Vincent's Yellow

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


Vincent gave me the stars.

That might sound like an aggrandized statement, but I must admit that it is terrifically honest. I did not know stars, did not love stars before Vincent, and I am incredibly glad that he taught me to hold them very dear. Though perhaps he just pointed them out; perhaps I followed the path.

That same night I looked out of the window of my room onto the roofs of the houses one sees from there and the tops of the elms, dark against the night sky. Above those roofs, one single star, but a nice, big friendly one. And I thought of us all, and I thought of the years of my life that had already passed, and of our home…

-Vincent van Gogh, 31 May 1876 to Theo

Could Vincent have known, for instance, that the sun is a star, and so that blessed sunlight which he so worshiped was, in fact, no different from that distant, friendly twinkling – the stars above which slowly seduced him over time?

…the sight of the stars always makes me dream in as simple a way as the black spots on the map, representing towns and villages, make me dream.
Why, I say to myself, should the spots of light in the firmament be less accessible to us than the black spots on the map of France.
Just as we take the train to go to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to go to a star.

-Vincent van Gogh, 9 or 10 July 1888 to Theo

Stars are the afterworld to Vincent… and isn’t this in keeping with religions across practically all cultures? The stars, the heavens, the above… the eternal dome that we cannot shape despite our increasing power to move all else. Stars always return to greet us, every night as we turn our back on the closest one.

I also need a starry night with Cypresses or — perhaps above a field of ripe wheat, there are some really beautiful nights here.

-Vincent van Gogh, 9 April 1888 to Theo, from Arles

At last, they become a subject for Vincent in 1888, he turns his eye upon them, he wants to capture them, his afterlives…

But when will I do the starry sky, then, that painting that’s always on my mind?

-Vincent van Gogh, 19 June 1888 to artist and friend Emile Bernard

…the colors of stars.

If only you pay attention to it you will see that certain stars are lemon-yellow, others pink or a green, blue and forget-me-not brilliance. And without my expatiating on this theme it is obvious that putting little white dots on the blue-black is not enough to paint a starry sky.

-Vincent van Gogh, 9 and 16 Sept 1888 to sister Wil

When I read this, I began to squint up at the night sky more often. Could it be true? I read that some stars appear more red, others more blue, depending on what kind of star they were and their distance to the earth. Vincent got me curious, and I went on a search for a book about stars; I found something even better: A View from the Center of the Universe. A book that “connects matters of cosmic significance with the environment and the fate of life on planet earth,” as one Nobel prize-winning chemist puts it.

That doesn’t stop me having a tremendous need for, shall I say the word — for religion — so I go outside at night to paint the stars…

-Vincent van Gogh, 28 Sept 1888 to Theo

In this book, I learn that all complex matter in the Universe comes from the explosions of stars – that the atom for carbon could only be created by stars, and was not present in the first moments of the Universe’s life. This is what it means to be stardust, all living things on this Earth may call the stars their ancestors. And when someday our most beloved star devours our earth and solar system, all the matter that is our bodies will return to the stars once again.

In other words, we take death to a star.

Vincent’s insight, along with this book, shifted my whole world view. Starlight itself is a peek into the past — with the light we are looking at sometimes a few thousand years old. Stars are a magic, a religion I can believe in…

A last try – a night sky with a moon without brightness, the slender crescent barely emerging from the opaque projected shadow of the earth – a star with exaggerated brightness, if you like, a soft brightness of pink and green in the ultramarine sky where clouds run.

-Vincent van Gogh, 17 June 1890 to Gauguin

Road with cypress and star (May 1890)

It is for this reason that when I first saw my locket, I knew it was meant for me, and realized that I was meant to carry Vincent’s paintings in it.

star locket

It is for this reason I ended my theatre piece under the stars.

And it is for this reason I recently chose this item to tell me the time, wherever I am.

I now wear stars around my neck and wrist every day. It is part of Vincent’s legacy in my life.

Someday down the line I realize now that I will do a theatre piece entirely about stars. Vincent will make a cameo.

After all, it was Vincent who gave me the stars.


In other news, I’m gearing up to start work on my book this week! I know where to begin now, so no more wasting time. Hopefully I’ll be able to post about the process soon!

Sat, January 15 2011 » Personal, Popular Culture, Research, Theater piece

One Response

  1. Timmy Caldwell January 19 2011 @ 23:32

    I am super excited for you as you embark on your next project. This was a wonderful entry, and it made me miss Vincent even a little bit more than usual.

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  1. First draft, first steps | Vincent's Yellow September 11 2013 @ 18:44

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