“What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart.” – Vincent van Gogh in a letter to brother Theo
Vincent van Gogh (March 30, 1853 – July 29, 1890)
Art has a mysterious way of touching emotions. With the expansive body of work Vincent Van Gogh produced during his tortured lifetime, “A Pair of Shoes” is the single painting that grabbed me by the collar the moment I first saw it many years ago in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Its attraction, I believe, is in its honesty. Knowing Van Gogh’s story, his struggle with mental illness while still becoming one of the world’s the most prolific artist. It is a work of empathy that says, “Walk a mile in my shoes” – the poor, homeless, indigent, mentally ill, addicted, and in these most callous of times, refugees.
Many years after first seeing “A Pair of Shoes” the painting came back to mind when I was rehabbing a home my wife and I bought, and after I changed at the end of the day I took the the photo below of my work boots. Sometime later I wrote the following poem for an Ekphrastic art exhibit.
“A Pair of Shoes” Van Gogh – 1887 “A Pair of Shoes” JB – 2015
Tortured soul nerves frayed
soles scuffed in cobbled alleyways
beaten leather, laces splayed
a peddler’s Pair of Shoes
bears the weight of genius,
a peasant on a pilgrimage
to Arles from Paris
Gauguin’s room a burst of light
Sunflowers, an inferno of gold
Sheaves of Wheat
pale sulfur internal furnace
the toll of life, madness.