Van Gogh is the patron saint of the unpublished, neglected, and insane. Which is why Mark Manning loves him so.
‘Hes always there for us. As we sit in our hovels, banging away. Flat broke, thin, hungry and drunk in our unshaven underwear.
A small picture postcard of the death of Chatterton lurking somewhere in our tortured art school souls. Us men of our unfortunate breed, anyway. I think you women carry a small image of Frida Khalo: Frida as a bleeding fawn, the wicked arrows of this oh, so terrible life hanging from her back. A bit like Bambi, sort of. Only more serious.
But we all revere the man. That rugged amelioration of failure, that glorious patron of neglected genius: Sweet Dutch Vincent. Those intense, burning eyes, staring out beneath that flat Arles sun, straight into our souls.
You can almost taste the mistral, its wild hot breath bending the cypress trees and curling the sky into the writhing shapes of dread that permeate and threaten to engulf our martyrs later paintings.
That visceral, desperate anxiety that has transformed his entire perception of the world around him into a swirling turbulence of juddering insanity.
Take his night cafe painting and compare Gauguin’s painting of the very same scene. The two artists sat side by side and painted the same smoky room. For Gauguin (first pic), it appears to be a pleasant place, somewhere to spend a few convivial hours of an evening. A smiling waitress looks over her shoulder and flirts saucily with the French artist.
But for poor old Vincey baby (second pic), it’s a blood red, skew-angled shithole, stinking of murder, madness and death. A smudge-faced waiter lurks beneath the sickly gas lights, a gun, or maybe a cut throat razor, hidden in his pockets. Theres a huddle of absinthe bums, drunk or asleep at the small tables. Its quite obvious from this painting that the poor Dutch bastard would eventually top either himself or some poor innocent French whore that got in the strapped, razor-toting maniac’s way.
Van Gogh’s version
Shivering, sweating, headaches, dry mouth, bad wanking, absinthe, fear. Raging and loathing. Tell me about it Vince, echo his heirs amongst their obscurity and naked light bulbs.
That trembling visionary church at Auvers, yellow against the Prussian blue infinity of the star mad sky. And of course that terrible, terrible Starry Night itself, truly awesome in its wild intensity, those alien suns burning like catherine wheels spinning out of control, an animistic universe teetering way to close to the edge for the over emotional increasingly confused ex-church minister.
Weve all been in that blood red murder room, played pool on that sickly beige, experienced that scary waiter, last seen hanging around with an equally sinister friend in the background of Edvard Munch’s 19th Century masterpiece, ‘The Scream’. Similar to Munch in the fact that both artists painted from something deep inside themselves that lurks just beneath the surface of everything. Even that tragic fucking chair. Especially that tragic fucking chair with Vince’s only luxury, his pipe and tobacco. And possibly even sadder is his only friend Gauguin’s chair with its candles and books. Gauguin who had just fucked off to Tahiti because he couldnt stand his friend’s increasingly demented behaviour, chopping his nob off and everything.
Those overbright sunflowers, painted to brighten up their small rooms. Those coruscating, writhing, insect-like flowers. Their desperate cheerfulness, like a mad woman laughing and scaring children in the street.
And how pathetic is that lonely night, where our dear friend sits alone in his night cafe feeding his insomnia with absinthe.
And that other scary area in Vincent’s solitary existence, a deeply weird painting of a skeleton smoking a cigar. An odd memento mori, reminiscent of Holbein’s ‘Dance of Death’ woodcuts, where Death frolics jestingly with all his eventual victims. A strange painting, it is not often reproduced and is obviously found to be overly unsettling by many critics. I personally find it rather amusing, as if our hero is mocking his own mortality, laughing at death, whistling in the dark maybe, but with a jaunty swagger none the less.
Of course it was not until the end that his muse swung completely sinister, but even in the mid-period paintings the happiness expressed with his cherry blossoms and smiling hoteliers and postmen, theres a desperation about the jollity. Like when you frighten yourself by laughing for too long about what it is you cant remember.
“And now I understand…”, sings Don McLean, not understanding at all. This world was never meant for someone as shit scared, manic and completely fucking insane as our ameliorating Saint of hope and inspiration.
We artists, poets, writers, whingers, musicians and masturbators. We madmen, sodomites and landscape gardeners. All of us undiscovered geniuses in our misunderstood fields. Suffering, deeply suffering in our blasted chaotic worlds. Feeling sorry for ourselves – yes, but with what style we whinge. How we perform it only for ourselves, desperately demanding attention and telling it to fuck off whenever it appears, making ourselves even more interesting in the private theatres of our twisted and battered egos. One eye permanently on the mirror, the other on ourselves.
It is we that understand Mr Don McClean, you bad Bob Dylan with your chevy and your levy, whatever the fuck that is. “I knew you were in love with him when I saw you wanking in the gym?” sings the perverted folk singer in Bye Bye Miss American Pie. And equally insanely in Starry Starry Night, This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you. Mr McClean, Im afraid youre quite mad sir. Vincent was many things, but beautiful? What, like a volcano with its rivers of molten rock is beautiful? Im sorry, Mr Tambourine Man, but Vincent belongs entirely to us! We unpublished, unpublishable, forgotten, ignored martyrs upon the various altars of our art!
We understand! We alone understand our mad prophet!
Our Vincent Van Gogh!
Like our patron Saint, for us immortality is all!
All or nothing! Death AND Glory!
This life, this shitty insignificant spunk up a venereal whores suppurating cunt of a life is not wasted! A flea’s fart in the unknowable massiveness of everything maybe, but some flea farts resonate with the universe and are remembered forever. Bottled and stored in museums and libraries, thousands and millions of resonating flea farts. It is written! bawls the mad Jew, head- butting his wailing wall. This angry life, this very ungentle life indeed, stumbling blindly through these dark nights, can not, must not, be squandered. My brother madmen and geniuses, we who vow never to submit, to bend the knee to the unholy Cosmosodomistic trinity of materialism, commerce and commodity.
We refuse to drown beneath the electronic black magic of deeply stupid rulers of men, storing up their treasures on earth and dying of colonic cancer of the arse. With their blatantly invisible conspiracies whose only goal is to keep all of us in bondage. Duped into desiring things that we dont need and paying for them with money that we dont have. Credit? What the fuck is that, if not indentured slavery by stealth? Master Card and Visa slave. Oh yes master! We cannot live without that turbo, four-wheel drive Adidas, Nike, widescreen surround sound, eight wheel drive, blow job washing machine, with wings! Killing ninety nine percent of all known germs. It is beneath this brain crushing submarine pressure to conform that Vincent gives us comfort.
One fucking painting.
One fucking painting the poor bastard sold.
And even that was to his long suffering brother, Theo. Poor. exasperated, kind hearted Theo who kept all his mad brothers letters. Vincent probably wiped his arse on Theo’s letters; none of his brothers correspondence, not one single letter survived, so self-absorbed was our man.
Its in these letters that we learn about the imperfections of our raggy arsed Saint.
In reality, which is why art should never, ever – this is important – be judged by the man who produces it, Vincent was as deluded, vain, selfish, and as much of a complete fucking, wanker arsehole as the rest of us.
This is what truly helps us through our naked lightbulb, Tennants Super, loveless nights. This is when our imperfect Saint gives us much needed succour.
Even arseholes like us, ignored and desperate, can eventually be recognised as great artists. Join the Pantheon of shimmering, flea fart immortals.
Theres even hope for a cunt like me.
And how incandescent is Vincent’s glowing immortality. Bathed in the light of billionaire imbeciles, flayed on the black altars of the cold cash civil religion in their towering bank cathedrals of Arms deals and Blood Money.
You can see these fools chasing their tails in palaces of ignorance. Making mad hand signals and wearing stupid blazers. And eventually when they are crippled by avarice, shame and the inevitable colonic arse cancers, their ignoble white bones will be tossed on to the piles of all the other forgotten irrelevant millionaires who make their fortunes flogging underwear, Porter, cigarettes, Coca Cola, baked beans, corn flakes, pornography and newspapers full of lies. Silk hat, Bradford millionaires, the lot of them. Small souled tax dodging twin turds living on private islands shivering beneath the black demons of fear and paranoia, unloved and unlovable.
Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven, Milton says in Paradise Lost, with his sexy Satan as damned hero. You tell em, Milt baby.
The mind is its own place and can make of Heaven a Hell or a heaven from Hell. To achieve a state of grace like Vincent achieved is priceless, and quite free. It is not easy and requires a determination and a will that needs must stray dangerously close to the very antipodes of sanity. But it is possible and there are as many paths towards that palace of wisdom as there are pilgrims willing to risk all for some assurance of the future life.
How else do you think us lowlife, alcoholic, autodidactic, council hovel dwellers are able to ignore the conceits and temptations beamed down upon us from the cosmosodimistic satellites of the rich and powerful?’
Written by Mark Manning, posted at The Idler
(from one of my favourite websites The Idler. Go read it, it’ll keep you busy for hours) http://www.idler.co.uk