monday, may 14, 2012
Gauguin's Other

The Seattle Art Museum presented a major exhibition of Gauguin's paintings, entitled Gauguin & Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise. The show ran from February 9–April 29, 2012, and included paintings and printwork from the well-known French artist, as well as a collection of Polynesian art.


Lightening my load, the thought, like the cloud-cover, rolls over everything, darkening it, like a blanket consuming trees: She’s not coming.

I had a feeling she would be afraid to meet me. No matter. This gives me ample time to think. Looking across the street, into the park, I notice the red shape, flat, like a skirt he would paint, on brown legs against the grass, exists. That’s all it does. I see.

He just wanted to tell us how red it was, and how green. No, not even that. He couldn’t do that very well. His colors were imprecise. (The canvas had aged badly, yes, but that’s no excuse. No, they were abysmally imprecise, those colors.) Nothing came into focus. He didn’t see what was there. He saw like the kind of man he was. He saw only his idea. He made a few notes in a rush. He was punchy from the heat; distracted. He wanted to get on to the sex. He didn’t care enough. He’s just like all the rest. Men.





He wanted to tell us that it was red; that’s all; that it was green. He wanted to bring a statement back to the boys in Paris like some unscrupulous journalist, to prove he been there.





I’m starting to side with the feminists. Maybe he was just a chauvinist; a creep, using the girls. He ditched his wife to do it, too, then back to Paris to capitalize on his licentiousness. A Peter Pan. I never liked Gauguin from the pictures. I like him even less in person.

Yet now, in the morning at the cafe across the street from the park, I sit, bleary-eyed and idle, saying ‘’ without words. I do it too. Surely this is an innocent desire, yes? How can I begrudge a fellow painter this?





I think now of my models, my beauties. I think of their nostrils and lips, and how I only want to show that these things exist. I do understand Gauguin. We paint -- portraits, no less. We are more alike than I care to admit.






I am also like her, sitting here. I can barely look at his paintings because I’m always thinking of her. I’m thinking of her with the heavy brown limbs; thinking of her back in Paris, with the children. I’m in the museum thinking of her; in the cafe, thinking of her; under heavy limbs, thinking of her, behind lidded eyes, thinking of her.

 I’m at the museum now, in Seattle, dealing with him. I’m not here alone. I don’t want to be rude.





I’m in the park, in Paris with the children, dealing with him. Now, a small boy brings me a dirty rock with great enthusiasm; presenting it to me like a gemstone. I don’t want to take it by any means, in my gloved hand, but I’m afraid to throw it away. Trapped by obligation (pride? pity? despair?), I take it and avert my eyes. I keep holding still. My limbs are heavy and thick. I am not seen, I am being acted upon.

I’m under the clouds, on the island, dealing with him. I am her. The one he’s evading; not looking in the eyes; the one who waits.

She’s back in Paris at the cafe, in the slanting light, while the children play. She tries not to think at all but watches the shapes without naming them. She paints in her way, and is ever the subject of painting.





Looking down and to the right, her limbs grow still more immovable under the weight. Her lidded eyes slide away despondent, toward the earth. The storm approaches, flattens, and greys the colors and wipes away the depths. Wordlessly, a shadow darkens her face -- and his.

This is funny. The poor fool traveled across the globe to find an exotic ‘other’ to paint, only to come face to face with his tired wife again. She just as depressed and weary of his personality as I am. Mr. Gauguin, you sure have a way with the ladies.





I get up now, with a great effort of will, and start walking back to the house. I’m moving away from him finally, having understood him, having seen myself in him, having pardoned him for his folly. I’m smiling, why? Because art works. Truth rises up again and again in art, even art we don’t like, across time and culture and distance. Wherever we look, and look carefully, wisdom reigns. Droplets begin to fall as I walk, cooling my skin.










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