When one looks at a Vincent Van Gogh painting for longer than a minute, it’s not unusual to find one’s brain suddenly reacting strangely.
The psychedelic energy of the artist’s heavily paint laden brushstrokes have an almost supernatural intensity that transcend this mortal plane.
Imagine seeing these works actually come to life and you have an idea of the Polish animator Dorota Kobiela’s “Loving Vincent,” an ambitious portrait of the great Dutch artist, that has the distinction of being “the world’s first fully painted feature film.” Every one of the frames in this film was created by hand with oil paints, pulling the viewer into the swirling, multi-dimensional world of Van Gogh’s tormented vision.
The artist himself has been dead a year when the story begins, so we aren’t seeing things through his eyes so much as in homage to his singular style.
The film is showing here in Taos at the TCA this weekend, so I’ll not divulge any more, but it serves as the perfect introduction to this post on Taos artist Ed Sandoval, and his ongoing, albeit otherworldly, relationship with Vincent Van Gogh. The 2013 recipient for the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in New Mexico, Ed Sandoval was born and raised in Nambe and Los Alamos. He paints the landscape that has sustained several generations of his family.
Some years ago, shortly before I began this blog, I was working for Ed a few days a week at his namesake gallery next door to the World Cup Cafe, where he can be seen painting outside most days. Ed is a long time admirer of Van Gogh’s work, and finds his own renderings of Northern New Mexico compared to Van Gogh’s style quite frequently by his many fans and collectors. Clearly the Dutchman (along with other Impressionists) is a huge inspiration to Ed, but perhaps there is something more to it than that.
Ed has made four paintings of Vincent Van Gogh over his long career as an artist, one of them while I worked for him. Like Van Gogh, Ed is an incredibly prolific painter – consumed by the canvas until it completes itself, often in a matter of hours. This particular painting took a few days,and when it was finished, Ed brought it inside, leaned it against the wall and went into his storage area to put away his brushes and paints before heading home to feed his horses.
I began tidying up the desk and gathering my belongings when I noticed someone at the door. I looked up and my jaw dropped. Standing in front of the painting of Van Gogh was a Doppelganger, (dressed in a white shirt, dark trousers and carrying an old leather satchel), with flaming red hair and beard to rival that of his image on the canvas.
Just then Ed emerged from the backroom and the look on his face mirrored the shock on my own. Our visitor looked up at him, nodded and smiled, turned and walked out the door. After a moment I jumped up and ran to the door, looking left and right but there was no sign of him.
Ed and I just stood there for a minute and looked at one another.
“It was him,” I said. “I think he likes the painting.”
Ed looked like he’d just seen a ghost. And it occurred to me that indeed, perhaps we had.
“You need to talk to my friend Bob Innes,” Ed told me the other day when I reminded him of that incident.
“He was here with me when he came ‘round a second time.” He said as he wrote down a number on a post it and handed it to me.
I called Bob the following morning. He was happy to share his impression of the visitation Ed had alluded to.
“We were sitting in the gallery one afternoon,” he recalled. “Ed had just completed a portrait of Van Gogh (he pronounced the artist’s name correctly, unusual in America where it becomes Van Go), and had placed it on an easel just inside the door.”
“Suddenly a red-haired gentleman appeared in the doorway,” he said, “he came in and stood before the painting, just looking at it for a while.”
“I assumed he’d commissioned the piece as it was the spitting image of him, but Ed said nothing to him and he didn’t say anything either.”
“He looked at the painting for a long while then browsed around the gallery before coming back to the painting and looking at it again.”
“Not a word was spoken,” Bob told me, “and I remember he didn’t touch anything in the gallery.”
“Before he left he nodded at Ed.”
“What was he wearing?” I asked.
“A white shirt I think,” Bob answered, “and I seem to recall he carried a satchel of some kind.”
In case you are wondering whether we are all tripping out here in the Wild West, Ed has an MA in psychology and Bob Innes is a retired, award-winning architect who spent his career designing high-end homes for celebrities and sports stars. I asked him what he thought he’d witnessed that afternoon.
“I remember looking at Ed,” he said, “and he looked at me and we knew we had seen an apparition or had some sort of shared spiritual experience.”
“I definitely believe it was Van Gogh,” he told me, “and I have often thought the close connection Ed and I share, may have summoned that energy.”
“A lot of Ed’s work has tremendous spiritual depth.” He noted, “it’s entirely possible that in some way he called in the spirit of Van Gogh.”
“It all happened in total silence,” he remembered. “There was no talk, even between Ed and I after he had left.”
I returned to Ed’s gallery after I hung up the phone.
I asked Gwen Vickery McFaden, (Ed’s partner) if she could send me the Vincent images and what she thought of these odd visitations by the “red-haired stranger.”
Gwen’s grandparents started visiting Taos (from Oklahoma) in the ’40’s and bought an old Hacienda in Ranchos. The house has been painted by Ed many times and the oldest part of it dates back to the 1760’s. Gwen has had a connection to the region all her life, although she grew up in Kansas, and is no stranger to tales of the supernatural aqui en Taos.
“You might want to add that his grandmother was a curandera,” Gwen reminded me, “that could have something to do with his sensitivity.”
“He has seen other apparitions.” She revealed.
Ed was outside painting. It’s his daily practice, like a monk sitting Zazen, Ed can be found painting in the parking lot in front of his gallery day after day, just like that day. And the other one. The days when Vincent came to visit.
“Do you think it was him?” I asked him as I stood beside him in the weak winter sun.
“Oh yes,” he responded without a shadow of doubt in his voice. “I know it was.”
I told him what his friend Bob had said about him summoning the spirit, and he smiled before answering.
“It’s hard to explain.” he said thoughtfully, “but when I’m painting, really in it y’know? It’s like channeling energy or something.” His voice trailed off as he focused his eye, then his brush on the canvas in front of him and suddenly he was all alone. I might as well have been invisible, and not even Vincent’s phantom arrival could have swayed the artist’s focus; it was just Ed and the painting,
In that moment nothing and noone else existed.
For more information about Ed Sandoval, please visit his site linked below this post.
For information on Loving Vincent times and dates, see the TCA’s site.