Thursday, December 12, 2013

Women from Papeete

Women from Papeete 
(cd jacket of The Gaugain Years)
10" x 8".oil on canvas board, 2013
In front of me here I got this record with the title The Gaugain Years: Songs and Dances of Tahiti. The title is misleading because the songs on the record were not at all recorded during the Gaugain years but a good 75 years later. The text on the back sleeve puts Gaugain in the same category (tourists) as Captain Cook, missionaries, and European diseases. The text, however, is a fun piece of writing, full of irony, and from a very respectable source; that of the Nonesuch Explorer Series. It was written by Jane Sarnoff. She downplays the notion Westerners had of Tahiti as a synonym for paradise and argues that you would get a clearer picture of (pre-Western) Tahiti if you substitute “love,” and “easy living,” for “war,” and “oppression.” The song illustrated here is listed on the sleeve as Song for Birds in Flight and this is Sarnoff’s interpretation: “We may be romantically affected when we hear a singer in ecstasies about the flight of a bird (as if ‘we’ would be able to understand the words—ed.)—more likely the composer was trying to placate a bird after killing another one.” “No, the music of Tahiti isn’t just love—it’s hate, and fear, pride, and teaching, a way of life and a way to keep death at a distance.” The image in the painting comes from the jacket of the CD reissue of the LP (which hasn’t any photos). The photo (by Dennis Stock) includes a 1960s sports car. Gaugain would have rolled his eyes at that.
All the while, while painting these women from Papeete, I was thinking about the cave paintings of Lascaux. There is a hypothesis forming in my head. “What does that have to do with this painting?” you may ask yourself. And honestly: “I don’t know!”, but my intuition tells me that in some way it does.

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