This morning I awoke from a vivid dream about one of Dad's paintings, "Cypress and Night Sky," which hung in my bedroom at his place for years. It's an enormous southwestern landscape (53x53) inspired by Dad's hero, Van Gogh. It hung near my bed and I could spend hours looking at how many vivid colors he managed to get into each brush stroke.
It always touched me that, while the rest of the rooms in Dad's little bungalow constituted a rabbit's warren of art supplies, boxes of slides, photos and genealogy information, new and old electronics, camping gear and bottles of wine to take with him to his friends' parties, my room remained pristine. He kept it off limits for his clutter and it was always the same, which was a comfort each time I went home.
On to Van Gogh. Dad did about as much research on dear Vincent as he did on his own family, which was considerable. He saw his works first hand whenever he could, poured over his letters to Theo and had dozens of books. He never thought Vincent was insane - Dad believed that he and Van Gogh shared the same passion and obsession of finding expression on canvas, and that like himself, Van Gogh was simply misunderstood because of his lack of ability to express his true self any other way.
In the year 2001, I was touring with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and had a 3-week hiatus between shows. Mom and Dad came to London and we traveled together to France. I was able to take them to Arles, the town in France where Van Gogh did most of his work.
I watched my father standing on bridges and in fields with his hands held in front of him like a frame, weeping uncontrollably. He saw first hand what Van Gogh saw and he wept at the enormity and personal understanding of what Vincent must have gone through trying to express such beauty.
Dad began searching for his own voice through Vincent's style around 1997; the works he created during that period, southwestern landscapes, self-portraits and other sundries, represented one of his most passionate phases. The self-portrait he did in the style of Van Gogh is what I chose to display on his field box when we scattered his ashes under the Blackjack Oak tree in the Bradley, OK cemetery.
The note on the back of "Cypress and Night Sky" states:
"The influence of Van Gogh on this painting is very evident. He is a constant influence on my work. Even my license plate is "Van Gogh." He is a hero of mine. He had enough faith in what he was doing to continue, even though the general public scorned and laughed at his painting. Though he was offered rides, he chose to walk through the countryside, saying that he couldn't closely observe Nature while riding."
Today I will walk slowly through Paris and make a frame with my hands to see the world in a different way. All artists, no matter how they are perceived, can teach us lessons about our brief life. This morning, after my dream, I thank my Dad and Van Gogh for this one.