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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 14: August 2022
Epistle 263 words [R]
+ Visual Art: Painting
By Kendall Johnson


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


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


Vincent van Gogh found the fields around Arles intoxicating. Contrasts in color, line, and form were exciting; as were the human contrasts of farming versus manufacturing and of town versus nature. He loved the way the earth played to the heavens, and how the heavens reflected the earth.

He writes (to Emile Bernard) 7 June, 1888: [2]

Again, in this very naive landscape, which is meant to show us a hut, whitewashed overall (the roof, too), situated in an orange field, of course, because the sky in the south and the blue Mediterranean produce an orange that is all the more intense the higher in tint the range of blues.

Dear Vincent,

I just read a paper by a psychoanalyst explaining why you juxtaposed complementary colors, reds against greens, orange against blue, saying that it was your need to synthesize opposites into a whole. And all this time I thought it was to make the colors pop! It seems we all look at the world through theoretical glasses. Some write off your devotion to your painting as an obsession, driven by personality shortcomings. I don’t think so. Sometimes, perhaps usually, it takes singularity of purpose, a driving vision—however indefinite that may be—to provide the strength to overcome the outer and inner voices that caution moderation and in so doing sow self doubt. Yours was the courage and daring necessary to push forward against all odds to do what you sensed you were called here to do.



—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 33-34; appears here with author’s permission.

Publisher’s Notes:

Links retrieved on 21 July 2022:

1. The Harvest (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. From Letter 622 at Vincent van Gogh: The Letters:

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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