Where My Van Gogh Portrait Came From (And Where It Ended Up)
There is a stark contrast between Van Gogh’s red-headed lumberjack face, his rural mannerism and the extraordinary sophistication of his coloured dream world.
When I painted him, I wanted to reconcile this duality.
I sculpted his skull as if with a trowel, with great stabs of paint.
Then I painted his eyes with a totally surreal Cobalt blue, a complete departure from the head I’d just created. It seemed as if he was hypnotized—gazing toward another world.
At first, I wasn’t sure I liked the irruption of this blue. It wasn’t planned.
The shade of Van Gogh’s eyes probably didn’t match. Then I understood. It was precisely him. It’s what he would have wanted.
A free, subjective colour. Of the kind the ancient Japanese whispered into his ears.
A colour that exposes what we cannot see.
A colour that speaks what words cannot say.
A colour emerging from the dream world of a drunken and fanatical prophet.
So, where is it now?
Here’s how I met the lovely couple who owns this piece, with a few quotes from them on their experience.
This couple travels a lot.
They were always deeply touched by Vincent’s work but became even more so when visiting the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam and reading his letters to his brother Theo.
In August of last year, Erika and I had been in Amsterdam for a few days, and among other things, we were determined to visit the Van Gogh Museum.
We've both always loved Vincent's work, but after hearing the story of his life, and reading some of the letters between his brother / he / sister-in-law, I loved this man even more.
I believe that he was truly a creative genius, but of course, as you know, he was never fully accepted for his vision.
And of course people of that time did not understand emotional / mental disabilities which made it even more challenging (if in fact he had a disability).
One morning, they called me.
They were visiting their daughter in Ottawa and had seen a few of my works in a gallery there.
They were so in awe that they wanted to come to my studio and meet me immediately, even though I live 2 hours away by car.
After returning home, we drove up to Ottawa to visit my daughter at Carleton U.
We stopped into a small gallery in an industrial area, and saw 2 or 3 paintings of yours.
I turned to Erika and said something like "...look at this guys' work!... he reminds me of Vincent... I need to see more of his work".
I wrote down your name, and over lunch I Googled your name to get your number (no idea whether you were Canadian or other).
When I found out you lived two hours away in Montreal, I called you.
Since seeing Vincent's work in Amsterdam, I had these thoughts about where Vincent would have taken his work if he had lived longer. After seeing your work on that wall, I thought he would have loved to discuss these ideas with you.
You graciously agreed to meet with me, and Erika and I drove to Montreal. When we walked into your studio I couldn't believe what I saw... your portrait of Vincent leaning up against the wall.
I don't think it was even fully dried. I certainly didn't expect that. We were both so moved to see your interpretation of his face.
Vincent’s challenge with mental illness is what I believe gave him such an emotional stature in their minds.
So when they saw the portrait of Van Gogh I was working on, it was love at first sight.
They bought it right away.
Not a day goes by that I don't look at that painting Mathieu.
Now it sits framed on our wall. That space remained empty (per my plan) since 2002, when our home was first renovated. It was a large blank wall for so many years. I refused to hang anything there that did not hold great meaning for us.