I am Vincent: Why an obsessive wants to repaint all of van Gogh’s works

By Dorothea Huelsmeier — Outside it may be grey and dusty, but in Wolfgang Mueller’s studio, the paintings of Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) glow bright. That’s because they are all fresh. In the former upholsterer’s workshop in the German city of Duisburg, Mueller sits at a white grand piano and plays his own romantic compositions in an ode to his re-interpretations of van Gogh’s work, which cover the wall behind him.
Mueller painted them all himself; the sunflowers, the wheat fields, the farmhouses, the portraits and the self-portraits.
The 48-year-old, who was born in a working class household and was once a crane operator, didn’t grow up with art and music.
He was the second eldest of eight brothers. As a child he was musical, teaching himself to play the piano, but it wasn’t until he was over 30 that he discovered his second talent, for painting.
Mueller now has a project to which he is currently dedicating his whole life; he wants to recreate all of van Gogh’s around 860 oil paintings. He isn’t just making copies though, they are all his own takes. Van Gogh, Mueller style, so to speak.
“The size of my pictures and the colours are different,” he says. “I want to put all of my feeling and passion into them.”
Mueller has already completed around 620 pictures over the past 15 years, often working on 30 pictures at a time.
At the peak of his creativity, van Gogh painted 350 pictures in 400 days. In his obsession, Mueller is similar to his hero.
Post-Impressionist pictures cover the walls and lie stacked on the floor of Mueller’s atelier, and canvases are also piled onto shelves; at the beginning, Mueller still had his pictures framed but he doesn’t have the room to do that anymore.
Discarded palettes and tubes of paint have been tossed into corners. His dimly lit kitchen, home to an old wooden table and a red teapot, is reminiscent of van Gogh’s the Potato Eaters, which of course Mueller has painted and hung up there.
His only concessions to modernity are a coffee machine and an electric hob.
“The warmth and humanity in his themes is what makes van Gogh so affecting,” says Mueller.
The German, whose melancholic expression resembles that of van Gogh, feels a strong connection to the Dutchman.
Like the painter, he comes from a large family, is self-taught, tried out several jobs and started painting later in life.
“I was a crane operator for Thyssen (a steel company),” says Mueller. Then he did the community service that all young German men have to complete if they want to avoid military service.
“In the old people’s home (where I worked) there was an organ and I was supposed to play for the old people every day.”
917371“I’m actually a composer,” he adds and plays one of his compositions on the piano, under which piles of music, books on his
favourite artist and tubes of paint lie jumbled up.
He has only to turn around and he’s at his easel.
In 1999 Mueller went to the Franz Liszt University of Music in Weimar and took private tuition in composition.
But the grant he hoped for didn’t materialise, despite his having composed around 350 pieces, which he still keeps in binders.
The employment bureau sent him on a retraining course and let him do an internship with the artist and gallery-owner Pino Juliano, who first showed Mueller how to paint.
Mueller started on van Gogh straight away — for him there’s no other artist who can equal him.
But van Gogh, who hardly sold any paintings in his lifetime and shot himself at the age of 37, was hardly a model of happiness.
Mueller says he’s also lonely.
“But my work fulfils me,” he says. Because unlike van Gogh, he also has his music as a “harmonious framework.”
He works for up to 10 hours a day, often into the night, and he makes his living by performing, and showing visitors his atelier for a fee.
Sometimes, when he needs money, he sells a painting — and then paints it again.
A travelling exhibition of his painting would be his dream come true.
In two to three years he wants to have done all of van Gogh’s oil paintings, and he isn’t afraid of reaching the last brush stroke.
“I’m a musician after all. And there are van Gogh’s 1,000 drawings. I can fill up lots more years. I’ve built some bridges.”
His friend Juliano comments, “No, he’s not mad, but he has a certain obsession.”
“Of course it’s hard to live in the real world,” says Mueller. “But if I’m going to be allowed this life, then I want to live my dream.”
Mueller has been to see his hero’s paintings in the Louvre in Paris, and he’s also visited van Gogh’s birthplace in the Netherlands.
The one place he hasn’t been to is the south of France where the artist experienced his biggest burst of creativity. “Later,” he says, “I will have to have that feeling of ‘I’m free’.” — DPA