Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The vision of Paul Gauguin. #2. Namaste.

In art, we have just undergone a very long period of aberration due to physics, mechanical chemistry and nature study. Artists have lost all their savagery, all their instincts, one might say their imagination, and so they have wandered down every path in order to find the productive elements they havn`t the strength to create; as a result, they act only as undisciplined crowds and feel frightened. Lost as it were, when they are alone. That is why solitude is not to be recommended to everyone, for you have to be strong in order to bear it and act alone. Everything I have learned from other people merely stood in my way. This I can say: No one has taught me anything. On the other hand, it is true that I know so little, which is of my own creation. And who knows whether that little, when put to use by others, will not become something big?.... Paul Gauguin.

It felt a little strange with Gauguin`s words ringing in my ears to settle down to walking down his path for a while by copying some of his paintings just like the art students of Gauguin`s time used to do as part of their training ( including Gauguin himself). I reasoned that the most intense way to view his works was to draw and paint them, taking several hours over each, - so much longer and careful a participation than a mere looking at and reading about them could accomplish. I had already read what other`s had to say, I had looked at his paintings as I read, I knew what others said I should look for, but as yet I had not really entered into them fully. Here was my real beginning.

I knew that I would not just copy the paintings, but find a way to participate as I felt Gauguin really demanded - a dynamic interaction rather than a faithful reproduction- so I chose a technique really quite different from the brush and oil paint on canvas that he used, in the expectation that in doing a kind of translation I would feel his creative process more directly: second hand yes, but closer to the original experience. Me and you Paul! I hoped that having walked in the same Polynesian landscape as the artist would help bridge the gap, not of years, because that was irrelevant, but directly from mind to mind. I did not so much wish to learn his techniques as to understand what he had to communicate.

The first painting I attempted was of two young women sitting on the sand. On first glance, it seemed the most straightforward. I first drew in the lines of the two figures and then used oil pastels to lay in the basic colour themes. I left the future dark areas untouched and applied white where it would be wanted in the finished piece. An overall wash of black ink was applied over the oil based medium and then wiped off again. Now I had a colourful picture with all blank areas still covered in black ink. Even at this preliminary point in the ‘translation’ I had discovered so much simply by drawing his simple bold figures and approximating his colours. The women had become distinct beings already, sitting in the dappled shade, one plaiting a hat. They were mysterious. What were they thinking, sitting so motionless, one looking up at the viewer?

What I had not fully grasped before was that even here in this seemingly realistic scene, the artist was using colour to communicate - the orange and pinks carrying their own message directly to my emotions, the yellow of the sand somehow representing the ultimate ground of being and the shadowy abstract line of the lagoon behind reminding me of eternity that lies always lapping around the edges of the present moment. I began to recognize that the figures, so monumental and solid, unified what we usually think of as two separate modalities. They were real Polynesian people and they were also Gods - transcendent beings: ordinary people sitting on the beach recognized for their immortal selves. Namaste.

By working so closely with his painting I am participating in his vision and what a powerful one it is. I could just as well be wrong in my interpretation but that does not matter, it is the process of interacting with the image that is important. The observer has entered into the idea being painted, was creating new meaning, and was no longer a separate ‘impartial’ viewer.

I continue to work into my translation with pastels and ink, varnishing to seal in the first layers and continuing with more pastels and then varnishing again. I am trying through depth of layers of pigment and films of varnish to achieve a surface that reflects the layers of meaning that still remain to be discovered.

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