Tuesday 22 May 2018

"Come And Stay With Me" (a.k.a. "Vincent van Gogh on his way to work")

Above: Come and Stay With Me by Harry Pye May 2018. Every artist is influenced by other artists. Sometimes it's surprising who inspired who. In Vincent van Gogh's later years he became very interested in Japanese prints that depicted plum orchards or celebrated the arrival of blossom. He was amused by the way Japanese artists gave the impression that making their work was "as simple as breathing" and as straightforward as butting up a shirt in the morning. Vincent's versions of these prints tended to feature more thrusting brush stokes and he'd swap some colours around so pink might become orange, he'd also paint black outlines round trees. On the first of May 1888 Vincent wrote a letter to his brother Theo to thank him for sending him some money (on this occasion he'd received a 50 franc note). In the letter he mentions he has discovered this new house that is yellow on the outside, white on the inside, and has a red brick floor. About 4 weeks later, Vincent writes to his brother again and this time he asks if Theo would mind contacting his friend Paul Gauguin? He says let Gauguin know that the yellow house has 2 bed rooms and he adds "You know that I have always thought it idiotic the way painters live alone. you always lose by being isolated." Paul Gauguin was based in Brittany at this point. Gauguin was a friend of Theo's who Vincent had got to meet in Paris. They got on ok but P.G. had found V.v.G a bit intense. There was also a bit of a problem in that P.G. was an atheist and VvG was the type of chap who believed every single word of the bible was true.
Vincent started to go on walks to a place called Tarascon and, my understanding is that he began to get a bit obsessed with the idea that if Paul Gauguin did come and stay with him in the yellow house all his problems would be solved he wouldn't have to worry about money any more and Gauguin would encourage his work and give him advice and support.
I think Vincent was happy fantasising about a best possible scenario of the two artists being under the same roof. Throughout the Summer Van Gogh started making paintings that were intended to decorate Gauguin's bedroom. He writes to another friend that he's excited about a dozen or so paintings he's made of Sunflowers that feature a yellow that will blaze forth on various backgrounds.
By September the Yellow house has been done up to Vincent's satisfaction and he paints his bedroom and then he does a self portrait which again he intends to give to Gauguin as a present.
A short time later Vincent writes in one letter that he is out of money lives on just bread and that he drinks 23 cups of coffee a day. I think when Vincent tells Paul that he paints he does so as though he's a sleep walker I think Gauguin gets cold feet about the whole idea of living with him and it dawns on him that there might be trouble ahead. However, Theo van Gogh manages to sell one of Gauguin's paintings for him and, knowing that his brother isn't the easiest person to live with, he promises Paul that if he does go and stay with Vincent he will actually pay him 150 francs a month. Vincent felt bad that he was financially dependant on his brother but dreamed that one day his paintings would be highly thought of: "I cannot help it that my paintings don't sell. Nevertheless the time will come when people see that they are worth more than the price of paint" Many, many years after his death Francis Bacon made a series of works inspired by Van Gogh's image of a painter on the way to work.
Bacon said he loved the way Vincent lied to get to the truth. But Gauguin couldn't see the quality that Bacon saw. Gauguin believed Van Gogh should use his imagination rather than exaggerate what he saw in front of him. To put it in a nutshell - he wanted van Gogh to be more like him. The whole idea of Vincent painting himself on the way to work and deluding himself that Gauguin will be the expediter of his dreams is something I find very interesting. "Life is a comedy to those who think and a tragedy to those who feel." In my painting my intention isn't to make fun of Vincent - what I'm doing is presenting him as I see him which is like a child whose head is full of dreams and whose happiness is based on wishful thinking and delusion. In my collage/painting I was trying to capture that joyful, optimistic, childlike sunshiney feeling we get - it's the high we experience just before everything downhill.
Here is a song called "Come And Stay with Me" sung by Francis Macdonald. I wrote the words and Francis composed and performed the music.The track appears on our album Bonjour.
The painting "Come And Stay With Me" will feature in a group show ("Push The Boat Out") which takes place in the last week of July at The Art Academy, 155 Walworth Road, London, SE17 1RS