When I first discovered Paul Gauguin it was as a teenage boy studying art and he is therefore responsible for leading me to believe that Tahiti was a paradise occupied by exotic topless girls.
I was also led to believe in this fantasy, by being taken, when I was 11 years of age, to the Dominion, Tottenham Court Road, to see Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, (the 1958 Movie).
Not only did that film propagate this “myth” but the Dominion cinema also provided a live band, which included girls dressed in grass skirts, and men wearing comical coconut bras.
I am not at all sure what I was looking for at the age of 11, but I was already aware that there was Nothing Like a Dame. The appeal of Some Enchanted Evening, would have alluded me at that age.
Nevertheless, at this time, I was perfectly prepared to believe in the exotic myth of the tropical South Seas, and could not wait to sail away from my council house, if only in my teenage dreams.
The new Gauguin show at Tate Modern is a reminder of my teenage fantasies, but also of the established view that Gauguin was also a deluded romantic, and ultimately disappointed by what he found in Tahiti. Having convinced himself that his destiny would be to inhabit a utopian paradise, and an escape from western political consensus and the art markets, for which he had contempt. He was sadly disappointed to find that Tahiti had already become westernised by the time he arrived.
It is now suggested that in order to make a career for himself, which was hardly realised in his lifetime, Gauguin propagated the myth of an exotic lifestyle. This is an uncharitable view of Gauguin, because it is at least arguable that all valued artists do this also, even if, or when they pretend to do otherwise.
So why pick on poor old Gauguin who died far too soon and too horribly of syphilis.
Gaugin continues into January 2011 Check the Tate for Dates.