Friday, October 29, 2010
I didn't know much about Paul Gauguin before I went into this exhibition. But what I'd seen of his painting really impressed me. And this helped me feel sympathetic towards him. However coming away from the exhibition I realised I didn't like him at all. And sadly this has affected my thoughts about his work.
However there was much to admire. Firstly Gauguin is a painter of place. His work is embedded in the locations he works in. Whatever he chooses to be a subject, the landscape bursts out, at every opportunity with passion and with vitality. It is a living landscape. And his subjects - generally women, clothed and unclothed are extensions of this landscape. I realise actually that his feelings about landscape are deeply connected to the women he paints. Someone said to me onece that painting is a way of possessing and owning the subject. So the message of these paintings is one of possession and ownership. This was expressed both sexually in Gauguin,s personal life and politically in France's colonial projects in French Polynesia.
His representation of the elements is attractive. His work seems dominated by earth and fire, by vibrant reds and rich shades of green. He has a wide ranging vocabulary of colour, incredibly attractive, it draws the eye. I am captivated by it. I am referring specifcally to the modern abstracted 20th century landscapes rather than the post impressionistic detailed painting of the earlier 19th century work. At times the earth is infused with fire, the earth glows; the earth is a thin transparent skin that covers the earth’s furnace below. The earth feels like a simmering volcano ready to explode and bathe everything with warmth. And yet I am aware of the awe and attraction of violence. I'm attracted to the monochrome oil seed rape fields on May and June. perhaps it's the uniform lines, the blanket, garish colour. And I know it is a form of violence, an expression of power and control of the land. It is the power of the tyrannt. A male power that wants to subdue and control.
I'm also attracted to his depictions of people including women. I don't think it is a sexual thing. For he infuses his figures with a vitality and a life of there own. I don’t know how he does it. Perhaps it is there posture, their body language or the colours or tones he uses. The painting I've posted above I think is exraordinary. There is something quite masculine about these women. The build is solid and broad. But the faces are touched with a individuality, a life force of their own.