Quarrel in Arles
‘Quarrel in Arles’ is a homage to the turn of the century Dutch Artist Vincent Van Gogh. Written by E. Thomalen, it was a no holds barred account of the fate full year 1888 of the artist’s life told from the horse’s mouth so to speak as it was a reading from letter of correspondence between Vincent, his brother Theo, Johanna Bonger (who was to marry Theo) and Paul Gauguin.
These letters are a point of reference of the past, and act like documents that unveil the history of some very important times for the art world. In good humour Vincent would write to his brother about his excitement always starting with ‘My dear Theo…’ and always ending expressing a hand shake of affection.
They were very close as brothers and friends and remained as pillars of support for each other. When we study Vincent in the modern world his letters are never far from exploration. The reading by Timothy Portnay, playing Vincent, Gauguin and Theo and Yumiko Gardener playing Johanna was coupled by only one picture on the screen that was a Van Gogh painting of a sunflower, perhaps chosen because it is one of the most relatable to date.
Separated into parts the year unfolded with event after event for the Van Gogh team. All of whom supported him as an artist unequivocally through turmoil not the least the fact that his paintings just wouldn’t sell. Listening to these letters show casing his thoughts we could step back and follow with no little joy’s and woe’s that were to reflect the artists moods and discrepancies.
He was in great excitement about his idea for an art colony in Arles; where he had moved after finding his legendarily famous yellow house, so called because its walls were painted yellow. In his faithful heart he wanted and indeed revered the idea that a fellow painter Paul Gauguin would head it.
The story went from France to Holland and vice versa as each told their stories via all these letters. Theo was also an art dealer and Vincent wanted him to paint as well, but the focus was on Vincent’s work. They described his paintings and theories with such an abundant joy that was as essential as breath.
And who now has not heard of this artist and therefore heard about his very fragile condition as a human being. And yes a vein darkness began to immerge. From the letter we realise that for him it was no joke. As we followed each story we could understand that not selling for him was a sadness that gripped him as vividly as cold air and hung around for just as long.
But his letters to his brother were filled with the excitement he felt and sure enough Gauguin decided to move to Arles to live with him at the Yellow house. The two tried to create a collaboration that would bring them together as great friends and towering Artists but things proved difficult and they found that in art and life they disagreed fiercely.
But Vincent’s problems were to worsen his paranoia grew too great to control and though Gauguin had great affection for the man he saw suffering he felt unsafe and even in fear for his life. At this point tears were gathering in my eyes I asked myself how can something so gracious be born of such suffering.
The Vincent we know of cut off part of his own ear, in the interests of sacrifice (putting it in a box to be kept), he recovered after time at an asylum but the storm that engulfed his life ended in terrible tragedy. And as this sadness extended its arm into me with force of nature his work only became more beautiful. Had he sold in his lifetime things may well have been different but I’m afraid it could not have assuaged his deteriorating life spiral. His gentility of work was some of the most harmoniously ever created at least that’s how I like to remember looking back at his life.