NORTH ANDOVER — To many people, Vincent Van Gogh was the mad artist who painted sunflowers and cut off his ear.
The Dutch impressionist, however, was so much more than that, as historical impersonator Ted Zalewski made clear during his presentation at the North Andover Senior Center yesterday morning. Zalewski, who is well known for his dynamic portrayal of Theodore Roosevelt, did not impersonate Van Gogh.
Rather, he made the subject of one of Van Gogh’s paintings, a French postman named Joseph Roulin, come to life. Actually, Van Gogh not only painted Roulin but his wife and three children as well during his stay in Arles, in the south of France.
Attired in the blue uniform of a French letter carrier, with the inscription “POSTES” on the front of his cap, the recreated Roulin said of the artist he befriended, “He has a wild look in his eyes,” with a “reddish beard, spiky and unkempt.”
Van Gogh, he said, was the son of a minister and studied for that profession. Although he was never ordained, he served as a missionary to a coal-mining district in Belgium, where he literally gave a man the shirt off his back, according to Roulin.
Van Gogh was a very devout man who was eager to do God’s will, Roulin said.
“Some say this is St. Francis; others say this is a madman,” he said. Eventually, he was recalled from his assignment in Belgium, but then he began drawing “picture after picture,” Roulin said.
Van Gogh moved to Paris, where he lived with an artist who taught him how to paint. He then started producing paintings that “exploded in color,” Roulin said.
Van Gogh threw himself into his work and at one point proclaimed, “I’m as happy as a dictator,” according to Roulin. His demons, however, continued to torment him.