“Art demands dogged work. Work in spite of everything and continuous observation.”
– Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh was an artist who attempted to paint the actual vibrations of the world – the world that he observed before him. How accurate was his rendition of that inner universe we cannot know, but in his paintings there is bountiful evidence that an extraordinary tumultuous vision was Van Gogh’s everyday. What is there for the tortured genius in a society that caters not for such an outsider? We cannot write off Van Gogh as a cautionary tale for his case is far too unusual: between his madness and his genius, there was no separation. Even the most compassionate government cannot legislate a safety net for such outlaws. All that the outlaw can expect is to cadge and scrape and scratch a living until a patron comes along. It’s incredible to think that Vincent, supported only by his brother and sister-in-law, created 2000 paintings and drawings before the agony of rejection forced him to a standstill. 2000 works of art perhaps, but only one sold.
Ah, but how those colours flowed. Van Gogh lived in a rave of his own. Before time, after time, out of time – none of these really were Van Gogh. He’s the Igjugarjuk of polite society, a tail-end shaman dancing at the borders of his village unable to interface with even the next most tormented soul, let alone the grocer from whom he needs his bread, sausages and a pack of cigarettes please? He’s Igjugarjuk of the Inuits, whose vision burns so brightly, so obsessively, that it crackles and threatens to engulf others who touch it. Igjugarjuk, whose shamanic fire startled his own people so much that they were forced to summon the help of the Canadian Mounties to hunt him down and take him into custody. Of Vincent’s suicide there can have been only a tragic inevitability. Were we talking of the suicide of Hunter S. Thompson, we could even perhaps raise a smile and a glass and sing ‘My Way’ with some truth. For Vincent, his death was surely as lonely as his life. And yet, like William Blake, he burns more brightly in our hearts than ever.