Fou Roux—the pulse of life
17 March 2k9
“Mad Poet” you say? Fair enough, I’ve been called worse: leftist rabble, uncompromising eco-nut (as former AK Gov. Tony Knowles once quipped. I replied that it was better than being a Corporate Pimp…), arrogant radical, insane, disabled, cantankerous agoraphobe, chronic misanthrope, and of course, a fool. Before long, if you read long enough and stay with me Dear Reader, doubtless you’ll end up calling me worse as well. It’s sort of an occupational hazard. To be a poet, and still be able to face yourself in the mirror, one has to step on some toes now and then, rattle some cages, climb way out on a limb and start sawing behind you.
17, March 1901: an artist, whose popularity had been growing for some years, was given a grand exhibition in Paris; which could have been the big break for any artist, except this poor soul had already been dead for eleven years. Following this retrospective, and subsequent others in Amsterdam and Cologne, the work of Vincent van Gogh became known to the world. His influence rippled outward and is felt even to this day, more than a century later.
What we know of the man himself is often shrouded in misery and mystery, only lending strength to the legend of a tortured, mad painter; a man whom the people of Arles, France came to call Fou Roux “the redheaded madman”. Despite decades of conjecture by doctors, scholars, and pretty much everyone else, we’re not much closer to the truth of what happened to Vincent now than we were in the days following his suicide. And while it is hotly contested, many do not agree that suicide is necessarily a good indicator for what is loosely referred to as “insanity”.
Who can say if Vincent was truly mad, mentally ill, permanently slipped off of his cracker? And if so, is it really any of our business?
For reliable information regarding the myriad of questions in this debate, I recommend exploring the admirable work of David Brooks at: www.vggallery.com. There you can find a succinct biography, qualified historical analysis, and most importantly, good representations of his art as well. Further, it is the only website sanctioned by the museum itself, so you know they’ve got the straight goods. If you dig around in the visitor submission/poetry section you can find a poem there by yours truly. Guess which one it is and I’ll send you a donut. *limited to 1 (one) per household.
I chose to begin this journal on this date as an homage, as Vincent has inspired me through countless hard times. In the palace of my mind, his work adorns the walls. It forever shows me something new and surprising about myself, about how I perceive the world around me.
His perseverance in the struggle with his own demons; his dedication to his craft, no matter the cost to his own comfort; even his failings, which so many of us share, that would not stop him from creating some of the most challenging and beautiful art in history—these lessons have taught me, often painfully, to grapple with my own work: what does it mean, exactly, to be an artist, or in my case, a poet?
I still haven’t the foggiest clue, and that is the only honest answer I can give.
Other than similitudes, no gathering of words fully answers the question.
Perhaps in your own mind you carry a definition. But tell me, do you feel that it is complete?
Confusion waxes and wanes. Lately I have stopped asking such dangerous questions.
I have been listening instead, straining to hear the quiet voice guiding me deeper through the labyrinth, to the temple where my Muse sings her arias…
Poke an artist and many will tell you we do it simply because we have to.
We seem to feel a duty to our art that transcends mere ego:
revealing the best and the worst in all of us, it is a siren song of creation—
a daybright beacon in the darkness, composed of hidden symbols;
a cerebral conduit to the heart of humanity, without which we would be hollow and bereft.
Yet while connected to it, we feel the pulse of life.
Vincent van Gogh—Self-Portrait, Saint-Remy, September 1889