Interview: Kevin Maloney’s Obsession

Editor Matty Byloos, Interview, February 25th, 2016

"It felt like stumbling across Jesus Christ’s dream journal."

Kevin Maloney's obsession with Van Gogh NAILED magazine interview obsession
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NAILED MAGAZINE: Is there an obsession that you’ve had for a long period of time, or even all your life? How did it come to be, and how has it influenced your life?

KEVIN MALONEY: In the 4th grade a visiting art teacher introduced our class to Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings: riotous sunflowers, the night sky like an amusement park, that insane self-portrait with pipe and severed ear. I don’t remember how much she told us about his notorious self-mutilation, but I remember feeling dizzied by the story, wondering who is this crazy man with his straw hat and head-bandage?

Ten years later, rummaging through the art section at a bookstore, I discovered a collection of letters from Van Gogh to his brother Theo. I had no idea Van Gogh wrote anything, let alone a chronicle of his path to becoming an artist. It felt like stumbling across Jesus Christ’s dream journal. I read it in a fever, expecting the deranged ramblings of a mental patient. Instead, I found the musings of an idealistic 30-year-old, who wanted only to be good at something after a lifetime of failures.

I read three different translations of the letters. I wanted to experience it over and over, each time in slightly different language. Eventually I saved up enough money for a trip to Paris, where I saw a dozen Van Goghs at the Musée d’Orsay, including Bedroom in Arles with its yellow bedposts slanting eerily upward. I took a train to Arles and walked the cobblestone streets Van Gogh walked home from the whorehouse, holding his ear, bleeding profusely. I stood outside the café—still in existence—where he set up his easel to paint Café Terrace at Night.

My obsession with Van Gogh was an obsession with obsession. He was my art school. My MFA. In him I learned that there is no such thing as genius. Only fixation. Wanting something so bad you do it 12-14 hours a day, even if it drives you insane.

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If you enjoyed this interview, then you might also like to read about Jenny Forrester’s obsession, which you can read here.

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Kevin Maloney writer NAILED magazine interview on Kevin Maloney's obsessionKevin Maloney is the author of Cult of Loretta (Lazy Fascist Press, 2015). His writing has appeared in Hobart, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and Monkeybicycle. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his girlfriend and daughter.

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Matty Byloos

Matty Byloos is Co-Publisher and a Contributing Editor for NAILED. He was born 7 days after his older twin brother, Kevin Byloos. He is the author of 2 books, including the novel in stories, ROPE ('14 SDP), and the collection of short stories, Don't Smell the Floss ('09 Write Bloody Books).