Letter to the Editor of the Weekend Guardian Newspaper
'Inside the mind of Vincent' by Tim Hilton in last Saturday's Weekend Guardian is one of the most inept and imperceptive pieces of writing on art that I have ever had the misfortune to cast my eyes upon. Even 'Inside the Backside of Vincent' would not evoke the 'timbre' of this article, although considering his speculation about homosexuality between Van Gogh and Gauguin, it might have been more apposite, particularly after the recent disclosure that there has been a century long 'cover-up' by Vincent's family that he, like Gauguin, had syphilis.
Hilton also says in the context of the drawing 'Sorrow' that Van Gogh was not a sensual painter for: - 'No one who so battered his own brain to make art, could have any emotion left for the pleasures of languor'. Hilton says Vincent had a disdain for human flesh. This is arrant nonsense. It seems that Hilton is the one who sees human flesh with disdain. It is as though because he doesn't get an erection when he looks at Vincent's 'Sorrow', which is a female nude, he assumes something is wrong with the artist! The work is a superb study showing a person in a state of despair. That is all.
Vincent's awareness can be seen everywhere, for him, the physical body and 'the spiritual' are indissolubly related. It was this which underlined the 'Borinage' period (remember this was an incredibly poor mining area), for having tried to alleviate the sufferings of others with a truly Biblical rendering of love which incurred the wrath of the Church, he then started to paint and draw the harsh reality of what he saw. 'The Potato Eaters', showing humble peasants eating a frugal meal, is anathema to 'disdain for human flesh'. It is also a masterpiece from his early period, which throbs with Rembrandtianesque Chiaroscuro.
Hilton equates sensuality with languor! Does he realise the meaning of the word 'languor'? All in all he must have a far duller sex life than Vincent!
What Tim Hilton fails to see is that Vincent's art is a visual evocation of his sense of wonder at the miracle of Life. His imagery has a unique power (wasted on Hilton), for Vincent through his torment and anguish somehow produced the 'alchemist's miracle', by impregnating his pictures with the same magical force. Vincent ingrained his whole being onto the canvas. All his paintings are in a sense one painting, as unique as Vincent's fingerprint.
Empathy as telekinesis - transcending life into some of the greatest art of all time. Life seeping onto the canvas - the magic brush-like caduceus writhing.
Yes, to say that Vincent had a disdain for mere human flesh shows how Tim Hilton fails totally to understand. To Vincent Van Gogh the creation of human flesh was the ultimate creative act, which left paint and canvas as an 'also-ran'. On seeing Theo's baby he said, in awe: "You work in the flesh, I'll have to just keep using paint!"
Great Art has its roots in the time of the artist, but transcends this and takes on a universal timeless greatness. Van Gogh can be included with Van Eyck, Vermeer and Rembrandt, in my perception, as being truly great. Sadly, in my view, Tim Hilton is still some way behind Enid Blyton.
I am a painter of genius this is why I 'understand' and Hilton does not.
John F.B. Miles.