Marae Arahurahu once was a Polynesian site for religious ceremonies to celebrate their dead ancestors. Now two huge Tahitian god figures stand silently. They seem to hold court in their natural palace grounds. I am alone as I honor them with paintings. I have to paint them. One thought I have is that 116 years ago it was Marae Arahurahu which inspired Gauguin to paint, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
He questioned life’s meaning. And, so do I.
I begin to feel Gauguin’s presence, as painting drives me to seek to answer in my own life, Gauguin’s quest, What Am I? I am a traveling painter.
I review Gauguin’s impact on my tropical landscapes in Hawaii and, now, in Tahiti. I am often told that my palette is similar to colors Gauguin used – dark, tonal colors. He found shady colors, as do I. As I developed the tropical landscapes while living in Hawaii in the 1980’s, I find in Tahiti the same deep tones of greens, oranges and reds. The deeper tones influence lightened whitened colors in sky and water. Light fills the air and Polynesian peoples luxuriate in that immense sea of South Pacific water.
What I am learning from Gauguin is the love of painting those people – along with my solitary landscapes. Polynesians add another dimension of meaning. People can create mystery in a glance, acceptance in soft eyes, and aloneness in an artist studio.
As I discover places and people Gauguin loved, I discover his vehicles for metaphors –suggesting the mystery of soul. Gauguin did many sketches of Polynesians he found moody, mysterious and handsome. He built his landscapes to give people places to dwell. More specifically, his idea was to create metaphors found in glances. His people suggest the spirits of the dead and a legacy of Polynesian gods.
My greatest test, though, is to solve the mystery of Gauguin’s justification for my tropical landscapes – moody, lovely shapes of flowers, trees, leaves and waterfalls. I feel a pull to sit in his place and reproduce his vision. Then I have to stop and ask: But what is my vision? Can I paint an original landscape even when I borrow his vision?
So far, I can answer my quest inspired by Gauguin’s quests:
“Where Do I Come From? I am a wanderer and adventurer- like Gauguin. But I was not born to this life. At the same time in 1900, while Gauguin left his family in France to go to paint in the South Pacific, my great grandmother Bettie Smith Moberley was living a retiring life in Richmond, KY. I read in her letters her concerns over various family health problems. She held life close to her origins. In contrast, I have chosen a life of adventure and art in far off places in Europe, Asia and South Pacific. This is how I happened to paint in Tahiti and Marquesas in January, 2016. To answer the question, Where Do I Come From?, I come from people who worship family and honor ancestry. Perhaps my great grandmother also felt the mystery of dead souls- right at home.
What Am I? I am a traveler in life. I have broken the mold. I am away from my origins and roam the world in order to capture Paradise.
Where Am I Going? The answer seems to be that I follow in the footsteps of a French bohemian artist. We are in search of the Garden of Paradise. Ironically, right in my own garden, I stop along the path to read an old garden sign passed down generations in my family. While it suggests that truth is right in my own backyard, the epitaph for me is that I find God in nature:
We are nearer God’s heart in the garden,
Than any place else on earth.