Life Within a Painting -- fiction by Camille S. Campbell
“I put my heart and soul into my work, and I have lost my mind in the process.”
― Vincent van Gogh
THE YELLOW HOUSE, ARLES, FRANCE.
The first time Vincent had stepped into one of his paintings, he imagined it was another one of his hallucinations. After all, how could a man be painting in a quaint yellow cottage in Arles one moment and walking among the strokes of canary yellow paint the next? In his euphoric daze, Vincent strode across the Field of Sunflowers, gazing down at the wide vibrant brushstrokes in awe. At last, Vincent was in the world of his Mind: one that was so improbable, it finally made sense. He breathed in the scent of flowers that smelled of linseed oil and ran through the endless cascade of colors until his legs gave out. Vincent dropped to the ground in a relaxed trance, letting the sea of flowers engulf him.
“I’m leaving Yellow House—tonight,” Paul Gauguin’s voice returned Vincent to reality. Vincent looked down at his hands, then at the rest of his body, which was all splattered in sticky nicotine-yellow paint.
Vincent knew it was coming. Gauguin craved the exotic colors of the Caribbean, the mystery and intrigue it offered him. Even his brother’s money couldn’t entice Gauguin to stay and mentor Vincent at Yellow House. But Vincent knew the real reason he was leaving....
“You think I'm insane,” Vincent whispered. Shadows streamed through the windows of the yellow house, flooding the sunlit cottage in darkness. Gauguin looked over at Vincent’s new painting. The Field of Sunflowers glistened with paint still slick on the canvas.
“I envy your mind, van Gogh,” Gauguin said, turning for the door, “But I would never wish it upon anyone.”
The door slammed shut. Vincent looked back at his art, illuminated by oil lamps pressed against the wall. This was the only world that would accept Vincent, the only world that wouldn't leave him. It was his.
Vincent lifted a blade to his left ear and snipped off the flesh. A scarlet burst of blood rolled down his cheek, staining his shirt along with the other blotches of paint. Vincent hurled the ear at the painting, hoping it would be transported into this world. It simply fell to the ground. Vincent sank to his knees, an ugly sob tearing his throat. The canvas was his only haven, yet his greatest poison, all in one.
SAINT-PAUL ASYLUM, SAINT RÉMY, FRANCE.
Inside Starry Night, it was hard to breathe. The air smelled of paint and night, a cacophony of colliding universes. Vincent gazed up at the endless stream of stars, too massive to exist—and yet he understood what they truly represented. Stars were made of dreams, shimmering in the midnight blue fabric of night. The bigger the dreams, the bigger the stars, Vincent decided. Though the cramped room of the institution was plain and frigid, with a gnarled cypress tree as his only view, Vincent's mind was the real sanctuary. In the darkness, he could see stars. The Starry Night was Vincent's only escape in the Saint Paul Asylum.
After the medication coursed through his veins, Vincent could finally see the world as the others did—this perception was a more horrible fate than death. When Vincent gazed at the Starry Night again, the treatment helped him see the painting for what it was.
A rushed attempt at a night sky study—
An amateurish creation—
The peak of his insanity—
“A failure,” he said aloud, turning the canvas away with his shaking hands. The world of insanity was manic and bright and vast, but each time he entered it, he drifted farther from the real world.
THE FIELDS, AUVERS-SUR-OISE, FRANCE.
Vincent fell in love with the fields in the summer and watched them die in the autumn. He took his canvas to the fields each day, painting the wheat fields dancing in the turbulent wind. Vincent
chugged out paintings like breathing out brushstrokes and coughing up oil paint. The fields were like his art, possessing a beauty not often noticed but fervently apparent, so alive that they could gulp him whole, and no one would ever find him again. Just like the furious fields, Vincent’s art began calling for him to enter this world forever. Vincent didn’t stop painting until his mind was encapsulated in the art, and only his body had to follow him along. Vincent began his final testament to the world—The Art of Roots. Vincent furiously painted the gnarled roots that looked like the unsolvable labyrinth of the minotaur. Everything one day will return to its roots. Plants will crumble to the ground, and flesh will disintegrate into the earth. The roots are where we begin and end. When Vincent stepped out of the canvas, he realized that this was the last time he would ever leave the Painted World. Vincent placed the revolver to his chest and pulled the trigger, letting the colors of life flash before his eyes. Though his body lay on the wheat fields, Vincent’s spirit was rooted in the Painted World.
THE PAINTED WORLD
After death, Vincent found himself inside a world of brushstrokes and canvas. In this world, life was an exalted dream mixed with distorted memories. There was no day or night, for Vincent could jump in seconds between the Field of Sunflowers and the burlesque Night Cafe, visit the Yellow House and smell the Almond Blossoms. Whenever Vincent would look out of the canvas, he saw people gazing back up at him, their eyes full of wonder. Vincent realized that he had not
lost his mind by putting his heart and soul into his work. From brushstrokes, he had created a vivid and contradictory world that would call people inside forever.
“If I am worth anything later, I am worth something now. For wheat is wheat even if people think it is grass in the beginning.”
— Vincent van Gogh.
Camille S. Campbell is the seventeen-year-old bestselling author of four books. Ever since her debut novel, The Wishner's Curse, hit the shelves, Camille's work has gone on to receive the international Gold Moonbeam Book Award and Purple Dragonfly Book Award. Her work has been recognized by the New York Times, Scholastic, Penguin Random House and various literary journals. When she's not writing, Camille enjoys playing classical guitar, silk painting and reading mystery books.