Vincent van Gogh is best known for two things - his sunflowers and his ear-cutting. But there are many other ways of knowing this remarkable son of a Dutch pastor, who left his chill homeland for the sunshine of Arles in the South of France; and left us over a thousand frank letters of struggle and joy, to help us glimpse his inner world. Vincent came late to painting after spending time in London trying to be a Christian missionary. And though he is now amongst the most famous artists on earth, in his day, no one saw him coming - apart from one French art critic called Aurier. It is possible he never sold one of his paintings in his life time. When he discovered the sun in Arles, he also discovered energy. Yellow for him was the colour of hope, and in his last two years he painted almost a canvass a day. But hope ran out on July 27th , 1890 when he shot himself, aged 37. He was at this time six months out of a mental institution, where perhaps he experienced his greatest calm. Vincent compared himself to a stunted plant; damaged by the emotional frost of his childhood. 'Conversations with Van Gogh' is an imagined conversation with this remarkable figure.
But while the conversation is imagined, Van Gogh's words are not; they are all authentically his. "Speaking with Vincent - which he insists on being called - was a privilege,' says Simon Parke. 'He's endlessly fascinating, contradictory, moving, funny, insightful and tragic. There's a fury in him; but also a great kindness. He found harmony in human relationships elusive; his love life was a painful shambles. But with colour, he was a harmonic genius, and he has much to say about this. And here's the thing: for a man who killed himself - he died in the arms of his brother on July 29th - spending time with him was never anything but life-affirming.'
THE NEW YORKER August 30th 2010 SIMON PARKE SPEAKS WITH THE DEAD Book trailers-the low-budget previews modelled on those used by the film industry-have quickly grown tiresome. They're never very interesting, often overly impressionistic and pretentious, and rarely rise above the level of those silly historical reA"nactments you see on cable. They might get better over time, or die out; either is preferable to their current state. An exception, though, are the finely wrought previews for Simon Parke's Conversations with - A" biographies, published by White Crow Books. In this series, Parke bypasses the more quotidian aspects of historical biography by conducting interviewsA" with his subjects-Jesus, Meister Eckhart, Arthur Conan Doyle, Vincent van Gogh, and Leo Tolstoy-with the answers coming from their published writings. The trailers are stagey-with Parke and the actor playing his subject shown in the recording studio while a musical score soars behind their voices-yet the interviews nonetheless feel natural. Much of this feeling owes to the straightforward and unadorned nature of the exchanges, as when Parke asks Vincent van Gogh why he drinks, and the master answers, If the storm gets too loud, I take a glass too much to stun myself.A" The shot cuts to At Eternity's Gate,A" van Gogh's portrait of a man with his head in his hands, but you can imagine the whorls and swirls of the artist's favored darkened skies as well. Here, Parke conducts his interview with Tolstoy in the assured and chatty style of a British talk-show host: http://whitecrowbooks.com/conversations/page/conversations_with_leo_tolstoy This gambit may be viewed as simply a clever gimmick, but there is something compelling about Parke's style, which in a way that is always promised but rarely delivered, does, in fact, bring his subjects to life. Parke's role as the good-natured interlocutor seems to be an essential component of the project, a disposition on display in this cheeky description of his imagined time spent with Tolstoy: He also proved an appalling husband, hated Shakespeare, never came to terms with his sexual appetite and yet had a profound influence on the non-violence of the young Gandhi. My time at Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy's country estate, was never dull; and sometimes, surprisingly comic. Soon after I left the great man, at the age of 82, he ran away from home. by Ian Crouch Loose leafs from the New Yorker Books Department.
Introduction 1) Auvers and the wheat fields 2) Van Gogh, school teacher 3) The lights of London 4) Learning to draw 5) Leaving my religion 6) Love in a cold climate 7) Who is my mother? 8) Paris 9) Colour my world 10) Van Gogh, painter 11) Mental states 12) Heroes 13) Nearly famous 14) After word