Friday, 25 January 2008

THE LAST PAINTING OF GAUGUIN

Paul Gauguin is one of my favorite illustrators.



He was also the ultimate outsider. He fought with authority figures such as police and clergy. He cursed the hypocrisy and commercialism of western civilization. He abandoned his home in France, his religion, his job, even his wife and five children.


Gauguin lived his final years on the tiny South Pacific island of Hua Oa, an island of steamy tropical jungles and volcanoes, of black sand and pink skies, of tiki gods and exotic fruit. Clouds of mist hovered around the cliff from which natives sacrificed virgins to the sea.





It would be hard to imagine a more committed rebel than Gauguin.

And yet...

when he died all alone in his hut under an alien sun, wracked with morphine addiction and the ravages of his lifestyle, they found an unfinished painting on his easel: a conventional winter landscape of a charming French country village.

Illustration is commonly criticized as "lower" art for using obvious, sentimental subject matter to appeal to popular audiences. Norman Rockwell might have been a great artist, we are told, if it weren't for his middle class values. Great art has to rise above such cheap sentimentalism.

No artist ever ran further or faster from middle class values than Gauguin. None ever paid a higher price for his "outsider" status. But as he faced a lonely death, stripped of all pretense and bravado, somewhere close to Gauguin's core was a sentimental image from his youth.