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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 14: August 2022
Epistle 252 words [R]
+ Visual Art: Painting
By Kendall Johnson


[Bloom]: An Excerpt from Dear Vincent:
A Psychologist Turned Artist Writes Back to Van Gogh


Sunflowers: Oil painting (1888) by Vincent van Gogh
Sunflowers (1888), by Vincent van Gogh [1]


In anticipation of Gaugin’s arrival, Van Gogh prepared a bedroom for him in the Yellow House. He wanted to cover the walls with a set of paintings of sunflowers. The flowers reflected the intensity of light Van Gogh sought—and found—in Provence. He loved sunflowers and knew Gaugin did as well, so he immersed himself in painting them.

He writes (to Theo) 21 August, 1888: [2]

I am hard at it, painting with the enthusiasm of a Marseillais eating bouillabaisse, which won’t surprise you when you know that what I’m at is the painting of some sunflowers. [...] If I carry out this idea there will be a dozen panels. So the whole thing will be a symphony in blue and yellow. I am working at it every morning from sunrise on, for the flowers fade so quickly....

Dear Vincent,

Such exuberance! Your sunflowers are emblematic of life itself, and of the life you have found in Arles. This is the energy behind your dream of an artist’s center—a gathering place for the artists of your day where, surrounded by the best, your work can bloom. You’ve said that sunflowers communicated gratitude, and I believe you meant it. You feel gratitude for friends, for the light, for life, for the chance to live fully.

Drawing in essence
rich earth, sage, yellow blossom
the earth shifts again.
How can I capture this joy
live this moment’s eloquence?



—Excerpted from Kendall Johnson’s book Dear Vincent: A Psychologist Turned Artist Writes Back to Van Gogh (Sasse Museum of Art: e-book, 2020), pages 47-48; appears here with author’s permission.

Publisher’s Notes:

Links retrieved on 21 July 2022:

1. Sunflowers (oil on canvas, 1888) by Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) is on view at Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation):

2. Letter number 526 from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh, Arles, circa 21 August 1888; translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger and edited by Robert Harrison, in Van Gogh’s Letters: Unabridged & Annotated:

Kendall Johnson
Issue 14, August 2022

grew up in the lemon groves in Southern California, raised by assorted coyotes and bobcats. A former firefighter with military experience, he served as traumatic stress therapist and crisis consultant—often in the field. A nationally certified teacher, he taught art and writing, served as a gallery director, and still serves on the board of the Sasse Museum of Art, for whom he authored the museum books Fragments: An Archeology of Memory (2017), an attempt to use art and writing to retrieve lost memories of combat, and Dear Vincent: A Psychologist Turned Artist Writes Back to Van Gogh (2020). He holds national board certification as an art teacher for adolescent to young adults.

Recently, Dr. Johnson retired from teaching and clinical work to pursue painting, photography, and writing full time. In that capacity he has written five literary books of artwork and poetry, and one in art history. His shorter work has appeared in Literary Hub, Chiron Review, Shark Reef, Cultural Weekly, and Quarks Ediciones Digitales, and was translated into Chinese by Poetry Hall: A Chinese and English Bi-Lingual Journal. His memoir collection, Chaos & Ash, was released from Pelekinesis in 2020, his Black Box Poetics from Bamboo Dart Press in 2021, The Stardust Mirage from Cholla Needles Press in 2022, and his Fireflies Against Darkness and More Fireflies series from Arroyo Seco Press in 2021 and 2022. He serves as contributing editor for the Journal of Radical Wonder.

Author’s website: www.layeredmeaning.com

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Kendall Johnson’s Black Box Poetics is out today on Bamboo Dart Press, an interview by Dennis Callaci in Shrimper Records blog (10 June 2021)

Self Portraits: A Review of Kendall Johnson’s Dear Vincent, by Trevor Losh-Johnson in The Ekphrastic Review (6 March 2020)

On the Ground Fighting a New American Wildfire by Kendall Johnson at Literary Hub (12 August 2020), a selection from his book Chaos & Ash (Pelekinesis, 2020)

A review of Chaos & Ash by John Brantingham in Tears in the Fence (2 January 2021)

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