“For a long time, pure linear painting drove me mad until I met Van Gogh, who painted neither lines nor shapes, but inert things in nature as if they were having convulsions,” Artaud wrote. This would be expected in a place of hedonistic abandon such as The Dance Hall in Arles (1888), much less in the placid wallpapered surrounds of his Augustine Roulin portrait, but it is there still. Even painting landscapes, especially painting landscapes, these “convulsions” are evident. As attempts at tranquillity, they are failures just as much as they are monumental triumphs of art. The whirling, churning effect of the wind on the clouds, trees and wheat fields (best shown in Country Road in Provence By Night, 1890) is wonderful until we consider that those days may have been entirely free from any breeze. After all, Van Gogh’s Church at Auvers (1890) is similarly sublimely warped. What hope did mere humans have when the mind could do this to cathedrals of solid stone?
On Van Gogh & Artaud at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.