Vincent's Yellow

a[n] [auto]biography and a love story.

Beginnings & Paul Gauguin

Things are starting to really heat up now. Tomorrow we have our first fundraiser at The Spot, in Chicago ($5 trivia! 7pm!), which I am very excited about, and a more intense rehearsal schedule kicks in soon. It’s time to start blocking and really building this play. This is both thrilling and a little daunting. As I have said more than once to my cast, this play is complicated, and well, it’s true. I am trying to do a lot more than tell a story. But so be it! I embrace the huge challenge I’ve set for myself.

This past week I chose the instruments that will be thrown into our theatrical mix — a set of big, mystical-sounding chimes, a cajon (a wooden box-shaped drum) and a xylophone! I’m eagerly awaiting the latter two in the mail, and all this along with my guitar, the voices of my cast (not to mention our newest cast addition will be bringing in her viola!) will make our soundscape. It’s important to get the toys early so that you have plenty of time to play with them, you see… :)

Last week we also had a series of smaller rehearsals focusing on character work. This is particularly necessary since various members of the cast are playing ideas-made-human. They feel like flesh and blood, but their actions represent much larger movements of knowledge, myth, and history…  One thing this led to was my finally spending some time with Paul Gauguin.

Thanks to

I know I have referred to Gauguin as an unreliable narrator, and while that’s true, that’s watering down my feelings towards him a good bit. I suppose every one needs a scape goat, and well… it’s possible he’s been mine.

The reasons that Gauguin drives me crazy are simple:

1) Vincent never physically harmed himself until he lived with Gauguin. Nor was he in an asylum before then. And while I’m aware that doesn’t prove he’s to blame, I do think things may have been quite different if some else had been in Gauguin’s place.

2) Gauguin’s accounts of his time with Vincent are inconsistent, full of myth and exaggeration, and essentially unreliable. This is also done with the desire of creating mystery, which bothers me as a researcher and someone dedicated to truth.

3) Gauguin and Vincent lived together for a measly nine weeks, and yet they are always hung side by side in museums, and basically are tied up in each other’s reputations forever.

4) Personal reasons: I don’t like his work, he’s pretty obviously self-involved, he slept around while he was married with five children (whom he left behind in Copenhagen, while he ran off to Tahiti), etc etc. I just don’t like him.

However, this past week an actor and I dug around in his childhood and early life, and I found numerous facts enlightening about him. One was that he was born in Paris, moved to Peru when he was three (his father died on the voyage), moved back to France at 7 years old. In Peru, he was raised in the house of upper-class, distant relatives. In Paris, he no longer had servants. He became a sailor at 17, and his mother died at 19. He continued sailing until he was 22.

There is dislocation and loss all over Gauguin’s biography. There is no doubt he had difficulty pinning down his own identity, and this is what led him to gain an interest in myth, in romanticizing his loss of self into mystery. It is also undoubtedly what led him towards egotism – after all he had little that was static and dependable in his life.

While I haven’t suddenly started admiring him, I do think I understand Gauguin a bit better now. Everyone comes from something and somewhere…

It’s time for me to climb into bed now, I got a busy week of fundraising, dancing, playing, singing and blocking ahead of me!

All my love, until next week…

Mon, June 21 2010 » Personal, Research, Theater piece

One Response

  1. David Carroll June 22 2010 @ 06:31

    Can you imagine it from Paul’s perspective? You finally go to Arles at the pleading of your Art dealer (who is now beginning to sell your work) and his intense, brilliant and difficult brother, who has been writing you non-stop for months, telling you you will be the Abbot to his Monk, the master to his pupil. After putting the trip off for months you finally go. Can you imagine his first impressions walking into the yellow house? How many paintings had Vincent done since Febuary…150? (he did 200 in the 15 Months he was there). They must have been everywhere!

    In 1984 I went to NYC to see the “Van Gogh in Arles” show at the Met, where the greatest number of his works were collected together since they left the Yellow house. It was dizzying (and glorious). How could a headstrong artist like Gauguin work with all of that visual stimulous around him. It must have been everywhere in that tiny house! There, beside him sat Vincent slashing out a canvas a day!

    The two were opposites in so many ways, at least in their work. It was interesting to see their work side by side to see how they influenced each other. Vincent, by all accounts was argumentative and driven to debate, exhausting all around him (particularly Theo).

    It must have been difficult for Gauguin being there, expecting up to that point that at any moment, his work would be catapulted into fame but then walking into the yellow house and seeing the future of Art layed out all around him. He had to recognise it.

    Gauguin’s work was tranformative, pushing the boundaries of Art, but Vincent’s work redefined Art. It would be very difficult to see your own work made into a sidebar to Vincent’s. Particularly to a strong ego like Gauguin’s. Small wonder he wanted to paint himself into Vincent’s story with firm strokes.

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