The Space Between Van Gogh’s Repetitions

Gus Heagerty, assistant director at Shakespeare Theatre Company, guest blogs today about the upcoming staged reading of Vincent in Brixton at the Phillips on Jan. 9 at 6 pm.

Berceuse comparison

Left: Vincent van Gogh, Lullaby: Madame Augustine Roulin Rocking a Cradle (La Berceuse), 1889. Oil on canvas, 36 1/2 x 28 5/8 in. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Bequest of John T. Spaulding; Right: Vincent van Gogh, Madame Roulin Rocking the Cradle (La Berceuse), 1889. Oil on canvas, 36 1/2 x 29 1/2 in. Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection. The Art Institute of Chicago

After visiting the Van Gogh Repetitions exhibition at the Phillips, I am filling in the blanks between each “repetition.” What was happening to Vincent between each pass at a portrait, or landscape? What spurs an artist to return to a figure or subject, over and over? We repeat to practice. We repeat to perfect. Perhaps we repeat because we feel we’ve grasped a greater understanding of the figure or landscape. Our repetitions refine our point of view. What is van Gogh attempting to refine in his repetitions?

Vincent in Brixton

Vincent in Brixton performed at the Old Globe in 2005

The many letters we are left with, and Nicholas Wright’s play Vincent in Brixton, acquaint us with a man straddling hemispheres of choice. At its core, the play imagines Vincent as he defines the difference between living life as an artist, and life as a man lead by his faith.

The play spans three years, each scene taking place around a “big wooden table, functional, and unusual.” Vincent will revisit this table, again and again, throughout the play. There is a force, sometimes known and sometimes unknown to him, drawing him back to the table. What he gathers at the table is the seed of what grows into a magnificent life as an artist.

Gus Heagerty, assistant director at Shakespeare Theatre Company

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