Vincent Speaks To Me
As a graduation present, my parents splurged and sent me to Paris. Upon arrival, I could hardly believe that I was
in the same city where writers such as, Vladmir Nabakov, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Janet Flanner all lived at one time. As an aspiring writer, I hoped, like them, I’d be stirred and thrive in this city that has inspired so many artists over the years.
One sunny day at the Cafe La Rotonde, on the left bank of the Seine river, at the crossroads of the Boulevard du Montparnasse and the Rue de Rennes, I sat outdoors sipping my wine, people watching, and writing in my journal any unusual traits I noticed.
On this 29th day of July in 1993, I closely observed a red-headed man with a beard as he rambled up the pavement heading toward me. He walked directly to my table, took a newspaper he carried under his arm, and set it onto the table. Then he looked into my eyes and said, “How lucky we are.”
“Excuse me. Do I know you?” I replied. He had a gleam in his eyes that reminded me of the glow I had seen in inmate’s eyes the summer I had volunteered at the asylum. As though he knew what I thought, he said, “Insanity is great; it allows improvisation, denied to those considered sane.”
I saw that the clothes he wore had paint stains of many different colors, so I asked, “Do you paint?”
“You know that I do? I see by the sparkle in your eye that you like me, can imagine new things, and that you are thick with creative juice. You and I can create in our twisted minds, things others can’t see. I use paint to quell insatiable desires, and you; you must enslave words to fill your unquenchable needs.”
“You’re right; I do know that you’re a painter by your paint stained clothes, but how do you know I write?” “Why, that pleading light in your eye tells me all. I can see you’re in need of some new words, so to help you
fill your world with new ones, I’ll give you names of colors I often use. Star-shine-blue is one, and Sun-bursting-afire is another. Dark-umber-night would be used along with an Obscure-grey, to explain how I use Cats-scratch-streak and Moist-dog-nose for wet effects filling new imagery I generate.”
I found it amazing that a complete stranger knew so much about me simply by looking into my eyes. I decided to inquire how. I stood up, extended my hand and said, “My name is Joe.”
He took my hand in his that was twice as big as mine and twice as strong I discovered when he gave a slight squeeze while we shook hands.
“I’m Vincent, you probably never heard of me, but you will one day, because I’m true to my art and paint what I see, not what others want me to.”
How interesting. Although we practice different arts, I feel the same as he does. I write what I want and don’t care what others want to see. “You know, Vincent. I agree with your philosophy on creating what we want, but do you know that no one will care what we create until after we’re dead?”
“That’s where the beauty of it lays my friend, to keep getting paid long after we’re gone is the best thing an artist can do for art’s sake.” He sipped from the glass of wine I had ordered before he arrived.
I caught the waiter’s eye and ordered another. “I don’t understand how you can say that. I want to get paid while I’m alive.”
“That’s greed, and if you’re a true artist, you will create for joy and not for any rewards you may receive.” Vincent drained his glass.
I waved for the waiter to bring another. “What you say may be true, but how is an artist to live without any rewards while he’s alive?”
“A true artists doesn’t worry about things like that, he’ll create, create, and create some more until he dies. Look at me, I’ve never sold a piece of art, yet I’m alive.”
I did look at him and saw an emaciated man who dressed in paint-covered rags. I said, “Unlike me, who can create words without a material cost, a painter like you needs canvases and other materials to do his work. How do you manage to acquire what you need?”
While I questioned Vincent, I thought how my words aren’t at all new, but my heart and head keep filling with the need to create anything at all, and when I can’t, I suffer, and wonder how long before I can compel language to labor for me? I wondered if he felt the same about painting.
Vincent interrupted my wandering thoughts when he said, “My brother Theo supplies me with all the canvases and paints I need to fill my needs.”
“Is that fair? I mean being supported by your brother so you can pursue your career, what’s in it for him?”
“Because of me, he’ll live on long after he’s dead.”
“I want to live while I’m alive,” I said.
Vincent glared at me. “I was mistaken, when I saw what was inside of you, I thought I had met a true artist, but now I see you’ve been spoiled by greed and aren’t willing to sacrifice for art’s sake.” He drained his glass and stood. “There’s my brother now.” He pointed to a well-dressed man who leisurely strolled up the Rue de Rennes. He stopped to admire women, paintings, and dogs as he passed them.
Vincent left me sitting there trying to think of a reply of why I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my life for art. He hurried toward his brother, and they embraced. Then both evaporated before my eyes. They must have been obscured by something I convinced myself. I picked up the paper to see the news and what I saw caused me to drop it as if it
was on fire. I immediately looked down the street again to see if I could locate Vincent and his brother, but they had disappeared.
I picked up the newspaper, brought it close to my face, to be sure I had read the date correctly, I smelled the fresh ink, so I knew it had been recently printed, but the date on it was, July 29, 1890.