Monday, December 7, 2009

The vision of Paul Gauguin.#4. Sea bathing.

‘Wishing to suggest a luxuriant and wild nature, a tropical sun, which set aflame everything around it, I have had to give my figures an appropriate setting. It is indeed life in the open air, but at the same time intimate; amidst the thickets, the shadowy streams, these whispering women in the immense palace decorated by nature herself, with all the riches that Tahiti affords. Hence all these fabulous colours, this fiery yet softened and silent air.

‘___ but all that doesn`t exist!

‘___ yes, it exists, but as the equivalent of the grandeur, the profundity of that mystery of Tahiti, when it has to be expressed on a canvas a meter square.’      Gauguin.

While walking along the beach road on the island of Moorea, I caught a glimpse of a very white European woman quickly covering her breasts with a towel lest my ‘prying eyes’ should shame her. A minute later I found a couple of local ladies bathing waist deep in the lagoon with their children, completely natural in their nudity. The contrast was striking! There is a quality in Gauguin`s portrayal of women that is very refreshing, - they are like those women with their children, real people who are comfortable in their flesh. For Gauguin of course they also represent a tropical Eden before the serpent, or Tahiti before the missionaries.

I am thinking of that moment on Moorea when I select my next painting for exploration. In the immediate foreground there is a long passage of pinks, purple and oranges; sand, fallen blossoms, vines and twigs - one can almost hear the music from the orchestra pit. A tree trunk stretches darkly across the front of the stage and then sweeps up and branches. Two women prepare to swim; one is already splashing in while the other is removing her parae. They are strong, competent people, diving into the ocean. Out in the dark water I glimpse an outrigger canoe and a spear fisherman. Perhaps the swimmers are to join in with the harvest? Flares of light from the fishermen`s lanterns are like stage lighting on the dark beach. If there is a deeper message here I`m sure it has to do with what the sea represents to Gauguin. As in the two previous paintings, and as it was for us sailing across the Pacific the sea is the universe, eternity, the unconscious, that which birthed us all and to which we will return. He is orchestrating his painting so I can make the connection at a deep level. He shows us real actors on the stage of life living the mystery.

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