Pan Drakopoulos

Visiting Vincent Van Gogh

They locked me in, without hope for me to talk

We set off on our journey to our beloved Flanders and the fish villages of the Netherlands, having in mind to end it up in Amsterdam where we intended to visit the famous exhibition of Van Gogh’s works, which had been organized on the occasion of his hundredth anniversary of his death.

We looked forward to that exhibition as the happy upshot of a journey that didn’t look for sights but to the not at all flamboyant —and perhaps ponderous—daily life of a place with glorious history during the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but which, from then onwards, became a marginal one. In other words, we wanted to see about a world that had begotten Van Gogh, and not a “world” of tourism made out of glossy cellophane.

It was a great help for us that, a few years before, we had also been in Amsterdam at Van Gogh’s Museum, and a new one at that, where works and documents of the great painter’s life had been gathered. We had spent rare hours there; there were hours that one might be in immediate touch with the rich, deep and strong spirit. We had been there without books or predispositions or expert’s explanations –that is, we had been alone, or as much as might be alone within that Labyrinth. However, after a while, we started feeling, nearby us, the breathing of the giant and hear (it!) explaining to us whatever our eyes could not see. It took us from here to there, and “again, go on to that, where you may see the upshot of this one here. Now go back to that, which is its presupposition, and see also these, and those; each of them as a complete and particular individual, each one with its own presence and entity, and afterwards see all of them together, so that you might recognize the Spheros, the Word’s Great Unity, where each of its particular expressions means a Break and Agony of Its own!”

It literally dragged us to follow its course from the place Gogh of North Brabant to the Rhone Delta and the Mediterranean; from the deep passion of the dark-colored where the only light is that “on the color of a muddy potato” to the “six different tints of bleu and the four-five ones of yellow and orange-colored”, from his endeavor to reflect an object until his familiarization of the object – and up there, at the limits of our own reality, his beloved brother saying to him: “You will go even further more!” Where, then, further more? Where? Beyond our reality, which is not yours as well, you will go from the beauty that is taught to the beauty of truth, up there, where the real being has not yet been created!

We looked on and on voraciously and wondered: but how could Van Gogh not to be a madman? On the other hand, how supposedly be a madman since his madness is a function of his entity; and it also serves in great measure his own, firm and beyond follies and regularities, Creation! As he himself passionately writes: “I am trying to create a picture” –even a single one! Whose picture? Whose visible reality? “A picture that people would see and say: that man had deep feelings”. His soul’s, then, his love’s deep feelings he wanted to show you, Teo, beloved brother. This is the whole of his work: a Word of Love, which wanted to be said within the limited and cracked world. 

Setting off on that journey, we thought that we would end up in that Temple, and would see an exhibition even more complete with works from other Museums and private collections, which would have been given, for a short time, as a loan to their native town so that their creator would be honored. Also we had hoped that we would achieve to communicate again with the sacred flame. But this didn’t happen.

Perhaps we had made a mistake in having beforehand visited Bruges, which, if it is not the first time you visit it, and be blinded by its jewel-like existence, and you have gone around carefree of tourist curiosities, and having felt its small body you say yes, this is, indeed, the town, where silk and lace have been made; and what else could be made here at a time that there was a meaning in what you were making?

We may also be at fault having listened to the organ-concert in the Amsterdam’s old Cathedral, where a passionate musician played for, at most, 10-12 persons; however, persons, that really attended to him...

How, after that, could we go to the over publicized Van Gogh exhibition? It had been organized by the standards of tourism: a well-tuned barbarity for swarms of monkeys, a vulgar spectacle for collecting dollars.

All had been orchestrated to serve mass rubbish: here you could see Van Gogh’s oil painting, Van Gogh’s drawings, Van Gogh’s pictures and landscapes of Holland at Van Gogh’s time, there, as well as elsewhere and everywhere you could buy Van Gogh commemorative. Roads, squares, museums were all full of Van Gogh T-shirts, Van Gogh matches, Van Gogh tinny windmills, Van Gogh carrier-bags, Van Gogh combs, Van Gogh briefs, Van Gogh pendants, Van Gogh clogs, Van Gogh sunglasses so that sun would have no effect on you as it had on him.

In restaurants one could eat Van Gogh potatoes and a Van Gogh steak or smoke fish. In porno shops one could buy Van Gogh sex– that is sexual variations of his works.

In hotels, even in difficult to access as ours, hordes of tourists kept on arriving every day on Van Gogh flights from Canada, Japan, the USA, Brazil, Australia or from anywhere else, and, early in the morning on the following day, they rushed in alarm to catch up with Museums which –on the occasion—were to remain open until 10p.m doing each tourist the favor to see, within 25 whole minutes, 655 works by Van Gogh, consorted with other 4.732 people, paying only that much (how much?) gilders!

Furious guides piled up tourists in coaches: –“Shall we see those he painted when he was mad?” –“But certainly you’ll see them, you’ll see them all, get on quickly, hurry up, hurry up!”

Being at the entrance of the hotel, I looked on dumbfounded, motionless and voiceless I started having visions that, now, one of them would, at last, stand up yelling, and would resist by smacking and kicking in the dark!

Within that rhubarb and hurry, someone, responsible for something, approached me with a nervous tread.

“Did you buy tickets, sir?”

I looked at him, saying quietly “No” and went upstairs.

My wife and I sat before the window having in front of us the Dam of Amstel.

Our Dear Vincent!

We didn’t want to come and see you, we could not. We, that had felt your breath elucidating your works; we that had taken an oath to come again and worship it, we refused even to walk past your museum.

We can send you only one message:

Forgive us, Vincent!

Please do forgive all of us who are interested in art, who buy books of art, all of us who, knowing and not knowing, we talk about it; do forgive all of us who, indeed, want to see you. Forgive us the sinners, the deeply debased, the insensitive beasts, the successful in life, do forgive us. Have pity on us.

And listen again, as a plea for mercy sending from us, to Magdalena’s lamentation from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.

Thus, you may be convinced of forgiving us.