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Studying Gauguin...

W. Somerset Maugham wrote in The Moon and Sixpence - "The colours were the colours familiar to me, and yet they were different. They had a significance which was all of their own. And those nude men and women. They were of the earth, they clay with which they were created, and at the same time something divine. You saw man in the nakedness of his primeval instincts, and you were afraid, for you saw yourself..."

Many accomplished art historians have commented on the life and works of Paul Gauguin. I do not dare suggest a fresh edition to that body of critical documentation. What I have here are a few drawings, mostly out of charcoal, which revealed Gauguin to me like never before. If Egon Schiele simplified human figures through an angular, "connect the dots" kind of economy, and thereby revealed an abrasive edge to his nature, Gauguin took the other path. He was no less abrasive, as Vincent Van Gogh might have said, yet Manao Tupapau and other paintings reveal an inner nature which considers the world not in terms of terminable distances, but endless curves.

Definite, yet soft, Gauguins's curves are Gaia-centric, like artistic expressions of nature herself, and the more I retraced those curves, using a charcoal pencil on plain paper, the more I fell in love with their stark simplicity.

These lines do not seperate, they join, and heal.


a) Manao Tupapau, 24 KB download
Translated Title - Spirit of the dead keeps watch.

Gauguin used Tehemana, his young Tahitian companion as model for this work, which was done in oil in 1892.

Even though there is minimal tonal transition, the sensuous accuracy of his drawing is mindboggling. I made this discovery, about which I only had a niggling suspiscion during my many previous viewings, only when I actually drew the contours of Tehemana's body on paper. There is an incredible intimacy in this work which, perhaps could only be achieved through close personal relationship with the subject, and of course - a Masterful Observation!

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b) Women on Beach 31 KB download

One of my earliest Gauguin studies, the solidity of the composition attracted me. These are not fleeting beauties, but life as timeless and warm as the woman's bare shoulder.

c) Study of a Wood-Polychrome Sculpture,
37 KB download
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Click to Enlarge

d) Portrait of a Tahitian Lady, 28 KB download.

In the original oil, Gauguin has used a chrome yellow background to complement the woman's purple-violet dress. The solidity of structure, which to some may appear Cezannesque, has been muted somewhat by a dark yet delicate olive-umber hue to her forehead, merging with the siennas and crimsons of her downlit face.

The painting gave me great opportunity to render her luxuriant black hair in thick charcoal strokes.

Consider her eyes too.

e) Study from Portrait of Madeleine Bernard (24 KB download)
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