Friday, October 23, 2015

Chapter 17: Vincent Van Gogh #2

Tying Up Loose Ends, Stepping Out With Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh may have painted more pairs of shoes than he did starry nights or windy days in fields around Arles.

He started with crude footwear belonging to Dutch peasants, the potato eaters for whom he felt such camaraderie while making his transition from man of God to man of art. In Arles, in the period of his most memorable works, he painted the shoes of everyday people he knew in a way that showed his strong empathy with the struggles of their lives.

Van Gogh's Shoes / © Deborah Julian
His still life of shoes from Arles, painted against the background the red tile floor of his home, is striking because, even more than his exciting pictures of star-filled skies and of robust sunflowers, it reveals a gentle sensitivity that contrasts like fire and rain with the way he lived and the impression he made on others.

Van Gogh failed at trying to follow the footsteps of his father in serving as a minister and, thereafter, tumbled from Holland to France in hopeless pursuit of becoming a renowned painter. You wouldn’t know it if you were aware only of his reputation today, but he failed almost completely as an artist. 

If it wasn’t for his devoted brother Theo, Vincent might have given it up to survive as a tradesmen, leaving us without the spectacular artwork that draws millions to museums and galleries every year. 

Unfortunately, to Theo we can also credit the idea for hooking Vincent up with Paul Gauguin, also a bit crazy but in a different way, in the house in Arles. Their stormy friendship seems to have yielded — or extracted — some of Vincent’s ear after a dispute. 

Just because he handed over the detached body part to a brothel for safekeeping doesn’t mean it was a love offering.

With Vincent Van Gogh, who knows?

Vincent Van Gogh spent a lifetime passionately troubled by one thing after another. The passion shows up in his paintings, not so much the trouble. There is turbulence in his plein air work, but its rhythms harness the chaos. Like other creative people, his efforts might have been therapeutic.

Van Gogh put his heart into his work — and his spleen, stomach and lungs. Van Gogh got it all out.


Back to the shoes. In painting the still lifes, he found and recorded impressions about the people who wore them. The footwear has more character lines and emotional depth than the faces in his portraits.

What Sam likes about Vincent’s shoes is the pleasure of their being set aside on the tile floor of the home where he battled Gauguin. After working hard all day, they relax. The toil is over. 


For Sammy too, as he helps close out this book of famous artists’ cats by curling around them, the loose ends still untied, like great art, never resting completely.