Welcome to the final ‘Artist of the Month’ post of 2018! I thought this time around we would look at a nineteenth-century artist as this series has remained overtly contemporary to date. So now we head to the post-Impressionist world of Paul Gauguin, a French artist so shrouded in myth and dubiety that I’m not too sure how to unpack him as an artist.
Gauguin was born in Paris, but his family moved to Peru when he was still young, opening his eyes to a wider world from a young age. However, he started his artistic life as many aspiring Salon painters did, in Paris. By 1883 Gauguin had quit his job as a stockbroker and took up life as a full-time painter. From his beginnings as an artist, Gauguin had a distinct style that made use of bold colours, exaggerated forms, and strong lines depicting mostly portraits and religious allegory.
Yet, it still remains that Gauguin’s paintings following his move to Tahiti in 1891 are sought-after works. Most famously, he painted Tahitian women within biblical allegories. A self-proclaimed “savage” he felt that European painting lacked symbolic profundity and wanted to capture the spirituality he saw in African and Asian art. This is where Gauguin starts to be a problematic artist. His views and ideals constitute what we might deem to be “fetishization” in today’s world. His work has even been categorised to be “Primitivism”, a style of Western fascination with other cultures that they deemed to be less advanced but more spiritual.
I’ve certainly struggled with Gauguin’s work and what it represents. Yet, it raises the timely question of whether we can ever divide an artist’s social and historical settings with their work? As I still grapple with whether Gauguin’s work should be praised or questioned, I can’t help but be drawn to his masterful use of philosophical messaging and hypnotic colour…
What do you think of Gauguin’s work and beliefs? Make sure to leave a comment below!
Temi’s Takeaway Quote:
“The history of modern art is also the history of the progressive loss of art’s audience. Art has increasingly become the concern of the artist and the bafflement of the public” – Paul Gauguin
Words by Temi Otedola
Original Thumbnail Art by Antonia Weishaupt
Paul Gauguin, ‘Self-Portrait, Les Miserables’, 1888
Paul Gauguin, Vision After the Sermon, 1888
Paul Gauguin, Manao Tupapau (The Spirit of the Dead Keeps Watch), 1892
Paul Gauguin, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, 1897
Paul Gauguin, Te Faaturuma (Brooding Woman), 1892
Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Women on the Beach, 1891