Saint Remy-de-Provence: Van Gogh

A kilometer away from where Saint Remy de Provence ends, an unparalleled tour of the specific landscapes painted by VanGogh begins, with physical imagery that references his work.

This path leads to the Monastery of Saint Paul de Mausole, a psychiatric institution (that is still operating as such today), where Van Gogh self-interned himself right after a heated discussion with Gaugin in which the artist, victim of a psychotic attack ended up cutting his ear, and almost killed his friend.

Interestingly enough, after the altercation, Van Gogh did not remember anything, but the traces of what happened were visible: a lost friendship and a missing piece on his ear.

So he asked to be treated at Saint Paul, a unique and peaceful place. I would never have imagined it to be so beautiful. No wonder he was able to create hundreds of works, among them ‘Starry Night ’and ‘Vincent’s Room in Arles’ in between treatments.

From his room he had a spectacular view to fields of lavender and wheat; sunflowers and sunlight. He spent there a year of his life.

Being there made me think about mental health and how there’s such a thin line between being a “mentally stable” person to being mentally unstable: from brain connections that don’t work properly, to family history, or a sense of misunderstanding of the world and why we are here.

And it’s often hard to make sense regarding the world the way we live now, so disconnected from each other and from a sense of purpose. The simple act of living is nothing more than a constant search to understand something that we know we will never understand. And for an artist, who sees with his heart rather than with his eyes, this adds vulnerability to the equation.

And yet Van Gogh faced his crisis and underwent treatments that at that time were hard to bear, to make things better. And he fought for himself. Contrary to what most people think, he did not commit suicide. You just have to see the posthumous references to the way he died. He was killed. There was no trace of gunpowder in his hands, which was impossible for someone who used a weapon at the time. He would have had to do it with his left hand, and he wasn’t left-handed. And more than that, he was at a good time in his life: things were starting to work out for him. Plus, for someone who wrote constantly, not leaving at least one note to his brother, doesn’t make sense.

But the world believes he committed suicide. Perhaps that contributes to his legacy: to the value of his art set by the final sacrifice in the face of existential misunderstanding. The act of letting go and surrendering to oneself.

Yet, this particular story is important to me. I come from a family where there have been many cases of depression. Some have ended in suicide. And in curious ways, Van Gogh has been woven into some of these stories.

It makes a difference for me to be here and to understand that his life did not necessarily end the way we were told. It makes a difference to know that through his art he found the refuge he was looking for so keenly.

And the journey continues.

Saint-Remy de Provence: Van Gogh (español)

A un kilómetro de donde Saint Remy de Provence termina, comienza un recorrido sin igual por los paisajes pintados por Van Gogh con referencias físicas de su obra. Éste camino nos lleva al Monasterio de Saint Paul de Mausole, (una institución psiquiátrica que aún al día de hoy opera como tal), en donde Van Gogh se internó asimismo justo después de una candente discusión con Gaugin, amigo suyo con quien vivió una temporada a quien mucho admiraba, en la que víctima de un ataque psicótico terminó por cortarse la oreja, e intentó matar a su amigo.

Teas el altercado, Van Gogh no se acordaba de nada, pero las huellas de lo que sucedió estaban presentes: una amistad perdida y un pedazo de oreja faltante que lo llevaron a internarse en este monasterio.

Se respira una paz única. Nunca me lo hubiera imaginado tan bello. Aquí creo cientos de obras entre las que destaca ‘ La Noche Estrellada’ y ‘Habitación de Vincent en Arles’.

Desde su habitación se observa una vista espectacular de sembradíos de lavanda y trigo; girasoles y paz. Me hace pensar en la salud mental; en la línea tan delgada que distingue a una persona ‘sana’ de una persona que no lo está. Desde las conexiones del cerebro que no funcionan de manera apropiada, la historia personal o un sentido de incomprensión del mundo y de por qué estamos aquí. Y en realidad poco sentido hace la manera en que vivimos. El simple acto de vivir no es más que una constante búsqueda por entender algo que sabemos que nunca entenderemos. Y un artista ve con el corazón más que con los ojos, que agrega una vulnerabilidad considerable.

Y sin embargo Van Gogh enfrentó su crisis y se sometió a tratamientos que en esa época eran tremendamente crueles.

Pero lucho por sí mismo. Contrario a lo que nos enseñaron, no se suicidó. Solo hay que ver las referencias a la manera en que murió y los resultados de los estudios póstumos. No había rastro de pólvora en sus manos, que era algo imposible para alguien que usaba un arma en esa época. Tendría que haberlo hecho con la mano izquierda, y no era zurdo. Y más que eso, estaba en un buen momento de su vida. Las cosas empezaban a funcionar. Para alguien que escribía constantemente, no dejar al menos una nota a su hermano, no hace sentido.

Y sin embargo el que el mundo crea que se suicidó, tal vez contribuye a su legado. Al valor de su arte marcado por el sacrificio final ante la incomprensión existencial.

El dejar ir.

El rendirse ante uno mismo.

Pero ésta historia en particular es importante para mí. Vengo de una familia en donde ha habido muchos casos de depresión pesada. Algunos han terminado en suicidio. Y de maneras curiosas, Van Gogh ha estado entretejido en esto. Hace una diferencia para mí el estar aquí y entender las pruebas de que su vida no necesariamente terminó como creemos. De saber que en su arte encontró el refugio que tanto buscaba.

Y el viaje continúa.

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