Monday, 25 October 2010

Gauguin

So I take Friday off, having worked through a weekend and through a very nasty bout of something feverish and aching. I plan to get up at the usual time and go first thing to the Gauguin exhibition at Tate Modern. And I don't. I wake up and think about it and then fall asleep again. And I dream of this vast, ugly, inexplicable building adjoining my workplace, where I get completely lost one day with a new, young colleague. Strangely, we never turn back and try to retrace our steps into the university, but keep on going, up a tall, tall tower, through a crowded hotel lobby and out onto a deck and down a long metal staircase with no handrail. He stops to take a photo and, jammed up behind him, teetering, I urge him on, urge him down into the deep water, where he disappears below the flat, brown, shiny surface. And no one reacts; they keep right on sitting there, chatting, staring out across this wide, dark, reflective expanse. And then, of course, I wake again. Thank you, sad and scared subconscious, for coming out to join me on my day off. Shit.

My dream came with me, later that day, to the exhibition, melding with the phantoms and dream figures that lurk in Gauguin's paintings, the spectral intruders amidst the lollipop hues and the sinuous play of shapes. Twined through the colours, the grey. Right there with the pleasures, the sharp intake of breath at what he called 'the muffled, powerful thud I am looking for in painting'.

I'd read artist friend Natalie d'Arbeloff's comment on the show, surprised and intrigued by her major reservations, and Peter Campbell's review in the London Review of Books - subtle and penetrating as always. Their voices deserted me, though, left me squeezed and alone before so many pictures, among such milling crowds.  My small, hemmed-in response: still, yes, and always, seduced by the flat, insistent, gorgeous palette, the blue and turquoise, green and yellow, orange, pink and purple, by the equally insistent play of form and pattern; surprised and haunted, too. And frustrated, as ever, by the 'blockbuster' experience. Too much. Too rich. Too long at table with too many courses.

7 comments:

marja-leena said...

Not having ever seen a whole large exhibition of Gauguin's work, I'm not sure how I'd react. Yet I do know that heavy overwhelmed feeling from seeing too much art while struggling to ignore a mass of humanity around me, the 'blockbuster' experience is a good phrase. Too bad the dream had to mix things up for you.

liliannattel said...

I like to look at just a few paintings when I go to the art gallery, and come back again and look at a few more. Otherwise I get overwhelmed. I understand what you mean by the banquet too rich.

Natalie said...

Jean, how very appropriate to your dream is your photo of Gauguin's dreamer on the Tate Modern wall! Somehow, as I see it, she fits your description of this intriguing dream. I do understand your (and Beth's) enchantment with Gauguin and if I don't share it, put this down to my stubborn refusal to make room in my rather small pantheon of Great Art (yes, capitalised!). Unlike true art lovers, I bestow praise only on those artists who see/think more or less as I do in my own work. I realise this is terribly egocentric but that's how it is.

Jean said...

Natalie, do you think we have any control over which art moves us, and how much? Of course both conscious emotional opening and spending time and mental effort make a difference, but perhaps only on the basis fo the initial gut reaction?

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Jean, I'm not sure about gut reaction. There's also the place that art occupies in someone's life, in an active or passive way. A working artist is bound to have a more 'workman-like' and intimate reaction to another artist's work, even if far removed in time and place, just as an art historian or art critic will see and judge an artwork according to completely different criteria. If 'gut reaction' includes all of the different mind-sets, then yes, I guess it is essentially about gut reaction.

Beth said...

Jean, such is the power of narrative removal that I was able to feel a little bit of humor about your dream in the context of Gauguin's demons, though I know it must have dismayed you, as it would have me if I'd dreamt it. Your reaction to the show sounds like it would have been mine too. Gauguin has definitely had a hold over me all my life, never more so than when I'm in the presence of one of his best works. And a whole roomful was -- overwhelming. Glad you got to see it, and perhaps you'll even write more about it, about some specific paintings?

Jean said...

Beth, oh, I do absolutely find dreams funny, as well as shocking and, on first waking, sometimes upsetting - such extreme dramatisations of our emotions and inner processes!

I do plan to go to the Gauguin exhibition again and look at just a few of the paintings that most impressed me - I have annual membership of Tate Modern (cheaper for me, since I go often) so I don't have to pay each time.