Can’t Escape Gauguin…

Breton Girls Dancing, Pont-Aven

I felt very cultural this weekend: on Sunday I went to see the symphony AND spent time at the Gauguin exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art. And I put the finishing touches on my rockin’ gingerbread house entry for the Cleveland Botanical Garden’s annual gingerbread show (which is actually a fantastical Museum of Contemporary Art made out of gingerbread). Whew!

This was my second trip to see the Gauguin show (first take I wrote about here), and I’m sure I’ll go back several more times before it leaves in January. But my impressions (Take II) were more complex (delightedly!) than the first round.

I’m not sure what other artists are so “self reflecting” — that is, in newer paintings, they physically paint in/allude to previous works — but Gauguin surely is a master. His motifs are bathers, pitchers, the color yellow, the white Brittany hats. I mentioned this in my previous blog, but it was even more apparent to me at Take II.

Gaugin’s use of yellow, particularly in his later years in Tahiti, is prolific. Perhaps it started in Arles with his Yellow House days with van Gogh and transcended time. The show’s catalog states that at first Gauguin claimed credit for van Gogh’s adoption of yellow as a favorite color. But ultimately the opposite was true: Gauguin embraced yellow after being impressed by van Gogh’s yellow-on-yellow paintings of sunflowers. And Gauguin used canary yellow paper for a series of zincographs (medium where an artist draws directly on a metal plate with a black crayon) that chronicled Gauguin’s early career and travels to Martinique, Brittany, and Arles and reiterated his motifs. (Interestingly, the CMA owns a complete set of the zincographs, which is rare, because Gauguin only made an edition of 30.) The zincographs were a watershed in Gaugin’s work: the motifs are resemblant of Claude Monet’s grainstacks and Jasper Johns’ stenciled number paintings.

I also noticed that Gaugin has a tendency to paint mid-pose — he captures a boy fixing his shoe, and blossoms just beggining to bud (rather than in full glory). I was struck by his interest in the non-interesting stages of hum drum daily life. But capturing these humdrum moments makes the viewer stop, go back, and look again. It’s inspiring that the humdrum can, in fact, be interesting.

And he disdained pointilism!


 

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