The Painting that ate my life, Two Women with Mangoes
On the smelly subway, Manhattan 1980, flashes by a poster of a Paul Gauguin self-portrait with black prison (or teller) bars superimposed, and the caption "Paul Gauguin worked in a bank until he was 40, There is Still Time" - advertising the Met?
Imagine the effect on me as I headed south to Liberty Plaza, Bankers Trust, with its fine view of WTC2. I left New York without making my fortune.
Paul Gauguin was born 100 years before me. Now I have now lived longer than he did.
In my year in Manhattan I must have visited that painting at least once a month. The Met having a donations admission, and the wonderful Impressionist room recently opened.
A reproduction of the painting hung on the wall of my adolescent bedroom, I imagine my parents were perturbed.
What can be said about the work?
Its pornographic, although not as an aid to self-abuse. (for such purposes, try Cranach, Giorgione, or Ingres)
Somehow the girl on the left intercepts the viewers gaze with her own interrogative disarming gaze.
The main figure, 17 year old Pehura, stuck with PG for years, and in around the time of this painting April 1899 she gave birth to his son.
The image of breasts above a tray of fruit might have been comical without the intensity of this work and the reverie of the pregnant girl.
The odd greenish cast to her flesh has to be seen at the Met to be believed. Having slightly reduced red receptors, it may be that others are seeing a more dramatic picture than I, but few would have my dedication.
The work represents some kind of pinnacle of painting. Its claim to primitiveness is tempered by the fact that bare breasts were long passe in late C19 Tahiti. All the Parisian intellectual influences must be acknowledged. Gauguin uses classical art, and the stone Reliefs of Borobudur to construct his own mythologies.
Today this work is filtered by the late C20 definition of correct behaviour, such that PG is now biographised more as an evil alcoholic 50 year old who had no business cohabiting with such a young girl (14 when they met), than a revolutionary artist.
Have I spent my life in a Pacific reverie? I lived in the Polynesian centre, Auckland, for years. Sundays strolling down Ponsonby road hearing complex Tongan harmonies coming out of churches. On the last evening of the last century, I was on a remote beach in Palawan, intending to celebrate New Year with my wife, who is from Samar. Our hut had no light, we stumbled around by the light of her cell phone. (Spirit of the dead watching?) At the last hour we joined a bunch of German backpackers on the back of a truck heading towards Puerto Princesa City - we all suddenly realised that a town gathering was the place to celebrate, particularly as the province is famous for its fierce fireworks.
(normal political & techno ranting resuming soon)
The Painting that ate my life Two Women with Mangoes