Memoir III: A Spectrum of Emotions and Creativity

Recently, I was looking back at my childhood/early teens. It dawned upon me, that I have done a considerable amount of music related things. I have played the steel pans at age 10, played the recorder which we have all done around 7 and heck I’ve even played the tablas when I was around 11.

However, the one thing I never forget, is playing the piano. I think it is safe to say that I have lost the ability to play the piano. If you placed my 22-year-old self in front of one, it would be a very embarrassing sight I started to truly learn the piano, when I was around 14. Now in terms of learning an instrument that is considered late

Before that, I would always need someone to play the piano with me. In my music class, one person would play the chords the left hand and another person would play the melody the right hand. Until one day I said to myself, “let me play the entire piece by myself”.

So, after school I would practice. My aim, play the piece until it was perfect. Here are some hints: The piece was the theme song of a soap opera. As well as that, a character from the show would say the line, “Get out of my pub !”

So performance day comes and I did it. Played the piece by myself and it was perfect. I felt satisfied, but I wanted to learn more. Around that time, I didn’t have a piano at home, so my desire to learn the piano became even more deeper. So as the months passed by, I started to discover Pianists/Composers. Such as Yiruma, Joe Hisashi and Ludovico Einaudi. Those discoveries just added fuel to my fascination with the piano.

So fast forward to late Year 9 and I am now having piano lessons. My first teacher could play both the piano and the violin. She was pursuing a career as a professional violinist. But my time with her did not last long, she taught me for about 3 months. Eventually she struck gold and landed a spot in a professional orchestra.

So here I was; no teacher, a note saying “good luck with learning the piano” and a piece unfinished The first song I ever learnt was Yiruma’s “River flows from you”

So within a week, I was assigned a new teacher. He could play the trumpet and the piano, but he was better at playing the trumpet. and trust me, he was definitely better at playing the trumpet. There were times I would think he was a lesson ahead of me Fast forward to 15 year old me, and I enter an interesting phase. I begin composing. Anything that sounded nice to me, I would expand upon it and make it into a piece. What helped even more, was my mum finally bought me a piano but like all African parents she was very apprehensive

As time continued, I even discovered a Japanese YouTuber called Masashi Yamanaka. His backstory: Every day without fail he would compose a new piece and upload it to YouTube. To this day, he has composed over 2,000 songs We became acquaintances and I’ll never forget the advice he gave me, “You don’t need to copy something, play with your heart”.

17 year old me Tweedman would go on to get a grade 4 in piano and after that, it was a wrap for me & the piano. Today, my friends would occasionally ask me, “why did you stop playing the piano?” My friends from secondary school would also say, “Remember that song you use to play in music G.C.S.E.? The one that goes? followed by a hummed version of Summer by Joe Hisaishi

And that’s the strange, yet interesting thing about humans. When a person is in the midst of their craft, we acknowledge them and their creativity but not to a great extent. It is only until that person dies or leaves that craft, we truly start to appreciate their work.

But, why is that? Well, I don’t really have an answer. But what I do know, is that the one thing me and Vincent van Gogh have in common. Is that during our own lives, we had a passion for something. I played the piano at the age of 14 and dreamed of being a grade 8. Vincent Van Gogh roamed the streets of Europe and dreamed of being one of the world’s greatest artists.

Born 30th March 1853, to Theodurus Van Gogh and Anna Van Gogh. Vincent Van Gogh came from a religious family, every Sunday without fail they would attend church. Salute to Van Gogh, because the last time I stepped into a church was years ago

On the 1st May 1857, his brother Theo Van Gogh was born. Theo Van Gogh’s role in Vincent’s life was crucial, he played an instrumental role in Vincent’s life. He gave his older brother unfailing support. Especially when it came to financially supporting Vincent’s life. When Vincent asked, Theo gave.

At the age of 16, Vincent left school and joined Goupil & Cie. An organisation that focused on the dealership of international art. He was a junior apprentice, and to his luck he was presented with the opportunity to work in London. He stayed in Brixton. He climbed through the ranks and even got transferred to the Paris branch. But just after a year, Vincent lost his job.

Upon losing his job, he returned to Holland. During his time, Van Gogh decided to follow his father’s footsteps. His father was a Pastor So, he began to study the bible. He would walk the streets with a bible and preach to the public. However, to be recognised as a “Man of God”; you have to attend seminary school. So Van Gogh did this, but he failed his tests. Multiple times. and in hindsight, (excuse the pun) thank God

So after abandoning seminary school, Van Gogh was in a strange situation. He was lonely. 27 and felt the pressures of the world, like any other human. To his own surprise, his father introduced him to a friend who was a part time painter. It was through this man Vincent was inspired, and he immediately pursued a career as an artist.

1881 and Van Gogh is fully entrenched in his career as an artist. He is drawing every day, he walks the streets of Holland and just draws. There are even days where he does not eat. As well as that, it is at this point in my opinion Van Gogh enters his first period. It is definitely far from his famous pieces, but he starts his career sketching people to scenery.

1882 and Vincent wants to broaden his skills. So, he enlists the help of artist Anton Mauve, and he learns a lot. But Van Gogh soon reaches a point where he does not feel challenged, so he leaves.

It is around 1884, Vincent leaves The Hague and goes to his parent’s new house. And yet again, the same thing happens. He paints on a daily basis. But you have to ask yourself, why is he doing all of this? Well, his dream was to be the best like no one ever was! Queue the pokemon theme song! He wanted his art to be appreciated and you can’t blame him. Because at this point he had not sold anything. But regardless, he was resilient. He kept on working.

The one thing I admire about Van Gogh, he never hesitated at painting the working class. For example, The Potato Eaters (painted 1885), it would be easy for him to paint a group of upper class individuals but he does the opposite. The piece does not masquerade or fantasise life as a working class individual. Here we see the workers eating a meal in a poorly lit room. The meal is potatoes, with tea. You can see from their fingers and faces, that the work they do is not easy on the body but arduous indeed.

The potato eaters

March 1886, Van Gogh embarks to Paris. One thing that Van Gogh starts to do more around this period, is self portraits. He does this with the assistance of a mirror. Remember it is 19th Century, iPhones are not even a dream but a nonsensical joke. So he definitely gets brownie points for that In addition to that, during his time in Paris; he encounters the work of Monet. Van Gogh is in state of fascination, and becomes inspired. I think 3 memoirs in, it is safe to say that Claude Monet is the Godfather of impressionism It is at this point Van Gogh is now in his second period, you can see the influence from Monet. Even at this point Van Gogh has still not sold anything, but yet he still dreams of success. He paints for periods of 12 hours nonstop, to the point he even collapses. It gets so bad, that he is even contemplating whether to buy food or buy paint.

By 1888, Paris becomes too much for the artist. Van Gogh decides to retreat to the south of France, to a place called Rue Les Martime. Additionally, it is around this year he gives us pieces such as Café terrace at night (painted 1888) and The Sunflower (painted 1888). What I love about Café terrace at night , is that Van Gogh demonstrates his ingenuity. When Van Gogh was painting this piece he ran into a problem, it was too dark. He wanted to capture the detail of the cafe but he couldn’t. So how did he overcome this? Well, he bought some candles and strapped them to his hat. You can see the effect this had on the final piece. The outside of the cafe is very well lit. In comparison to the alley, which is pitch black.

Café terrace at night

Moreover, with The Sunflower (painted 1888) and The Vase with Pink Roses (painted 1890). You notice Van Gogh’s attention to detail, he effortlessly captures the beauty of life. In both pieces, the flowers are reaching their end. Especially  in “The Vase with Pink Roses”, the rose are shrivelled. No two roses have the same colour. In fact, some roses do not have any pink pigmentation.

The sunflowers by van gogh

vase with pink roses by van gogh

Additionally around 1888, Van Gogh began to work with the painter Paul Gauguin. Like any relationship, they went through a honeymoon period. But after that period, the two would have several arguments. In fact on December 1888, the two had an argument that was so bad; Van Gogh went on to cut off his left ear. He was hospitalised for two weeks.

May 1889 and things become worse. Van Gogh is sent to the asylum called Saint-Remy, due to his deteriorating mental health. If we look at Van Gogh’s experience in Saint-Remy. The man was subjected to multiple forms of treatment, all which we would consider primitive. Such examples were ice baths, which were used to subdue patients who would experience epileptic seizures. However, not everything was doom and gloom. During his time at the asylum, he was allowed to paint. In fact, in my own opinion. He probably produced his best work, while at the asylum. For instance, A Starry Night (painted 1889). Van Gogh wanted to capture the night sky, but his view was obscured by his window. I find this piece to be enchanting. Because Van Gogh captures the stars’ glow. He depicts the wind swirling and dancing through the night sky. The town is small in comparison to this. But by doing this, the viewer gets to absorb the majesty of this piece.Have you ever looked at a clear night sky, dotted with stars and just allowed your imagination to run rampant? Well, Van Gogh does this  on a canvas.

Starry night

Even at asylum, his brother Theo always wrote to him. Theo was even able to sell one of Van Gogh’s pieces. I find this to be bitter sweet, because the only painting Van Gogh sold during his lifetime, occurred while he was in an asylum

After spending a year in the asylum, he was released in 1890. With Theo to his financial aid; a penniless Van Gogh returned to Paris and stayed with his younger brother. Couple of months pass and all is not good, issues arise between Theo and his wife. The cause, the daily presence of an unemployed Vincent Van Gogh. Theo reluctantly kicks his older brother out.However, he does not abandon his brother. Instead, he sends Vincent to a doctor who lives in Auver-Sur-Oise.

While there he still paints, still pressed with the idea he could potentially be an adored artist. It is this notion, that keeps Van Gogh going. Even when people screamed the phrase “madman”, he still painted.

But unfortunately, on 27th July 1890.  Vincent shoots himself in the chest. With all his might he staggered back to his apartment and remained on his bed. Two days pass and Vincent Van Gogh dies from his wounds. But he did not die alone. No. At his side is his brother Theo.

What makes Vincent Van Gogh such an interesting artist was that he always dreamed of becoming the best and in a sad yet beautiful way he did become the best.

If I said to a 15 year old person in London today, “Have you ever heard of Vincent Van Gogh?”. The answer would probably be a yes. At the time of his death, if you were to sell all of his work, you would probably be able to buy a sofa. However, do that today and you could buy a range of sofas that could fill up the Amazon Rainforest.

I usually end a memoir with a quote from the artist. But, I think the Doctor Who episode “Vincent and the doctor” sums up Vincent Van Gogh quite eloquently. So, I’ll use that. “The most beloved, his command of colour most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world, no one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world’s greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.”


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