Vincent and I - a Timeline of a Lifetime of Light on Light and Lightness
Updated: Nov 8, 2022
From an early age, Vincent Van Goghian's exuberant yellows and explosive blues inspired me to write as he painted so very tenderly. Su ternura se mantiene intacta across the ages, yours, mine, enduring beyond current lives. Despite documented unsurmountable suffering, the artist found a way to jump into the abyss with the certainty that he would land on the high grounds of our life-generating sun. He jumped into the abyss of the sun, and he survived. And so will I, walking my path toward enlightenment. I'll jump into bursting stars, the ones shedding light right now, as I write, as you read. Eons of traveling light. I'm down to receive the light, I am down but I am up, right now. I am light in blues and yellows. Oranges, perhaps. The colors of sustainable life.
I went to the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit in Los Angeles stunning installations, while across the land and the ocean, in a gallery in London, fossil fuel protesters threw a can of tomato soup on Van Gogh's Sunflowers.
I am a fierce advocate for environmental justice. Climate change, social inequities and inequalities, and the depletion of our planet's non-renewable resources, which will doom humanity into its sixth extinction, concern me deeply. Climate change entails dire and urgent action, but this?
I know that the fossil fuel industry is committing crimes against humanity violating basic human rights, such as the right to breathe clean air, drink potable water, access to nutritious food, live in safety within our communities, and be guaranteed recipients of free health care, free decision-making over the destiny of our bodies, and be free to express our identities and identifications without fearing jeopardy, derision, discrimination, violence.
The marriage between patriarchal and capitalistic systems seems signed and carved on stone, but not in an altruistic committed way. Patriarchy and capitalism are the culprits of our involution, our forced recoiling, our unsustainable greed for money, control, constant production, and power, causing irreversible damage to our beautiful home, planet Earth, and to all of us, earthlings.
I'd learned about climate change while studying at Antioch University at the Urban Sustainability master's program where I participated in field studies practicing justice activism, pro-activism via call to action. Students work empathetically advocating for change in many marginalized communities. We hoped to help effect meaningful change, at least for people who check mark many boxes within the matrix of oppression, daily. Their struggles are real, and I've seen theirs, and mine, and yours.
Although I am an engaged, participative, and socially conscious justice activist, I feel ambivalent towards the Just Stop Oil protesters' method of calling to climate action by vandalizing Van Gogh's Sunflowers, a superb work of art that elicits deep emotion, awe, kindness, and compassion.
The news were puzzling. For me, Vincent Van Gogh's Sunflowers are proof of our divine humanity, and of our capacity to empathize, to become solidarious. His paintings of the abyss of the sun, the flowers, and the poor, such as the peasants featured in The Potato Eaters, are irrefutable evidence of Vincent's awareness on all ecosystems functioning within ecological dimensions of resilience frameworks. Still, I am equipped with unique tools and had helped realize unique skills in your children.
Van Gogh saw the world interacting in colors, in synergy, in ecological panarchy under an egalitarian eye manifested on the canvas--his expression was a way to resist, however subtly, and against the toils of Saṃsāra.
In the last few years, I've written my impressions of Vincent's art, which has pollinated my writing throughout my life in my poems and my working projects in fiction and nonfiction. My way of life.
I had first discovered Girasoles when I was five years old, and this painting was the exact metaphor expressing the feelings that the child that I was felt at that moment—that tenderness, the a flor de piel vulnerability, that ephemerality of joy, still holding onto it, as we hold onto hope.
During the pandemic, I posted several flash essays on Instagram and Facebook, recording or reminiscing many serendipitous encounters with Vincent's artwork: joyful starry nights, calming wheat fields, the our shared reverence to the blossoming and the withering of flowers. Likeness of people like me.
During the pandemic, I felt many a time, like the man crying in the harrowing At Eternity's Gate, but Van Gogh's Almond's Blossoms made me feel safe, and light--it gave me levity when gravity was unbearable.
My photos on social media often display Van Gogh's unique yellows as though impregnated of daylight and multiplying blues radiating nightlight as if his palette had bestowed upon me my sense of aesthetics. My obsession with flowers might have been spurred by his own.
I vividly remember perusing through a book of his life, letters, and complete works, at my grandfather's studio in my favorite house in Avenida Fructuoso Rivera y Luis P. Ponce, in my birth city of Montevideo.
I vividly remember the book and my small hands flipping the pages of the heavy and thick volume of the pinacoteca, as mi Tata called the collection of oversized books featuring laminated photographs of brilliant artists of the world throughout the ages. I was about seven years old, in 1973.
We had recently moved to a gorgeous colonial-style house, restored and painted by mi Papá y mi Tío Oscar. Papá sang a song while painting the walls, ¿Y tú quieres saber cómo será nuestra casa, and my brother Rafael (named after the Renaissance painter, Raffaello Sanzio), and I would say, ¡si ya lo sabemos!
But, that's another story, another essay--the byproduct of pandemic writings to heal. Y no tener más remedio que face, those monsters, under the bed, the basements, the graveyard.
Antel, the Uruguayan phone company, had just installed a rotary phone by the entrance to the River y Ponce's house. I was the first to answer the first call, and I deserved it--I had spent all morning memorizing the number: 46527
As I answered, Familia Gil, cuatro seis cinco dos siete, I looked up to the wall and noticed a painting that I later learned was called "Harvest at La Crau."
I asked mamá who painted it, and she said, "Vincente Van Gogh! The same artist who painted your sunflowers. Los girasoles que tú dibujaste when you went to see Dr. Beigle. ¿Te acuerdas? "
Later, she gave me the big book and told me to look for paintings of irises, roses, chrysanthemums, and poppies. "Busca las flores, hija mìa.¡Siempre!"
In 1992, while I lived in Luxembourg Ville, I'd take trains to visit different cities in Holland, and I went to Van Gogh's house in Drenthe, and to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. I stood still, captivated, anchored to the floor as if rooting like his Cypress tree.
I was breathless, observing the traces of the brush, in each stroke for all the multiple dots and rectangular lines and the myriad shades and nuances of color in the compositions on canvases.
This unforgettable event was my first time disobeying a museum's guard warning me repeatedly, remain behind the yellow line lady, do not step forward, miss, do not go over the yellow line, please. This experience came to define a trait of mine, and became a pattern for all the museum guards of all the museums, and art fairs that I'd visit in my life, except Sintonio's at the MOMA, who sang Starry Nights for me, instead of pushing me to remain behind the yellow line.
In the Netherlands there are flowers everywhere, here and there, selflessly offering their ephemeral existence and unforgettable beauty to me then, and to Vincent before me. He truly saw them through their petals and corollas, and I so yearn to see them through.
Thus, I jumped into the abyss of the artist's suns and I melt in all kinds of blues, and I learn to fly, every time I wish to see and be seen. I then, survive. Every time.
And now for what regards what I myself have been doing, I have lacked money for paying models, else I had entirely given myself to figure painting but I have made a series of colour studies in painting simply flowers, red poppies, blue corn flowers and myosotys. White and rose roses, yellow chrysanthemums.”
When my husband Federico's mom died in the winter of the Southern Hemisphere in 1999 and we couldn't travel to Montevideo to bury mi dulce mother in law, we went to the Getty Center. Federico hears compositions of Claude Debussy in his mind when he process grief. We felt the need to look at the Impressionist paintings, which an amazing, heart-in-throat collection is in permanent display at the skylit second floor of the Angeleno museum. When we stood in front of Vincent Van Gogh's Irises, Federico cried silently, and I felt his heart ache like a lump in my throat, ice-melting.
When my mom died in the winter of the Southern Hemisphere in 2005, and we couldn't travel to Montevideo to bury el cuerpo de quién había sido mi dulce mamá, we drove to the Getty Center listening to Yo Yo Ma's Cello Suites inspired in Bach. My mother loved to listen to Bach. I am often surprised of how many symphonies imprinted in my memory from those years of Classical musicians owning the backyard while I rode my fig tree dragon across a fiery world.
Mi abuelo listened to classical music while he read in his studio, and I would stay there, dusting off the books, drawing books from the shelves, reading literature before my age accompanied by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Hadyn, Handel...Mine was a precious human birth, indeed, considering my rhetorical setting, my becoming a being in a given place.
Consciousness is impacted when we face odds. It is hard to make sense even when we are cognizant and awareness is a daily oily- fed lantern.
When we stood in front of Vincent Van Gogh's Irises, dazed and troubled, Federico froze, and I sobbed. Tears fell down my cheeks as heavy as a drop of oil paint and as light as a watercolor tear. Federico embraced me, sniffing--his body felt small, like the body of a child. I know that he felt my grief flowing in his veins because his veins branched into mine, as if intertwined twigs and leaves from two contiguous trees flowing contagious sap doom to become amber holding still life.
Following, I share impressions from my social media posts about the amazing, mesmerizing obras de arte of one of my favorite post-impressionist painters. He left so many beautiful gifts to humanity, but he left me the brushes to color the survival kit that I inherited from all my ancestors.
Vincent Van Goghian's exuberant yellows and explosive blues inspired me to write as he painted so very tenderly. In sorrow and grief, the artist found a way to jump into the abyss with the certainty that he would land on the high grounds of the sun.
Perhaps, each one of his visions can be reminders that despite so much suffering, destruction, selfishness, greed, and hatred, it is possible to hope for a healthy and just world, to believe in possibility, and to be compassionate with oneself and with all transient beings sharing our blue-marbled home, illuminated by the yellow star, in loving kindness.
Resemblances, Reflections, Reminiscences
I discovered sunflowers when I was five years old. My parents were divorcing, and I complained about headaches. I was sent to therapy when the doctor said it wasn't physiological. In the waiting room, I saw the Arles version of Vincent Van Gogh's Sunflowers, and I still see myself observing the print on the wall, spellbound.
I sat on a child's chair and drew the SUNFLOWERS on a kindergarten table while the therapist and my mother watched me and asked me questions. I described the painting as I attempted a drawing, and I loved it because it was sorrowful and joyful at once. I said that I liked that some flowers were withered and others bloomed. some were happy and some were sad. In French, these flowers are called Tournasoles, and in Spanish, they are called Girasoles. So, perhaps, a literal translation into English should be something like Suntwirler. Half century later, I still twirl, honoring the child that I once was.
My mother showed me a book about Vincent Van Gogh's works and read to me about his life when I asked about a painting that hung on the wall by the rotary telephone which laid on a small fence between the entrance to my favorite house in Rivera y Ponce and the living room. The fringe was white and the top featured plain red zocalos.
I loved his relationship with Theo, which became archetypal to define expected siblings' rivalry, and foreshadowing empathy and madness. On the living room wall of my favorite house (out of the ten where I lived up to my nineteenth birthday when I moved to Argentina to reunite with my exiled dad), there was a reproduction of "Harvest at La Crau with Montmajour in the Background," which is now in my kitchen.
In the apartment where I live now, in this life in isolation during the Corona Virus pandemic, Van Gogh lives on, on many of this shelter's walls: "The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night," "Starry Night over the Rhone," "The Starry Night,"
In my bedroom, an oversized "Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer," is, literally, my lighthouse. I dream that I'd dream myself arriving to a refuge, a haven, and I know it is at the eve of the darkest night, when I cuddle with my husband before I fall asleep confirming el amor.
The Paris version of "Sunflowers" is on the guest bathroom wall, where there's a tall library displaying my collection of sand from all the beaches I've sunbathed throughout my life, next to a print of Claude Monet's "The Artist's Garden."
Vincent Van Gogh's "The Irises" is there too, for which original Federico and I would escape to view up close at the J.P Getty on the anniversaries of our mothers' passing. A ritual, like our own version of Día de los Muertos.
Update: During the pandemic, I devoted my time away from Zooming and Internet to gardening, and to re-arrange things in the house, whenever space allowed it. I took all the impressionist and post impressionist paintings to my room, and Cubist and Post Modern posters and reproductions to the guest bathroom. I re-decorated the primary bathroom themed with green leaves and sunflowers, so mi cuadro de girasoles me acompaña when I take calming bubble baths and the candle light trembles over the sunflowers making them glow in the dark.
Two years and twenty-seven days ago, after the official order to shelter in place at the start of the pandemic, I posted a mini-essay about Vincent Van Gogh's prints that decorated my home.
I miss[ed] escaping to the J. Paul Getty Center in LA with Federico during the almost two years of isolation. Then, finally, the museum reopened, and we needed to resume our annual ritual of going to see Van Gogh's Irises, which is our means to celebrate Fede's mamá, who RIP in since 1999 (only a month before I became pregnant with her grandchild) and to celebrate mi mamá QEPD since 2005.
We seize a concrete memory of our mothers' touch every time we see those beautiful flowers. Vincent's flowers are for them, everlasting each time we offer them a nuestras madres, María y Beatriz.
In New York, I knew it'd be hard to walk on the fifth floor at MOMA, moving fast by Henri Matisse, Frida Khalo, Salvador Dalí, and Rene Magritte.
I'd have to rush if I was to catch my plane on time. So my goal and priority were to spend an unmeasurable time sitting on the floor in a crowded room mesmerizing myself in the myriad blues with sparkling and bursting and whir-pooling lights so I could write here so I could write now about Starry Nights. I imprint this expression onto my mind. And so I'd find find myself in awe, as Alistair McCartney, (my mentor at the MFA program at Antioch University from where I graduated last summer 2020, over Zoom), writes:
Alistair planted sunflowers in his garden and when they bloomed he posted a photo on his IG account. When I liked his post, he told me that sunflowers reminded him of a passage from my manuscript, that he helped me edit. Then, I planted sunflowers, and they blossomed tall and brightly despite their fleeting beauty.
As I walked through the fifth floor at the MOMA, I stopped to observe "Collective Suicide" by Mexican artist David Siqueiros as one in the series "Responding to War," along with paintings by José Orozco and Pablo Picasso. I stood there for a while, hair raising, hair beginning to stand in the root of my nape and rising in waves, the horror of war blackening and blurring my eyes. Another war had began a few days earlier. But our world is always at war.
Amidst my response to these sightings and the cacophony surrounding me with comments referring to Dalí's Persistence of Memory, Look! that melted clock that you have on your kitchen wall! that annoyed me or puzzled me, I heard a faint humming, soulful and captivating as a mellifluous lullaby meandering through the air, winding around people.
I, like Ulysses, dressed in all kinds of blues, and wearing starry nights socks, swam dribbling amongst the crowd seeking the siren's calling from where the song originated, enthralling me and driving me away from ignorance and the depictions of fear. You're the one humming!
Sintonio told me that when he was assigned to watch after the painting, the stars haunted him, and he told me a love story with all kinds of blues and sparkles. An Italian book publisher recorded the video that I share below, while I was audio recording Sintonio. Then, I dove into Van Gogh's skies and swam in the fluidity of blues and yellows precisely as I have dreamt I would, in a cathartic experience of my immersion where time stood still while the circles around the stars rippled beyond the peripheries of my vision.
So I did, and I do now, as you read and see me. As we are and exist in este planeta azul with all the moving organisms moving and dancing in the sea, the dancing diatoms, the oxygen-generators que nos mantienen vivos. Este planeta como bolita o canica que rota cada veinticuatro horas y que se translada por trescientos sesenta y cinco días alrededor de la estrella amarillo-fuego que nos garantiza la vida, para que todos vivamos respirando. Ojalá que aprendamos a vivir en paz.
I remember precisely how Hope looked exactly a year ago. I didn’t need FB to remind me of it, though. And on Instagram, I posted photos and videos, but the videos were muted; how I miss people talking nearby.
Last year [from that day] was a Monday, and it was Labor Day. It was the last day of the Butterfly exhibition at the Los Angeles Natural Museum. I went with my friend Pili from Spain, who is family (I’ve known her since 1997 when we worked together in an Italian restaurant).
Pili held my back upright from my left side every time I had to push to give birth to my daughter, while Fede on the right encouraged me tenderly and emoted. She helped me paint the walls of my apartment's living room yellow, and one wall of my bedroom blue with a constellation of fluorescent stars, by my baby's crib. Pili prepared my home when we return from UCLA hospital to our home, welcoming our new born baby.
In the early afternoon, we gathered at The Kaplan family home for a Labor day celebration. We ate delicious food and drank sophisticated wines. We chatted as we all have had every Labor Day throughout Magaluna’s K-12 experience at Crossroads with a community of families that became my surrogate family (the kind of alleviating warmth soothing the nostalgia of an immigrant family of three). Today, I miss all of it, but I also miss that incredible, tangible feeling of Hope that didn’t feel so fleeting then, as it does today.
The great Vincent Van Gogh painted flowers to immortalize them on canvas—to fight against their ephemerality. He also observed things for long periods to discover the true nature of things, but because he was listening to what things told him to dream—he painted his dreams, he made them manifest. He aligned with the stars. And now, he is one.
I stare at flowers for so long that I now measure time differently. W.S Merwin was right--there’s no time in the garden. And maybe, just maybe, for the time being, I can dream back that mesmerizing feeling of Hopefulness, paint it on a poem, with words instead of pigments, my pen instead of a brush.
Then, maybe, I would immortalize Hope, like Vincent immortalized flowers. And if I did, I would have succeeded against anyone and anything with a transient nature. Or so, I hope, as I hope for loving kindness. As I hope for justice. As I hope for the end of destruction, violence and war. As I hope for a relived Samsara, in the next cycle, hoping to evolve in compassions.
Excerpt from the letter that Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo van Gogh, in Isleworth, on 7 October 1876.
“I have been ill, my mind was tired, my soul disillusioned and my body suffering. I whom God has endowed at least with moral energy and a strong instinct of affection, I fell in the abyss of the most bitter discouragement and I felt with horror how a deadly poison penetrated my stifled heart. I spent three months on the moors, you know that beautiful region where the soul retires within itself and enjoys a delicious rest, where everything breathes calm and peace; where the soul in presence of God's immaculate creation throws off the yoke of conventions, forgets society, and loosens its bonds, with the strength of renewed youth; where each thought takes the form of prayer, where everything that is not in harmony with fresh and free nature quits the heart. Oh, there the tired souls find rest, there the exhausted man regains his youthful strength. So I passed my days of illness . . .. And then the evening! To be seated before the big fireplace with one's feet in the ashes, one's eyes fixed on a star that sends its ray through the opening in the chimney as if to call me, or absorbed in vague dreams too much to look at the fire, to see the flames rise, flicker, and supplant one another as if desirous to lick the kettle with their tongues of fire, and to think that such is human life: to be born, to work, to love, to grow and to disappear.”
Vincent will not disappear
Take a Breather and Create in the Break
Instagram and Facebook's videos and photos for reel and post created with iMovie, Photoshop, and Mixagram fun time breathing: