“Do you know why we have the Sunflowers?” Hannah Gadsby, an Australian comedian asks about Vincent van Gogh’s famous flowers. “It’s not because Vincent van Gogh suffered. It’s because Vincent van Gogh had a brother who loved him. Through all of the pain he had a tether, a connection to the world.”
Most people know Van Gogh (pronounced van-khokh; “-kh” in the second and third pronunciations are not the hard “k” of “kick,” but the guttural one from the German ich and Scottish “loch.”) cut his ear off.
He is, of course, the patron saint of all those who romanticise a link between mental illness and creativity. Their thinking is not only erroneous (serious mental illness is more often incapacitating and not at all conducive to high level creativity), it’s pernicious, because it discourages desperate people from seeking relief.
Gadsby recounts how after giving a performance in which she mentioned that she took antidepressants, a man came up to her, saying: “You shouldn’t take medication because you’re an artist. It’s important that you feel. If Vincent Van Gogh had taken medication, we wouldn’t have had the Sunflowers.”
A student of art history, Gadsby had a retort that not only punctures this myth but also brings to the forefront the preciousness of mental well-being and the importance of caring for one another.
She tells us that Van Gogh was, in fact, being treated with medication, and that this medication — a derivative of the foxglove — has a little-known side effect: it intensifies the user’s perception of the colour yellow. So it’s possible, says Gadsby, that “We have the sunflowers PRECISELY because Van Gogh medicated.”
Van Gogh died early, at thirty-seven, leaving behind some of the most influential artistic works of his generation. This includes a stunning visual record of his wanderings. Miners in a Belgian town, peasants, villagers, flowers — the list spans his entire art career, really.
Throughout his life, Van Gogh suffered from psychotic episodes and delusions; he entered an asylum in Saint Rémy in May 1889, where he continued to paint his surroundings, before discharging himself in 1890. Some of his best, most commendable work is from this very period of getting treatment and feeling better.
Being absolutely enamoured by Van Gogh’s works, I’ve consumed an absurd amount of media portraying him in various ways and amounts. Out of them all, there is an episode in the critically acclaimed series, Doctor Who in which The Doctor gets his adventuring head on and decides to pay the painter a visit in Provence. In the end, what the audience gets is a beautifully crafted love-letter to Van Gogh and a slightly naff monster-of-the-week run-around. This episode worked in its sympathetic portrayal of the painter, tackling Van Gogh’s later life with respect and reverence. The episode never baulked at exploring the effects of mental illness which gives an insight into the artist’s situation and its impact on him as an artist.
While there have been a multitude of movies and documentaries examining this celebrated artist’s life, one movie in particular caught my eye.
In the Oscar-nominated film ‘Loving Vincent,’ increasingly eccentric characters — subjects of Van Gogh’s portraits — are employed to tell his tale, rather than following the painter himself through the trials and tribulations of being an unappreciated artist.
The audience is instantly plunged into a world of Vincent Van Gogh’s extraordinary works in a series of picturesque, undulating frames in “the world’s first fully painted feature film.” The story follows a passionate but disgruntled investigator — Armand Roulin, an alcoholic in a canary yellow overcoat prone to barroom brawls — whose postmaster father tasks him with the mission of sending Vincent’s final letter addressed to Theo Van Gogh. Roulin traipses across the mountainous topography of Auvers-Sur-Oise, a commune in France, like a vagabond, interrogating the inhabitants of the town about the abrupt end of Vincent’s life.
A fluid amalgamation of lightfast pigments and earthy colours, the film merges two of the most revered art forms — cinema and painting — into something undeniably extraordinary, displaying the complete oeuvre of Van Gogh. The characters live in a world of Impressionism and iridescence, thin and thick brush strokes, pastel and prominent colours — nuances that highlight the intricacy and unprecedented depth of Van Gogh’s illustrations.
Along with the twists and turns of the macabre murder mystery narrative, the film leaves viewers enthralled by the complexities of each artistic technique, the idiosyncrasies of the characters and the emotional gravity expressed in a breathtaking setting.
Bravely, the film takes a gamble: arresting graphics can elevate the risk of outshining other vital cinematic components, draining the narrative as lackadaisical. But as the movie progresses, there’s more to the storyline than just jaw-dropping animation.
An intention reveals itself behind every frame, conveying a tender message to the viewers about the importance of cherishing life. Every moment forges sentimental relationships between the subjects of Van Gogh’s works and the master himself, enriching compassion and familial love. And in the end, the mystery of the painter’s death becomes less noteworthy compared to the legacy he carved.
~ Stuti , DPS Noida