Friday, February 22, 2008

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
Paul Gauguin 1897-1898

Oil on canvas
54 3/4" x 147 1/2"

This image is the result of years of pondering. With many new ideas pertaining to the creation of man at the time, it is likely that Gauguin put much thought into this. 

This image is certainly a darker image. Deep blues and greens dominate the background while more Earthen reds and browns are found in the foreground. Everything seems to be lit by moonlight. The only contrast is a school bus yellow, which is found in the two top corners and the human figures in the foreground. The blue sky in the top-middle of the painting also serves as a contrast to dark, but not to blue. Our attention is drawn to the human figure with her hands up just to the right of the center of the piece. 

The narrative of this painting is a big vague. It is very panoramic in its width so you must spend a while looking at every figure and divided landscape. The story is of ancient man possibly making a connection to us in the present. These people are our ancestors. Represented are people, a shrine, a holy man, a beautiful day, and a storm at sea. This could tell the story of evolution of mankind.

Some of the toes of some of the figures leak off the frame. The dog, on the other hand, is cut in half by the frame. The background, as expected, continues off the frame until who knows when.

The images aren't exactly portrayed in a photo-realistic way. Their bodies are slightly contorted and their faces seem a bit lifeless, much like medieval art. The poses are rigid and don't convey much realistic movement. This is not based on direct realism.

The "thrown together" nature of this piece gives me a definite feeling of a man's imagination when pondering the creation of man and the whole uncertainty of it. On the picture plane, I would make this two thirds of the way towards realism, and one third towards abstraction.  The bodies and faces are real enough to be seen as such, but they are distorted enough not to make any mistake for a photograph. The landscapes in the background look real enough, but are still abstract in their details.

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