Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. The village famous for it’s beauty, plane trees planted by Napoleon over a century ago, and the asylum where Van Gogh came to recuperate after cutting his own ear off in Arles. There’s a walk dedicated to him, that connects downtown Saint-Rémy to the Saint Paul’s Asylum, called Avenue Vincent Van Gogh, lined with plaques of his paintings and excerpts from letters he wrote to family and friends.
The rough cobblestone wasn’t made for a stroller, but I couldn’t help but smile as I pushed my five months old daughter along the walk. It wasn’t a conventional playgroup I’d expected to be doing one day with a new baby, but I’d been learning since leaving her father during my pregnancy, to give up the blueprint that I thought life would be, so as to make way for the one that was meant for me. She slept in her stroller as we walked, stopping to read the plaques about the man behind the paintings.
I learned that he lived in poverty, and was virtually unknown as an artist in his lifetime. He was the son of a austere country minister, who wanted him to follow in his footsteps. But Vincent Van Gogh lived a nomadic lifestyle, painting and drawing. Surviving off money from his brother, Theo. It’s obvious he was very lonely, but I find such comfort in his words, in his life. It took courage to live the life he did. I’m almost ready to give up my career as a writer because I’ve written one book and haven’t been able to sell it. I learn that Vincent Van Gogh did over 2,000 works in his lifetime, and sold 1. I’m also inspired by the way he describes in letters to his brother, how he finds God in nature. Solace in painting. And did everything out of love.
‘The more I think about it, I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people… It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well…’
‘What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?’
‘If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced…’
‘What am I in the eyes of most people- a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person- somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then- even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart…’
‘Art is to console those who are broken by life…’
The walk leads to the Saint-Paul Asylum, where he was self-admitted and found healing in the beauty of Provence. Inside the asylum is a gift shop with all things Van Gogh, and art for sale by current residents. Arrows lead up the stairs to a room set up just as Van Gogh would have stayed in, a canvas beside the window, a seat by the window with a canvas. His presence could still be felt, sitting there in that chair, brush in hand, gazing out the window from the safety and solace of his small room, taking in the rare and indescribable natural beauty of Provence.
I bought a poster of his Almond Blossoms painting to remind me of Provence, and to remember the day by. My daughter won’t remember, but I’ll get to tell her about how she did the Van Gogh walk when she was five months old. I felt so proud to have been there with her. I want to surround her with art. I want her to know that life is the ultimate creative endeavour, and that she gets to create the life she wants. To listen to her own intuition, and have the courage to follow it, no matter what.