I have just spent the last two weeks in Papua New Guinea and Samoa, and I had a lot of time to think about what it would be like to paint regularly in these exotic locations--and for the first time I think I understood what drew Gauguin to Tahiti. As you probably know, before Gauguin went to Tahiti, he spent some time in Brittany and around northern France. I recall when reading his biography, that he was mainly motivate by trying to find a simple lifestyle, where the locals led a simple life and he could get on with his work without the distractions of modern life. Of course, he also need some scenery to paint. In the end, he left Brittany and eventual traveled and settled in Tahiti. But, why Tahiti over Brittany? It would be easy to assume it is the lure of the tropics and sunshine and light, but after my trip to Samoa--I think it is much more complicated that that.
This got me thinking about, what is so compelling about Samoa--that it would draw an artist like myself? The views, of course, are everywhere--as it is clearly very beautiful. But, I think, as with Gauguin, this would be too simple of an explanation. After thinking about it for several days, I have concluded that the simple fact is that Gauguin was drawn to Tahiti mainly by its people and their culture--more than anything else. In Samoa, the Polynesian culture still dominates daily life. The Samoan people are very welcoming and friendly, and they take life in a much different way that most Western societies. The need to achieve is not as important as the need to participate in the broader family and community success. In sum, it is a much more accepting and communal way of living--and people are much more aware of the importance of enjoying the company of others and life.
So I am not entirely disappointed that I have not been able to paint. First, because I know that I have learned something that will help me as an artist in the future. I will most certainly never look at a Gauguin painting the same way again. It is now clear to me that in painting in Tahiti, Gauguin was as much interested in the psychology of its people and representing the sensation of being immersed in its culture, than with style or technique. Some might say he went for the women and to indulge himself in sex. But, as a painter myself, I am sure that this was not his primary motivation. He may have had personal weaknesses--and indulged himself. But, he could have done that in Paris or elsewhere. I am sure he loved painting more than anything in the end, and would have quickly left Tahiti if he was not able to paint something that was satisfying. So, in my mind, his painting is not about the visible beauty of a place--but an essence of place and communal acceptance as an artist.
So there you go, some thoughts on Samoa (and Gauguin)--but mostly about the importance fo finding a place where people accept you and you can feel part of a community.
All the best, sixtyminuteartist.