Sunday, December 29, 2013

Ten Ten of 2013....#3 Vincent

It's that time of the year. Time for all the Top Ten lists. Many writers produce them and guess what, they're utterly unapologetic subjective filler. Something to plug into the space so that the writer can take time off to finish his/her holiday errands. So here are My Top Ten (plus a few) Favorite Things of 2013. Some have been around awhile, but I generally discover things later than most. I'm going to dribble them out one day at a time, many are completely frivolous because remember: they're filler so that I can do holiday things.

My Favorite Book Read in 2013.

OK, still serious. We have to finish my Top Ten.

Ounce for ounce, this is by far the best book I read this year. Weighing in at 3.2 pounds and close to 900 pages, it's by definition a tome.

Truthfully, I've read other smaller books about the hard life of this post-impressionist painter, including the popular "Lust for Life" by Irving Stone, so I thought "Why put in so much time again on mercurial Vincent?" But still, I was compelled. It's really hard to separate Van Gogh's life from his art. Would he have become such a beloved painter had we known nothing of his life struggles?

Finally, I decided to read one chapter of Van Gogh: The Life (2012) by co-authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, and I knew it had to be the chapter about the Yellow House he shared with fellow artist Paul Gauguin, and, pack my oils I'm headed to Arles, I was hooked. I flipped back to the beginning and waded in: chapter 1 of 43.

To say Vincent's life was tortured, troubled and tormented is an understatement. His struggles drive the book, but at the same time the co-authors make it an easy drive to take. It's a smoothly written page-turner but one you do have to put down occasionally because of the book's heft. My wrists got tired holding it.

If you know anything of Vincent's life, you know he became an artist late and only painted for 10 years. But during that one decade created roughly 850 oil paintings and over 1,000 sketches, watercolors and prints. That’s obsessive.

But everything Vincent threw his heart into was done full throttle. Here’s an excerpt by Naifeh and Smith:

“Vincent couldn’t help his vehemence. Every idea he ever seized, he seized to its furthest margin: every enthusiasm, wrung to its extremity. In his effort to capture 'a sense of life’s intensity.' Bernard wrote of Vincent’s painting, 'he tortures the paint…He denies all wisdom, all striving for perfection or harmony.’ Whether making his arguments in paint or in person…Vincent had to 'tear off his clothes and fall on his knees. 'When one has fire within oneself,' he wrote, 'one cannot keep bottling it up—better to burn than to burst.'"

If they had been making the "Fast and Furious" movies in the 1880s, Vincent would have been in the lead car.

Wheatfield with Crows. 
A print of this painting has hung over my fireplace for years.

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