Van Gogh’s painting grows upwards towards the sun. In flames or
twigs, in tight little dabs of light, his canvases are sunflowers. Everywhere,
fields of barley or wheat. Right up to the sky, where the sun is made of straw.
Right up to the walls of Lazarus’ room, or on the faces of Joseph Roulin
and his wife. Emotion harvests the twigs about to catch fire.
Self-portrait in a Wheat Field is what Van
Gogh could have called the painting representing him…
“With the gusto of a Marseillais eating bouillabaisse,” he paints
suns by the dozen, at different stages of their flowering: in a beautiful chrome
yellow on a Veronese green or royal blue background. Some of them, fallen to
earth, half faded, look like big, burning artichokes.
Rudimentary horizons suit him: a vegetable garden, a few hills….
Out of earth, gladly, he makes a mistral wind of colors. Whatever happens,
be waves, whirlpools, a swell. Had he been a potter, perhaps his hands
would have finally found satisfaction. Who else grasped nature with a paintbrush
thoroughly? Who saw it crawling like that and twisting?
He paints only what burns him. He doesn’t seek subtlety, instead he seeks
force. “Madness!” you say. No, it’s the invisible inside
forgotten under the skin or under stones rising under pressure to the surface
of the painting.
Rather than repeating the artist’s
pain and anguish, it is the responsibility of those who follow
him through the torment and joy of his paintings to find
the momentary respites they afforded him: the hope of a color that would
keep its promise.
His madness is less important than how he
remains calm. When he was found dead, he had on him a letter
addressed to his brother, with these words: “You
have your share in the very production of certain canvases, which, despite their
chaos, remain calm.” Those are as good as painting’s own
His wish is less to paint what is there,
as it is, before our eyes,
than to awaken the sleeping gaze. And since a painting is made of
erasing them or absorbing them in careful scumbling, he makes each
one a sign where painting reaffirms itself in his effort and the
insanity caused by being
the silent music of the visible.
Translated from the French by Dawn Cornelio