“I feel a sense of calm. There is safety in the midst of danger. What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything.”
Yesterday I stood surrounded by art and music in the immersive, multi-sensory Van Gogh exhibition at Moore Park in Sydney, and reflected on a man who left an amazing legacy that continues to influence Western art today. It was just the distraction we needed to take our minds off what was happening across the Pacific.
“It seems to be that it is a painter’s duty to put an idea into his work”
I hadn’t realised that Van Gogh had written as extensively as he had painted. We are fortunate that his letters to his brother Theo were preserved and published after his death and that they give us another perspective on this misunderstood genius. If you live in Sydney, don’t miss this chance to be completely immersed by the art and writing of Vincent Van Gogh. To be haunted by his tortured soul. Unlike most art museums here you can touch it and feel it. You can listen to it and see it projected around you.
“There may be a great fire in our hearts, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke.”
The exhibition and accompanying music takes you on a journey from the early days in the Netherlands where his painting was more dour to his later life in France where he began to revel in the colours of the countryside and the vibrant yellows we love him for. The music transports me back to 1996 when I first backpacked through Europe for 3-months. I re-live my time in Provence and remember that I had made a mental note to come back to Arles. I haven’t yet. We had sat at the “Le Cafe La Nuit” to people watch and sip French wine, becoming part of that scene Van Gogh immortalised in his painting ‘Cafe Terrace at Night’.
“I would rather die of passion than of boredom”
I am drawn to the Impressionists because they were the radicals and change makers of their time. They were not motivated by money but rather fired by a burning passion of being true to themselves. They ditched the studio and took art outside, driven to capture the beauty of the fleeting light using brush strokes and colour instead of the well defined black lines for definition. They introduced a new way of seeing but the conservative art critics with their definitions of what was good art were slow to approve.
“Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.”
Yesterday’s radicals are todays heroes but challenging the status quo can be both exhilarating and exhausting. Depending on how conservative or liberal your family and peer groups are, you may be embraced or disowned, left feeling loved or feeling forever like a misfit alone on the sidelines, unable to fit in to anyone’s bubble. Van Gogh was very fortunate that his brother Theo believed in him. His financial help enabled him to be prolific and flourish as an artist even as his mental health deteriorated.
“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm is terrible but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason to remain on the shore.”
When we look back at history we see that change-makers have always been ahead of their time. Van Gogh sold just one painting for what in todays terms would be a little over a thousand dollars. Yet he continued to believe in himself and in just over a decade created about 2,100 artworks which included around 860 oil paintings in the last two years of his life. Ironic that in 1990 a Vincent van Gogh’s "Portrait of Dr. Gachet" set a world record at Christie's auction, selling for a staggering $82.5 million.
“Only when I fall do I get up again”
For me it is a further affirmation that there is nothing greater in life than to go in search of our destiny and purpose for being here. Only then can we contribute to the soul of the Universe and leave behind a legacy that will honour our vision long after our physical selves have left this earth.
Artists are the change-makers we desperately need today.
“I dream of painting and then I paint my dream”