the black planet earth, with all of its pain, hunger, tragedy and confusion would come uninvited and sit complacently on my chest.

After that black planet  had passed through my orbit, I began to  paint again. In a twelve  month period, even though I was sometimes sick, I sent Theo 90 paintings. Occasionally the hospital director would provide an escort and I could draw and paint outside the walls. Sometimes I would buy my escort a coffee with Theo’s money. Once we were waiting for a mother and  her baby to leave a table and the baby looked me right in the eye  and gave me a big, warm smile.   In a flash I was returned to living with a prostitute in The Hague. She already had a five year-old daughter and was pregnant, not by me. And although my garret was small but too large for one person, I invited them home.  I bought the fabric, I made  the curtains. Brother Theo whose money I was spending said I probably struck that arrangement to get even with our father who was a pastor. One time I even threatened to marry the woman. Her name was Christina Hoorick,  I  called her Sein.

But after having a family for nearly two years  I left. I was not getting enough painting done and was squandering Theo’s money. But laving that baby, that baby who sat on the floor, who smiled … and loved me … loved me, no questions asked … Ooh that is too vivid, that hurts too much.  I try to forget it  …

But again the old-timer, the artist Camille Pissarro was helpful. He knew Dr. Gachet, also an artist, who lived in the picturesque village of  Auvers, complete with thatched roofs, winding stairs, maybe 20 miles north of Paris. Many painters, including Cezanne had painted Auvers.

The doctor said he would help me. So in May of 1890 I left the hospital in Saint-Remy and moved there.   Later I did two portraits of Dr. Gachet and his forlorn face …

As usual I worked hard.  In less than three months  I did 77 paintings including the flower garden of an earlier artist, Charles Daubigny.

My painting,  oooh it was a wild, wild garden of reds and greens and blues that at first glance would pop your eyes open. I painted large open fields that became magic carpets. I did portraits. And   the village  hall  …  resplendent in banners because it had been 100 years since the French Revolution and the fall of the hated Bastille …

I thought about my earlier life in Holland. I thought about my first major oil painting, The Potato Eaters and their barren existence.

Oh, … that word barren, it is such a horrible word. But also an accurate, powerful word.  Maybe I was feeling barren when I shot myself under the heart and died a day and a half later in Theo’s arms. Maybe I thought my fertility was being threatened. Theo who always took my interest in art seriously had supported me for ten years. His economic and moral support, his polished eye, his artistic friends, they were major explanations for my artistic successes. When he married, did I think his varied and highly  valued nourishment would decrease? When he and Joanna had a child, did I think I would receive a lesser share of his love,  their love?  Or did I simply look at my palette, my tubes of paint and regardless of what I saw, did I say, “There is not enough paint!”

I don’t know the answers to those questions. But I do know that while my life was not exactly what I wanted, it was alright. I did have a career as an artist. It was a short career. Only ten years. And while alive I sold only one panting, The Red Vineyards, purchased by Anna Bosch, the sister of a painter friend,  for 400 francs, $80. Selling only one painting was ok because in spite of the many, many disagreements between my parents  and others, some of them lengthy and ugly, in spite of that, I took with me all of those sweet, flavorful, stick-to-the-bones feelings we have when we do what is appropriate,  moral.

And getting back to selling only one painting, isn’t it curious that approximately one hundred years after my demise, one of my paintings, Irises sold for $54 million. Plus a few years later my portrait of Dr. Gachet, my widowed, heart-broken friend in Auvers,  sold for $82.5 million … $82.5 million!

But  now while the money is still not important, I am receiving what is important. Every year Camille and Lucien Pissarro and Emile Bernard send me a birthday card. Renoir, Signac, Seurat,  Toulouse they sign. Last year Monet included a small sketch of a cathedral. And too, every year I see the signatures of my earlier heroes Rubens, Rembrandt, Rousseau, Corot, Millet,  Delacroix.   Two years ago even Gauguin sent me a card.

So if I remember that I was able to contribute to the making of modern art, when I remember that I had the courage to leave typical color behind and instead use strong, strong, private, personal   color,  whatever color,  because it was so expressive of intelligence, of feelings,  of my reality and my   imagination,   then I feel good.   If I communicated that the expressive value of color is not necessarily linked to form,  then I also feel good.  If I was able to show my love and respect for the peasants, I feel good. And since I know that I stood firm when life rolled many, many  big, big boulders toward me, I feel very, very, good …

But now I need to meet Camille at Notre Dame. We’ll have a coffee and watch the sun pass across the façade. We’ll watch the masonry dance. We’ll watch the stained glass  warmly smile    as they are illuminated. Then we’ll do what painters do:

Painters look. Painters watch.  Painters feel. ! Painters paint!

Painters look. Painters watch.  Painters feel.  Painters paint!

They paint!

I love you all … good night …

[Vincent blows a kiss to the audience …]