Marlene Dumas on Vincent van Gogh
Now that ‘Obsession’ is the name of a perfume and
Freud don’t slip no more, we no longer have to make
Vincent too beautiful to be true.
Van Gogh was not Antoin Artaud.
Van Gogh was not the star in Lust for Life.
Van Gogh was not keen on insanity.
Madness caused his death, but not his paintings.
Many an artist has a tragic death, but not many had such a focused and intelligent pictorial mind. Many artists died poor, but not many worked so hard and thought so clearly.
‘It is very probable that I shall have to suffer a great deal yet. And to tell the honest truth, this does not suit me at all, for under no circumstances do I long for a martyr’s career. For I have always sought something different from heroism, which I do not have, which I certainly admire in others, but which, I tell you again, I consider neither my duty nor my ideal.’
For him, art was a profession like any other profession. He did not place himself above or outside oftime. He was constantly referring to and comparing himself to other artists, dead or alive.
‘I think that art, the old fashioned idea of innate genius, inspiration, etc. – I do not say must be put aside – but thoroughly reconsidered, verified – and greatly modified.’
He was neither innocent nor primitive. He looked at nature to find models, because he did not want to ‘invent’ subject matter, just as one cannot ‘invent’ passion. For him, the radiating sun became a better model than the gloomy potato eaters. Joy served him better than sorrow.
‘Joking apart, I am of the opinion that a man or a woman ought to be desperately in love with something or somebody, and the only precaution one might be able to take, is to do it in a certain way according to one’s ideas, and not in any other way’.
Van Gogh did for portraiture what Manet did for flowers.
Van Gogh may not have been the first to place the figure in an abstract space, but he knew how to electrify it better than anyone that came after him.
Van Gogh painted the artificial colours of the Polaroid before the Polaroid camera was invented.
Van Gogh painted ‘glow in the dark’ luminosity long before the disco nights.
Van Gogh invented acid green and sulphur yellow before anyone heard of chemical warfare.
Van Gogh said ‘don’t paint the wall behind the head, paint infinity’, that is why Barnett Newman could get afraid of red, yellow and blue.
If advertising people are still looking for an image that sticks in your head, whatever your psychology or culture,
Van Gogh had already created it.
If Frank Stella said he tried to keep the paint on the canvas as good as it was in the can, van Gogh did the same for the paint from the tube. That’s as bright as it gets.
If Warhol can do it without doing it, so can Van Gogh.
He is not a painter of nudes or eroticized landscapes like his friend Gauguin, but he is a better lover.
Quotes: Vincent van Gogh, The Letters, Jansen, Luijten, Baker (ed.), Van Gogh Museum | Huygens Institute | Mercatorfonds, 2009
Vincent van Gogh | As good as it gets. Van Gogh is the One. Originally published in Vincent van Gogh and Contemporary Art, (cat.), Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 2003; and included in Marlene Dumas, Sweet Nothings. Notes and Texts | On Others, second edition (revised and expanded) Koenig Books London, 2014 (first edition Galerie Paul Andriesse and De Balie Publishers Amsterdam, 1998).