“Either we all survive or none of us do” ~Vincent Van Gogh
In 2020, I drew together a small collection of lifetime short stories and essays in a slim volume entitled Camping On The Edge. I was facing a medical fork in the road about eliminating my anti-cholesterol pill which caused tremendously painful leg cramps. I felt I was faced with choosing more life in the years remaining versus simply adding years to my life. Or, as I like to say, “Longevity is highly overrated.”
One of the essays was entitled Dear Theo. It is a letter I wrote in the spirit of Vincent Van Gogh based on my readings and lifelong study of his art and letters. Now, after sharing my letter to Theo with our delightful editor-publisher Ms. Levine, I try to respond to her query: How Do You Make Art Come Alive? The next morning the answer was clear and concise: I become them in a letter writing session.
Whether I’m studying playwrights like Eugene O’Neil or Bertolt Brecht, artists like Paul Cezanne or Vincent Van Gogh, I dig deeply into their works and what others have said about them. Over time, I find myself becoming like one of my heroes. When I am full to the brim with Vincent Van Gogh I write a letter as though I were him, addressed to his brother Theo. It is a great way to sum up my learning. My process does not require submission, display, or editing, and I just toss down whatever comes my way as I write the letter.
My letter began in my first round of Van Gogh studies and was marked in my journal with the title: 1/25/12 RX for Reclaiming Life. As a boomer growing up in the 1950s, my parents were intent on educating my entire personality. This included painting, carving, and dancing lessons . Carving has randomly sustained itself over the years in the form of soap carving. Recently, I placed an Amazon order for a palette, paint tubes, brushes, and pallet knives. I am returning to my lifetime lust for life: painting.
In 2022 we were fortunate to attend the spectacular Van Gogh exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. Upon exiting, I spied a book weighing several pounds and running 800+ pages. In my life that would be the equivalent of 3+ books. Never too old to learn a lesson, eh?
This book, by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, turned out to be one of the best three books I’ve ever read. I learned so much about the times and the personalities. On my walls these last few decades I get to view my favorite Van Gogh quote: Either we all survive or none of us do.
Longevity plus Creativity! I am gassed up, tank be full, as I release the parking brake and head back down that acrylic painting highway. With this I present you my slightly edited long lost letter from Vincent to his brother Theo.
Vincent Van Gogh’s Lost Letter
Dear Theo, The longer I stay in Paris the more my reason dissipates. My life is in jeopardy! Ever since the breakup, it has been like a perpetual funeral in winter. Dark and brooding colors are choking off my very breath. Clouds of burnt sienna shut out all the light, and dull olive-green shadows close in upon my very footsteps.
I am choking on bourgeois snobbery. The dealer you sent me to has rejected my work as the product of an “amusing colorist.” I must flee the cruel passions of an indifferent public.
This is why I must use your generous check to strike out upon a new path. I must take leave of this heartless city before the gloomy horizon swallows me up, body and soul!!
The crimson passion, smoldering deep inside me, is about to burst if I don’t find an outlet for my energies! This is why I plan to leave this dreary place for the sunny south lands. I want to use the money to open a deli in Arles. But this will be much more than a bagel-shop. I’ll call it the Post-Impressionist Deli and it will cater to the needs of tortured souls — a haven for my misunderstood brethren.
I have just finished sketching plans for an entire art colony, built around the deli. I know artists will flock to a terrain overflowing with lemon yellow sunshine. Each day gently bids adieu amidst a delicate, purple haze. You must come and see for yourself, dear Theo.
I have already written Gauguin and offered him the upstairs. I know what you will say. You think I am a poor roommate owing to my stubborn and argumentative qualities. Do not worry. I will give Paul complete reign of the upstairs which he can flood with canvas. I will play out my mission below, constructing my themes upon the stove and butcher block.
I realize that my past exploits in the kitchen are nothing to brag about. I ignored the treasures of the tongue because my mind was fastened upon my oils and brushes. But I am now free of that plague! Your “amusing colorist” is driven by a deep and abiding hunger to create for others, and this hunger will catapult me into the ranks of my culinary colleagues. Today I salute the new direction my life has taken!
You should also know that I did not make this decision lightly. In fact, I believe this choice was guided by the very hand of God! Last week I was watching Cezanne painting an open-air market. My eyes were caught up with the colorful array of fruits, meats, breads, and flowers. I suddenly began hearing a chorus of color in my head. Before my eyes a dazzling parade unfolded. I saw starburst yellows cavorting with fruity oranges, celery greens streaked by pure meaty reds. My head was spinning, spinning as my vision dissolved into flecks of pure color!
I found myself stumbling backwards, falling against a bookseller’s cart. The words of a hundred authors cushioned my decent. I reached out for a railing to pull myself up, and providence guided my hand in this divine comedy. I found myself clutching a slim, colorful volume entitled “Recipes from the Impressionist’s Kitchen.”
Surely, dear Theo, this is the sign I have been waiting for all my life! God is urging me to this calling. You will die for the Toulouse-Lautrec’s “Chocolate Upside Down Cake.” And the chapter on “Pointillists Appetizers” is nothing, if not brilliant!
I would write more, dear Theo, but I must hasten to the market before sunset. I’m going to begin with healthy foods, starting tonight with Monet’s “Water Lilly Low-Fat Salad.” I will throw my entire being into this venture!! I will keep at it until I get it right. I don’t care if I must eat a hundred salads by next week! I will rip my tongue out before I quit!!
Author’s final note: Fortunately, for the history of art, Van Gogh was a terrible cook and never got much beyond a potato eater. As a result, his brother Theo refused to fund the deli and Vincent returned to painting while in Arles. And for those of you who share Vincent’s passions, for whom the art of cooking is no less than the art of writing, painting, playing, or helping others, I ask only that you let me know when you open your own Post-Impressionist Cafe.
Martin Kimeldorf is a retired teacher and author. Following his brain surgery in 2013 he entered a learning and writing frenzy on the topics of death, love and drink (mixology). And now the frenzy concludes with a work about dreams. He sleeps well.