Thursday, 10 March 2016


by Sea Dean after Paul Gaugin
16" x 20" Gallery Wrap Canvas

"Don't copy nature too literally. Art is an abstraction. Derive it from nature as you dream in nature's presence, and think more about the act of creation than the outcome."                   PAUL GAUGIN
About ten years ago I had the good fortune to visit French Polynesia and of course included visiingt the Gaugin Museum which was expensive and difficult to get to. I'm glad I did. As for the rest of the islands, they still feel remote and wild. The Polynesian people are delightful and beautiful and I can see what drew Gaugin there.

Recently I received a request for a tropical landscape by Gaugin. I'm always happy to receive a commission for a master work. Sometimes I can suggest a painting and other times the patron is very specific. In this case the painting was to reflect the owner's tropical garden. We thought it would be easy to find a luscious landscape, but we were wrong. Most of Gaugins Tahiti paintings are filled with scantily clad Polynesians and so are the later Marquesas and Martinique works. We viewed over 500 works debating whether to leave out figures and animals, but this early landscape seemed the best choice.
In 1891 Paul Gaugin moved to Tahiti and in 1893 he completed this view of the center of Papeete.
As Gaugin was a newcomer, he was having difficulty finding life models, hence a landscape without people.

Gaugin worked with unique paint which had most of the oil removed and a touch of turpentine added to create a gritty glaze. This meant he could use many layers and it would dry fast. However, this paint and the available surfaces, deteriorated more rapidly than most. So unless a Gaugin painting has been extensively restored, it is often faded and flaky, which makes it difficult to determine it's state when new.

I had much cause to dislike Gaugin as I tried to determine the brush strokes, technique and amount of aging that had affected the original. However, one of the things I love most about studying a master is analyzing the technique and almost communicating with them. If you study a painting for several hours, you see how the artist used color theory and composition, how they applied the paint and worked through various challenges as they progressed.

I've worked with Gaugin before, but this was him soon after he stepped off the boat, struggling with climate, supplies, studio conditions and the birthing process of his new technique.I discovered that he began with painting rough outlines in a dark colour, possibly deep crimson or burnt sienna. He then filled in the sections, constantly returning to areas to adjust the tone or color. He didn't thoroughly cover the previous color, but added thin washes with rapid vertical brush strokes. It seems like he was working feverishly, dancing from one spot to another, using a brush load in several areas, then creating a different unique color and using that throughout the painting, until the many layers of slightly transparent paint captured light and created unusual hues. Gaugin must be one of the most difficult artist to forge for this very reason.

I'm not interested in forging, which is illegal and much more complex than just studying a public domain art work. Forging involves recreating the exact same paint, finding canvas or substrate of the same age, falsifying signatures etc. I am doing what I learned in Art School, which is trying to get close to a master artist through hands on study. When that magic moments occurs it ls blissful to draw back the curtain to another world .... the history of a famous painting.