Goghing Forth

Performance artist channels famed painter for Kilgore arts festival


Vincent van Gogh will make a special guest appearance at this year’s KilGogh Arts Festival when Walter DeForest brings his show “Van Gogh Find Yourself.”

DeForest, who has been performing the show since November 2014, will travel to Kilgore from New York to present the stories surrounding the famous painter in a special performance in the Texan Theater March 23 and 24.

DeForest's prime performance is set for March 23's 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Art & Wine Exhibition, a ticketed event at $50 per person. He'll also make an appearance during the all-day free, open-to-the-public festival March 24.

The show had a different title when he first developed ot; now it’s just Vincent van Gogh with an accent that is a mix of German, French and Belgian.

The stories that make up the show come straight from the sources, taking information from van Gogh’s letters and a memoir written by Adeline Ravoux, who befriended the artist when he stayed at her family’s bed and breakfast.

The memoir, DeForest said, represents the way Ravoux remembered van Gogh and the stories her father told.

“She heard these stories over and over for 20 years,” DeForest said. She wrote the memoir to coimter false stories and rumors people were spreading about van Gogh.

When talking about van Gogh, he said, people focus on the ear incident and judge and put down his character before ever learning anything more about the man. That is what happened in van Gogh’s life. People did not know he read “every book he could” and his passion came out in his writing.

In addition to being an artist, van Gogh was an evangelist but was kicked out of the church because he was living amongst the poor. He also served as a first responder, helping people who were injured in explosions in the nearby coal mines.

“There’s this human side of him, and it’s just wonderful,” DeForest said. “He cares about people. He put all that energy into his art.”

In the years he has done the show, DeForest has learned many people consider van Gogh a hero.

Some people come into the show telling DeForest they cannot draw. When asked why they think that, he said, many times they say because someone had told them that.

“That happened to me too.”

Now he travels the world and considers himself an artist. The artwork that could be made into a book, though, is what the audience creates.

“The people who come are artists and van Gogh’s a hero,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

DeForest has ‘found himself’ through the show. It has taught him to just let go. Each show is different because the audience is different.

“I know what the story is, but if I have a conversation with someone I’m drawing, we might talk about something else first and come back to it,” he said. “There’s no order.”

In preparation for each show, DeForest said, he re-reads van Gogh’s letters and says he just lets the performance happen a process he figured out when he was in Edinburgh, Scotland for the Edinburg Art Festival.

“I know the story, and I allow my technique and my skills to come through without trying,” he said. “It’s a Zen thing.”

It also fits perfectly with this year’s KilGogh Arts Festival theme of “Gogh with the Flow.”

DeForest took some art classes in college but hadn’t painted in 30 years when he began the show. He felt like a liar, though, because he was portraying van Gogh but not creating art. So, during rehearsals he began drawing.

Then, he broke the rules of theater, sitting up on stage already sketching as the audience took their seats. He kept pushing the rules a little further until eventually he started giving the audience their own art supplies – as he will here – for them to create along with him.

The show serves as both an art and a history lesson, as well as entertainment, he said.

DeForest, who suffers from depression, also uses the show to bring awareness to mental health issues and to raise funds for mental health institutions, including Support in Mind Scotland during the Edinburg Art Festival.

In addition to Scotland, the show has taken him to London, England, across Europe and throughout the United States.

During the Edinburg Art Festival, DeForest got an art pass, so he could paint portraits for free.

“We would sit there and have a conversation and talk about the show and depression and Vincent’s mental illness,” DeForest said.

While in Edinburgh, he also set and then broke the world record for the most portraits painted in 12 hours. The record he will be attempting to break this year is 163 portraits, set in 2017. Each year he makes the attempt in honor and in memory of his mom, Corinne Grady.

DeForest said, he does not consider it work to sit and draw portraits while having conversations.

Telling van Gogh’s story or painting a portrait, he said, gives people more than just a Wikipedia article. “It gives them a human side, which he deserves,” he said.

“These experiences and traveling the world with this art show is amazing because I’m actually having an impact,” he said. “I always wanted to, even as a kid.”

For some, the impact may be reigniting a passion to begin drawing or painting again. For others, it may be having a good day after a string of not-so-good days.

“It’s bigger than me, and that’s nice.”

Tickets to this year’s sixth annual KilGogh Art & Wine Exhibition are available at Kilgogh.com.