Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Applause! Applause! Review of Walter Michael DeForest's Van Gogh Fuck Yourself at 64E4 Underground by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Walter Michael DeForest's Van Gogh Fuck Yourself at 64E4 Underground was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 5 (2015) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Van Gogh Fuck Yourself
Adapted & Performed by Walter Michael DeForest
Directed by Laurence Lowry
64E4 Underground
64 East 4th Street
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 8/28/15 

Vincent Willem van Gogh was born on March 30, 1853 in Groot-Zundert in The Netherlands. He was the oldest surviving child of Theodorus van Gogh, a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church. His brother Theo was born May 1, 1857 (he had another brother and three sisters). In a 1883 letter to Theo, he wrote, "My youth was gloomy and cold and sterile." In July 1873, his uncle Cent helped him obtain a position with the art dealer Goupil & Cie in The Hague. He was transferred to London where he fell in love with his landlady's daughter. After she rejected him, he became increasingly isolated and fervent about religion. He was sent to Amsterdam to study theology in May 1877 but failed the entrance exam. In January 1879, he took a temporary post as a missionary in the village of Petit Wasmes in the coal-mining district of Borinage at Charbonnage de Marcasse. Van Gogh lived like those he preached to, sleeping on straw in a small hut at the back of a baker's house. He was investigated and dismissed for "undermining the dignity of the priesthood." The baker's wife heard him sobbing at night in the hut and this is the first time his father made inquiries about having Vincent committed to the lunatic asylum at Geel. In April 1881, he moved with his parents to the Etten countryside. That summer, he took long walks with his recently widowed cousin, Kee Vos-Stricker, who was seven years older than Van Gogh and had an eight-year-old son. He proposed marriage, but she refused with the words, "No, nay, never." Her father objected mainly on the grounds that Van Gogh was unable to support himself. 

Van Gogh settled in The Hague in January 1882. Van Gogh's uncle Cornelius, an art dealer, commissioned 12 ink drawings of views of the city, which Van Gogh completed soon after arriving, along with a further seven drawings in May. In June, he spent three weeks in a hospital suffering from gonorrhea. Van Gogh began a domestic relationship with Clasina Maria "Sien" Hoornik, who he met in January when she was pregnant. On July 2nd, Sien gave birth to a baby boy she named Willem, although it is unlikely Vincent was the father. He let Sien, her five-year-old daughter, and her newborn baby boy stay with him. Vincent's father put pressure on him to abandon Sien, which he eventually did since he had no sustainable salary that would enable him to make his own choices. Sien returned to prostitution and eventually drowned in the River Scheldt. In autumn 1884, in Nuenen, Margot Begemann, a neighbor's daughter ten years his senior, fell in love with him, and he reciprocated, though less enthusiastically. They decided to marry, but the idea was opposed by both families. As a result, Margot took an overdose of strychnine. She was saved by Van Gogh, who rushed her to a nearby hospital. On March 26, 1885, his father died of a heart attack and he grieved deeply at the loss.

In November 1885, he moved to Antwerp where he had little money and ate poorly. His teeth became loose and painful, and he began to drink absinthe heavily. Despite his rejection of academic teaching, he took the higher-level admission exams at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, and in January 1886, he matriculated in painting and drawing. For most of February, he was run down by overwork, a poor diet, and excessive smoking. He traveled to Paris to live with his brother Theo in March 1886. By the end of 1886, Theo found that living with Vincent was "almost unbearable." In November 1887, Theo and Vincent befriended Paul Gauguin, who had just arrived in Paris. 

By February 1888, Van Gogh moved to Arles, hoping for refuge at a time when he was ill from drink and smoker's cough. A hundred years later, Van Gogh was remembered by 113-year old Jeanne Calment - who, as a 13-year-old, was serving in her uncle's fabric shop where Van Gogh wanted to buy some canvas - as "dirty, badly dressed, and disagreeable," and "very ugly, ungracious, impolite, and sick." Paul Gauguin accepted Van Gogh's invitation to visit him in Arles and arrived on October 23, 1888. Van Gogh greatly admired Gauguin and desperately wanted to be treated as his equal but Gauguin was arrogant and domineering. They quarreled fiercely and Van Gogh felt an increasing fear Gauguin was going to desert him. On December 23, 1888, Van Gogh's ear lobe was chopped off under questionable circumstances. Gauguin left for Paris and Van Gogh was diagnosed with "generalized delirium" and later, he suffered from hallucinations and delusions he was being poisoned. In March 1890, the police closed his house after receiving a petition by 30 townspeople, who called him "fou roux" (the redheaded madman). Two months later, he left Arles and entered an asylum (at his own request) in Saint-Remy-de-Provence. He left Saint-Remy and moved to Auvers-sur-Oise for the last 70 days of his life. On July 27, 1890, aged 37, Van Gogh is believed to have shot himself in the chest with a revolver (although no gun was ever found). There were no witnesses and the location where he shot himself is unknown. He died of an untreated infection caused by the wound.

In just over a decade, Van Gogh produced more than 2,100 artworks, including 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolors, sketches and prints. The most comprehensive primary source for the understanding of Van Gogh as an artist and as a man is the collection of letters between him and his younger brother Theo, who provided his brother with financial and emotional support. There are more than 600 letters from Vincent to Theo, and 40 from Theo to Vincent. Theo died on January 25, 1891, six months after Vincent did, of dementia paralytica, a syphilitic infection of the brain. The letters between them were first annotated in 1913 by Theo's widow, Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, who later said she published with "trepidation: because she did not want the drama in the artist's life to overshadow his work." Walter Michael DeForest, who very much looks like the portraits of Vincent Van Gogh, wrote this one-man show based on the contents of the Letters of Vincent and Theo Van Gogh and on the Memoirs of Vincent's stay at Auberge Ravoux in Auvers-sur-Oise, written by Adeline Ravoux. 

In this entertaining and engaging one-man show, Van Gogh Fuck Yourself, Walter Michael DeForest brings to life the humanity and inner motivations and struggles of Vincent Van Gogh. Mr. DeForest speaks to the audience at various times in the voice of Adeline, who shared three meals a day with Vincent at Auberge Ravoux, the prostitute Sien, his brother Theo, and Theo's widow, who was left with 300 of his paintings and all the letters he wrote. The title comes from the fact that he exchanged paintings with other artists, which is sort of like selling them (so don't say he never sold a painting in his life). 

The show also raises some very serious questions regarding his ear lobe being chopped off and the circumstances of his death. It is suggested that Van Gogh was angry at Gauguin for sleeping with the prostitute that was his favorite (i.e. Rachel), and that Gauguin may have sliced his ear lobe off with a blade mistakenly thinking that Van Gogh was attacking him with a weapon, which, in fact, was only his pipe. Gauguin and Van Gogh certainly had a pact not to speak about the incident perhaps to prevent Gauguin from being arrested. It also matters, in terms of motivation, whether Van Gogh left the earlobe at the brothel to show Rachel how much he would be willing to suffer for her, or with the doorman for Paul Gauguin, to make him feel guilty about leaving him for Paris. As for the suicide, perhaps Van Gogh did do it since he was obsessed with the thought that his paintings would be worth more once he was dead. An alternative story is also told where a boy's rifle accidentally fired and hit him. Van Gogh may have forgiven the boy and told him to run and throw the gun in the river before the police arrived. In this version, Van Gogh wished to save the boy from punishment for an unfortunate accident (even though, for his whole life, similar boys "threw cabbage and rocks at the ginger who painted in the fields").

Clearly romantic love was not in the cards for this man, nor was sanity. He could not support himself and was not marriageable material. He was also prone to manic-depressive interludes. as well as delusions and hallucinations. Consequently, he put his love into his painting and chose to love prostitutes instead of reputable women. He respected the life of every creature and was deeply moved by the conditions of the families and children he ministered to in the mining town where he worked ("I sacrificed and was a friend of the poor like Jesus was"). In the school he founded for the children of the miners, he taught them to love God and not to fear Him. In this non-linear presentation, Van Gogh also wants to make clear he was never locked up because he was a "danger to society" but only to prevent him from "becoming a danger to society." Other times, he voluntarily committed himself.

In this fascinating show, you will learn many things about the life of Vincent Van Gogh. You will also leave feeling as if you spent an hour in his presence. You will understand that he felt every living thing, including prostitutes, were worthy of respect and had a need for love and affection. This entry was part of the 19th Annual New York International Fringe Festival. Our Van Gogh impersonator relays a story about how a 9-year-old Vincent made an elephant. Everyone admired his work after which he smashed it to smithereens, saying, "I did not make it for your adoration!" What a guy! For more information on Van Gogh Fuck Yourself, visit http://www.vanGoghFuckYourself.com 

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