I would not have been able to complete my book on Vincent Van Gogh if it had not been for the residency grant I was awarded by Akademie Schloss Solitude in 2014. The four winter months I spent there were extraordinary for me, coming as I did from my home country of Bahrain, where the temperature in our area reaches 50 degrees centigrade in the summer, and where we are not befriended by any winter in the true, seasonal sense of the word.
My wife accompanied me on the residency at the Akademie, and helped me to endure the constant work, and to bear my nonstop writing, day and night. The circumstances and conditions of the residency also guaranteed that my labors would be comfortable, productive, and first-rate.
When I arrived at the Akademie to begin my residency I had already made good progress in preparing myself for the project I would be working on during my stay there, as I had been passionate about Van Gogh’s practice since the 1970s, and had been writing the odd page about it since the mid-1980s. But when I began my residency I did not in fact know how I would begin the text, and I had no clear image in mind of what form the book would take. And so I spent long days in anxiety and confusion over how to begin.
And then, in a lightning flash of illumination, I found I could develop forms of expression as I wrote. From that point on, I was completely absorbed in my own continuous workshop, not even noticing whether it was day or night, helped over the border into timelessness by the season’s scarce sunlight – and how fierce is winter’s passion!
My wife read each successive draft of the text, one by one. And hers was not the only input I had: my daughter, who is a photographer, and my son, a composer, started reading what I was writing, via email. This was what brought them to share my passion for Van Gogh and my fascination for his life and work.
From that point on, I was completely absorbed in my own continuous workshop, not even noticing whether it was day or night, helped over the border into timelessness by the season’s scarce sunlight – and how fierce is winter’s passion!
It was they who subsequently took me on a family trip by car across Europe, through the villages, towns, and cities where the Dutch artist was born and lived. They joined me in my creative experience, using their own artistic tools: my son Mohamed realized a musical vision in his LP Vincent and my daughter Tufool produced a photographic work, a visual reimagining of Van Gogh’s life and paintings. We launched our joint project on May 1, 2016, with a party featuring a book signing, an exhibition of my daughter’s photos, and a performance of my son’s music.
The truth is that the opportunity to be an artist in residence at Akademie Schloss Solitude turned out to be one of the most beautiful periods I have experienced, and enabled me to fulfil my longstanding dream of offering a specific artistic and literary greeting to an artist I have always loved, and whose work and life I have long yearned to recreate in my own personal way.
Something that made me very happy during my stay at Akademie Schloss Solitude was the Akademie’s decision to add to their existing grants for writers and artists, which were previously restricted to projects by young people under the age of 35, with the allocation of a new program of grants without an age restriction. The name of this new program originated with me, as I suggested to the Akademie’s administration that the grant offered to older writers and artists be named for Jean-Jacques Rousseau. It seems that I was the first person to be awarded this grant, and it is an honor that I cherish, and that adds to my delight at having completed my longstanding project on one of the most wonderful artists of the modern era.
Translated by Alice Guthrie (Arabic to English).