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Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Starry Starry Night



I’m not often moved by art - I much prefer unusual photographs, an honest performance or hearing someone’s story, these things move me. A canvass of paint… meh. But on two occasions I’ve found myself struck (quite off guard) by emotion while looking through a progression of paintings. The first time was at an exhibition titled Fragmentation in a small gallery in Melville by an artist who had lost her son to suicide. After a long sabbatical, she returned to the canvass to express her loss. Her paintings were dark. Between sloshes of paint were scribbled poems to her son, who took his life while she stood, in sight, painting, holding a wet paintbrush. In a moment her craft was tainted, her world destroyed, her heart broken. And yet she’d found a way back to it again, her pain seeping from every brushstroke. It was beautifully cathartic.

The second time I was in Amsterdam with Ed and we decided to veer off the coffee shop trail to take a wander around the Van Gogh Museum. Again I say, art, museums, history… doesn’t really ignite much in me. It’s the kind of thing I do because I should, but really I’d rather be taking pictures, drinking wine, journaling my thoughts or shopping. Nonetheless there we were like two typical tourists plugged in to the English version of an audio tour, traversing three stories of Van Gogh.

I do like Van Gogh’s art, and even more so I kind of love that he was a little mad, drank too much, smoked too much and was known to sometimes eat his paint, which some historians think might have caused his seizures and ultimately his death, though its widely regarded that he committed suicide. What a loon!

At one stage Ed and I were at separate sides of the museum, and I couldn’t pull myself away from one particular painting - Almond Blossom. In a time of terrible darkness and despair, (I mean, cutting your ear off and having to hang out in an Asylum ain’t no picnic) this painting represents the beginning of something and new life. Van Gogh painted it when his brother had a son, which he named after him, and it not only represented new life, but a sense that things were getting better. I think it’s my favourite painting of his and I’ll never forget standing there for some time, amazed at how something so captivating could come from something so soury and sad. Three months after painting the Almond Tree, Vincent made his worldly exit.

It’s all very depressing… on the one hand. On the other hand I find it utterly invigorating.

We all go through our own struggles, each unique and with a different weight. And those struggles can bear down on us; give us crampy necks, bitter hearts, grinded down teeth, fear and mistrust. Why me? We ask. This is unfair, we say. Yet we know that struggle is inevitable and as strange as it sounds, I’d like to go beyond that and say it is in fact beneficial, maybe even a gift – if we let it be.

My poverty – please take that statement as it is meant, a massive exaggeration of my current circumstances and a sarcastic jab at this very inconvenient symptom I have of being completely broke come mid-month – has been a common thread in my writing over the last year or so. I write what I feel and what I learn and I’m sometimes slow on the uptake. So if this bores you, you’ll have to go back to the scintillating feeds on Facebook, but if you’ve ever been in a pickle yourself you’ll want to read on a bit.

It’s been tough, and though I may make light of it here, taking on real world responsibilities has been a challenge for me. Have there been hopeless moments, yes. Have I felt like selling out or giving up, daily. Have I succumbed to bitterness, jealousy and blame, vary rarely but yes. It’s been a struggle.

But the other day I realised something while cooking up the most scrumptious and delicious pot of dahl – you see when you don’t have money to swing passed Woolies every night for dinner, your supper becomes a Masterchef invention test, using only what you have in your cupboard. I’ve tried making dahl before, it’s my favourite dish, but I suck at curries… correction, sucked at curries. Being forced to get creative in the kitchen and try something new, or in a different way worked out wonderfully. I sat shlurping up my golden orange curry with a home-made roti (I hate to brag – no I don’t, I’m still beaming with pride), sitting next to My Guy with my knitting basket at my feet and a finished pair of knitted gloves on top of it (ehem, self-taught, ehem). I glanced out the window at our DIY vertical gardens, our creatively framed wall plants and our small but welcoming fire pit. Our home is probably a little different from most peoples, scattered with lyrics, and guitar tabs from nights of singing (just him and I) and playing songs. There’s so much more time for that kind of thing, when you’re forced to make do with staying at home on a Friday night.

The thing about struggle is that it’s really just a breeder of creativity and innovation, if you can stand to not whinge and moan for too long. When life throws you lemons? Exactly. Thinking about all the things I’ve found which fulfill me and feed my soul, the time I have to really have conversations, be silly and cuddle on the couch, the malleable way in which I’ve bent to see things differently, gives me a toothy smile.

It’s made me realise that maybe we’re not meant to always walk in the light and that maybe sometimes we need darkness to appreciate the stars. Maybe it’s only when we swim in sorrow, or dig our heels down deep that we can really appreciate the palette of opportunity and imagination we constantly have at our disposal, but very rarely use unless forced.

“At present I absolutely want to paint a starry sky. It often seems to me that night is still more richly coloured than the day; having hues of the most intense violets, blues and greens. If only you pay attention to it you will see that certain stars are lemon-yellow, others pink or a green, blue and forget-me-not brilliance. And without my expatiating on this theme it is obvious that putting little white dots on the blue-black is not enough to paint a starry sky.”

- Vincent Van Gogh