Wherever I Gogh

He just keeps turning up everywhere I go.

It started with the painting on the otherwise unremarkable side of a building in an uptown shopping mall last summer. An unexpected portal:

Got me thinking a lot about imagination, passages, transitions, transcendence, overcoming…and faith. See how prominent the church is. And maybe a touch of magic—who has not encountered mysterious doors leading from one world to another in fantasy novels?

The Starry Night beckoned, took me in, adopted me. It became a personal motif during the COVID pandemic. Consider these definitions of motif:

a usually recurring salient thematic element (as in the arts); especially : a dominant idea or central theme.  —Merriam-Webster

a symbolic image or idea that appears frequently in a story. —literaryterms.com

My version: A “salient” (noticeable, as in you can’t miss it) symbol that keeps recurring, that has significant meaning to a narrative. Which is, in this case, my life. For I began taking note of how often van Gogh’s famous painting appeared in my daily existence, and what it could mean. Perhaps it is those deep blues, or those stars, or the peaceful village, or the presence of the church, or all of the above, that impart a sense of calm, benevolence, and well-being to me in the time of crisis. Maybe much as the artist felt when he painted it.

I have The Starry Night on a mask. A sort of literal and figurative protection. I used its imagery in a poem I wrote about awe, the word that adopted me when I turned the pages of my planner from 2020 to 2021 and found it in a quote there on January 1st. Awe and well-being are also deeply linked. When I wrote the poem I was thinking of all those blues in the painting and how blue is the rarest color in nature. Like forgiveness. Hence my closing lines: “The color of forgiveness/in the blue hour.” Those lines were born of awe just after The Starry Night resurfaced yet again in a startling way; one day I will be able to explain, but the time is not yet ripe for that story. Let us leave it at love, for love and forgiveness do not exist apart from one another.

And so we come to February.

Where this quote appears in the pages of my planner:

He just keeps turning up everywhere I go.

I marvel at those words and their truth for an artist, a student, a teacher, a writer.

Furthermore, we learn life by doing it.

One more thing…

I recently stumbled across van Gogh’s paintings of shoes. I wasn’t aware that this was a favorite subject for him. The story is that he would buy old shoes from flea markets and wear them through mud until they were interesting enough to paint.

I have to wonder about the symbolism. Shoes are necessary protection in daily life. A motif with many meanings in many cultures. A fashion obsession and status symbol in some. Deep spiritual connotations in others; shoes are often mentioned in the Bible, especially removing them as an act of reverence and faith. I wonder if van Gogh thought while he painted about the places these shoes had been, the people who wore them, what their life-journeys were like. What stories the shoes might tell, maybe just metaphorically, humbly, in their layers of dust and mud from long, hard travels on this Earth.

Lots to ponder with van Gogh and his shoes.

As I travel through life in my own.

He really does keep turning up, everywhere I go.

My shoes.

I’ve found these to be the most comfortable since breaking my foot, a year ago today.
Lots more to explore there, on brokenness and healing
.

How perfect is it that they are Vans. Wherever I may Gogh.

*******

written for the Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers.
Our stories often remind us of where we’ve been, where we are going, and who we are.
Writing them leads to surprising discoveries.
Sometimes those within ourselves.
Sometimes awe, at what lies beyond.

21 thoughts on “Wherever I Gogh

  1. What an ending! “We learn life by doing it.” Now that is true! And it takes faith and I believe, a certain amount of imagination, to learn life by doing (both of which you see in Starry Night). I did not know about van Gogh’s fascination with shoes. It’s true that old and worn call for the eye to stop and see and then let the imagination wonder about the story they could tell. Thanks, Fran!

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  2. I adore connections like your onGoghing relationship with “Starry Night”! They are there, yes, like the network of fungi lying just under the forest bed, connecting all the trees, waiting for us to dig just a few inches deep–or at the very least, to open our eyes to the mushrooms they produce now and again. The door on the side of the store reminded me of the use of doors in SoulCollage cards. I have a whole book of door images that one can cut out and place over other pictures, cutting the doors open to be able to peek inside, an invitation to go deeper into the reading of the card. You’ve given me a lot to ponder today, Fran!

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    • Chris – what a beautiful analogy, that network of fungi, the hidden interconnectedness. And the door images! I love those. I am always up for “going deeper” in observation and interpretation. Thank you so much – how I love “onGoghing” 😂

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  3. “Who has not encountered mysterious doors leading from one world to another in fantasy novels?” As a Whovian this just made me think of a big, blue box. Interestingly enough there is an episode that features Van Gogh. It’s a gorgeous episode, but the end packs a punch. The episode is titled ‘Vincent and the Doctor.’ The end scene is on YouTube. You may want to check it out.

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  4. Do you know the song “Starry Night” from the early ‘70s? It’s a lovely tribute to Van Gogh. I wonder if Van Gogh though about shoes as an anchor to earth, something that keeps us grounded—literally, while a starry night evokes imagination, but as I write I realize Van Gogh had a vast array of subjects, that we reduce his art to one iconic painting, which, as much as I love it, is a popular pop art backdrop. I know I’ll notice Van Gogh more after reading this and think I’ll wear my Van Gogh silk scarf today as a reminder to notice art in the world a little more.

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    • I do know the song! So poignant & evocative. “This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.” So true, the warning not to reduce his artistry to one pop art piece. He was so much more. Such a lovely image Glenda, you wearing your van Gogh scarf as a reminder to notice more art in the world. Love that.

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  5. Van Gogh has always been a favorite of mine, mostly I think because of the Dutch connection (I am half Dutch and my maiden name had a Van in it too). I have an iPad cover with the starry night scene.
    I love the way you have threaded the needle of connections throughout this post. If only he could have known how his work endured.

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    • Your Dutch connection is so intriguing, Elsie! There are many great Dutch artists… oh yes, I often wonder how astounded van Gogh would be to know his work is so famous and considered some of the most valuable in the world, ever. He suffered so and got little recognition for it in his lifetime. I have also been awed by his quotes, many from letters written to his brother.

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  6. Fran, I love how Starry Night has beckoned you to become your motif and I can understand why. His painting of Starry Night is so inviting, powerful, and leaves you in awe. It has always lingered in my mind. I remember when my youngest daughter first discovered Van Gogh’s Starry Night. She asked me if I knew of it. I said, yes and I have always loved it! I asked her why did she love it so much. She said the stars spoke to her. I said they speak to me, also. Do you feel hope from them. She agreed. Stars were already her motif by then, but after seeing Starry Night they influenced her more. Thank you for sharing more about Vincent Van Gogh and giving me a memory of my daughter.

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    • This is an amazing conversation with your daughter, recounted here. The stars speaking…they’re just so prominent; they are certainly the focal point of the painting. Seems to symbolize hope, yes. That’s a cypress tree on the left – traditional funeral or mourning tree. Would be so fascinating to know what was in van Gogh’s brilliant, suffering mind at the time. I am moved by your comments – thank you, Gail, for responding with such heart.

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  7. I think you would love my friend Sarah. She’s an artist and she painted Starry night on the back of her house. Years ago my husband and I went to Auvers on a vacation in France. I’ve written a few poems about Van Gogh. But I don’t have the shoes…yet.

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    • I know I’d love Sarah and the house-! Wow – would love to see it. And to visit Auvers. My blue hour poem is the first I’ve written connected to van Gogh. I am waiting to see how and in what way he’ll materialize next in my daily existence…

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  8. Fran, I happened to look up when I posted a comment to your poetry Friday post this week (1.12.21) and saw this post about Van Gogh. Since 2016, when I had a chance to go to The Netherlands, I have been fascinated by the Dutch. I would guess the church is prominent because churches (or Kerks, as they are known there) are everywhere – and they are fabulous! But, I comment because you have noted a thread running through your life and I have noted the same with mine. Thank you for sharing your experience. I hope that Van Gogh continues to serve and inspire you!

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    • I would love to visit The Netherlands, and I am thankful to know of this shared life-thread. I saw a documentary recently on van Gogh; in a word, haunting. How I’ve wished he could know the impact of his art on the world – and his letters move me as well.

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      • I would love to go back to The Netherlands, Fran! We went to The Hague (Den Haag) and would definitely go back there, but I’d like to see Leiden, Amsterdam, Haarlem, and Rotterdam, too. I would love to see the tulip fields in bloom. While I like Van Gogh and agree with your wish for him to know his impact on the world, I find myself fascinated with Vermeer – one of Van Gogh’s fellow artists but from Delft (which we visited too). He is fascinating to me as well. We visited his grave at the Kerk (church) in Den Haag and saw his famous painting The Girl with the Pearl Earring in one of the museums. There is a plethora of art in The Netherlands. If you ever get the chance to go, I would grab it! Thanks!

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      • I will definitely jump at the chance to visit this beautiful country! I’d love to see Girl with the Pearl Earring in person. I’ve seen paintings by Vermeer and Rembrandt at our art museum here in NC. Amazing- speaking of which, I would also love to see the kerks.

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