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Date: 02 Oct 2010
Time: 12:19:06 -0500
The thing about Gauguin is he reminds us (well me, basically) that great art doesn’t always bring the artist wealth or happiness. Even when you do genuinely bold and interesting stuff, the artist doesn’t necessarily get rewarded or make a lot of friends. Later on, they will say you were ‘ahead of your time’, but what they really mean is, you were too big a risk. And no-one wants to admit they made a mistake, lacked nerve or loyalty. People like to think the market now is so much more attuned and responsive. But they did then as well. And Gauguin was an insider, he knew the score. They thought Puvis De Chavannes and Monticelli were the way to go. Where are THEY now? In some dusty little corner of art history. Big money went there and never came back. Ask no questions. Gauguin struck out for exotic tribal influences when contemporaries were still coming to terms with The Orient and romanticizing their roots. These things take time, there’s a lot of things to work through, alright. Colonialism, when did that start exactly? With the Egyptians? Anyway Gauguin wasn’t entirely crazy, he took some time to get his bearings. He could see the drift from the centre, and like Van Gogh, that some portion of the market would come around to his slant. Unfortunately it never quite got there for him or Van Gogh. Both paved the way for Picasso and Matisse, who did get fame and fortune. Is that fair? Even now I think Gauguin’s influence is under-estimated. Wannabees like Ofili and Doig can nod and smirk about painting’s Robinson Crusoe, but the guy walked the walk, while they take their cars, fill in postcards. Was he a paedophile? I don’t see any evidence in the paintings, and given his attention to adult sexuality I find it improbable. His life is actually pretty sad all round. He wanted to move back to Paris once he’s done the South Pacific thing and he was a bit of a celebrity when he did return. The paintings were selling, but he was persuaded that he had to go back, to preserve the myth and market and he believed them, tragically. He had to keep on walking the walk, even when he was too old to walk, too poor to stop.