The Modern Tokyo Times

International news and neglected issues

Paul Gauguin a master of art but damned by critics

Paul Gauguin a master of art but damned by critics

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Paul Gauguin lived a life which many individuals can’t understand and whatever he became it happened because of the world that he witnessed. Like many individuals thrown on the scrap heap of life he desired redemption if only a real break would occur. However, with the clock ticking and family pressure he could no longer dream or clutch at straws because poverty became his reality.

Gauguin stated that “I glimpse poetry “and his strong imagination and creative spirit could turn the mundane into “a spark of high intensity.”  It is clear that he had high intellect and his art form is full of richness and shows the diversity of his life.

Prior to taking up art Gauguin showed no real tendencies of individuality and providing for his family would be a constant worry for him. However, Gauguin was blessed with sublime gifts but he could not “create like our divine Master” because the ravages of life and reality shackled him and pointed a dagger at his heart. 

He knew that family obligations were important but with each new winter it was clear that he had to make a stark choice.  This must have put a terrible burden on Gauguin because he knew his gifts were indeed great but he was trapped like a bird in a cage. 

Finally he broke free from a life of normality and Gauguin desired to generate wealth in order to support his family and to bless the world with exquisite art.  Gauguin stated “without art there is no salvation” and clearly his inner soul saw a political picture which remained aloof from the majority of people.

However, the struggle for survival tore at his heart and the more fellow artists appreciated his talents and the closer he got to the “promise land,” the greater the rejection when poverty was all that remained. Also, Gauguin’s favorite daughter Aline died of pneumonia and Clovis, his son, died from a blood infection.  Therefore, his world was full of darkness and where was the justice that failed to reward such a talented individual?

Instead of “without art there is no salvation” it now felt that with or without art there is no salvation.  The death of Aline, a daughter he cherished and who provided a ray of sunshine, must have hit home at all the futility of this life.

Adrian Searle (The Guardian) in his article called Paul Gauguin: guilty as charged comments that Gauguin never gives us the whole story, probably because there isn’t one. He harks back to a culture that was already destroyed by missionaries and disease long before he arrived on Tahiti. He moves Mary and Joseph’s flight into Egypt to a Polynesian island, and the Calvary and crucifixion to Celtic Brittany. They are the possibilities of stories, rather than illustrations, allegories or history paintings. Their content is as mysterious as their color. He is almost a magic realist before the fact.

Further down in the article Adrian Searle continues by stating that “As Belinda Thomson makes clear in her excellent Tate catalogue essay, in looking at his work, what we have to overcome, first of all, is the embarrassment of Gauguin’s life and personality. Self-promotion and self-invention are inextricable from the art itself. Thomson shows us an artist, both outsider and careerist, who is a little bit dodgy in a way that anyone acquainted with today’s art world would recognize.”

However, you need to overcome nothing because Gauguin often lived in poverty and two of his children died very young.  Added to this was a genius who had so much to give but the cards never fell for him. Therefore, he must have felt abandoned in a cold world which did not cherish beauty but instead cherished materialism, corruption, and social stratification.

Tahiti wasn’t an illusion because all illusions had died in Europe and whatever Gauguin became, he only became this after every deck of cards had gone against him.  After all, Gauguin didn’t abandon his children but instead he tried to do the right thing by his family.

The Christian imagery in some of his work alludes to a mythical world where justice and the Garden of Eden can be reached. Tahiti with its past spirit of purity was being swallowed up and the same purity of Gauguin was equally being swallowed up.

The flesh that Gauguin is reviled for in some quarters may belong to the beholder because Gauguin had stated “I am inclined to a primitive state” and that Tahiti was a place “where material life can be lived without money.”

In life the Garden of Eden couldn’t be found in Europe and clearly Gauguin didn’t fear death. Therefore, “the primitive state” that he refers to was the primitive nature of this world because despite all the colonial presumptions of supremacy the truth was much simpler.

If Gauguin succumbed to “the apple” then he did so because of the reality of an unforgiving world which was based on injustice and trapping so many into the wretchedness of poverty and debt during his lifetime.

However, if he succumbed to “the apple” based on love after fleeing so much hardship and escaping convention, then who are we to judge given the reality of the world that Gauguin belonged – if Gauguin had impure intentions then he would have left his family well behind before this and he would have desired the flesh much earlier.

Instead, Tahiti was the last piece of the jigsaw in Gauguin’s life but it was but one piece belonging to a truly great artist. Therefore, when all the pieces are counted his artistic legacy is indeed great because he was a genius and for most of his artistic life he struggled against massive adversity.   PLEASE WATCH THIS VIDEO

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