He kills me, every time.
He's been done to death, marketed and sold beyond all reason, and the extreme tourism of braving the museum queues is enough to put one off. But this is Van Gogh, and no matter how swarming the crowds are, or how relentless the branding,
when I get close to the brushstrokes, I'm in awe, and dead to the world.
There's something that aches and pulls, while looking up close. The pain and striving and loneliness of his search are etched into his characteristic marks.
Details are frank, uncompromising, unapologetic. The oppression of peasant life and of his own struggle are evident in a bright spot of light on the tip of a nose.
I think part of the unbearable poignancy of his work is being able to see in one painting both the bright energy that charms and attracts viewers of all types, and the evidence of the endless fight with himself: the insecurity, dissatisfaction, and conviction that it can be great if he works hard enough. In a quote on the wall, he was encouraged by a certain landscape to believe that eventually,
"I'll make things that work."
The colors also express both genius and suffering. The incredible combination of deep maroon, pure orange, ochre, and periwinkle blue/violet in this single pear tree trunk made me weak in the knees.
As he spends more time in the mental asylum and the end of his life nears, the agitation of mind is ever more visible in the drastic beauty of marks and colors. I don't know which is more moving, the intensity of beauty or the anguish in every stroke.
The current exhibit at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is well-funded and nicely done - I like the idea of covering a wall with an enlarged ink drawing, one of my favorites.
And digital displays allowed the visitor to flip through entire sketchbooks, which is a breathtaking experience.
There's also a focus on conservation, which is timely and interesting for me.
But it will always be the work that brings me back. Wherever I can see work by Vincent van Gogh, I know I will be overwhelmed.
(Apologies for the blurriness of most photos - hard to get good shots in the museum. Helps if you squint.)