This is the image that has put me in my happy place today. It is Paul Gauguin's Vase in the Form of Leda and the Swan, 1887–1888. And some lucky devil has it in their "Private collection" but was generous enough to share it with the public through exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. Through my 20+-year involvement as a curator and a writer in the ceramics world, I have had many very satisfying opportunities to consider the relationship of surface and form. It is an inexhaustible topic to me.
This image of Gaugin's work delighted me for several reasons but chief among them was the discovery that he worked in ceramics. Like most everyone, I thought of Gaugin as a post impressionist painter who worked primarily in two-dimensions. Luckily for those us in the art-consuming world, Gaugin's career as a stockbroker was short lived and he took up art full time. But it was art in all its varied forms that intrigued him as Shannon Moore quotes the artist in her article in the National Gallery's e-zine,
…Paul Gauguin (1848–1903) was in fact an accomplished sculptor, ceramist, printmaker and decorator. A new exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) aims to celebrate these varied talents, revealing Gauguin’s identity as an artist-artisan, well versed in forging innovative new methods. “It’s precisely an endless kind of art that I’m interested in,” Gauguin explained in 1903, “rich in all sorts of techniques, suitable for translating all the emotions of nature and humanity.” https://www.gallery.ca/magazine/exhibitions/revealing-the-artists-hand-gauguin-at-the-aic?utm_source=
The detail image of the vase shows a profound understanding on the part of Gaugin. The way the head is tipped down has an intimacy but the way the gaze is directed at the viewer is almost coy. The way the female form is integrated with the swan-vase speaks volumes and the way it ties in with its subject matter of Leda and the Swan and its tale of seduction is masterful. Gaugin has used the 3-dimensionality of his media masterfully.
|Look at the red-eyed demon looking at you.|
What made me burst out loud laughing is that I found myself wondering, "what if Gaugin in his artistic wanderings had become a tattoo artist?" Afterall, he did spend his post-stockbroker years in Hiva Ova, Tahiti, and Martinique. And the indigenous cultures there informed Gauguin's embrace of colour, nature, and an interest in physical form.
Now, I recognize that one of the reasons why my mind is gravitating to these thoughts is because later on this week I will speaking on the tattoo suite of portraits by photographer Ned Pratt. Tattooing has to deal with the human body, especially its 3-d aspects. But also on a visual level one of the intriguing twists that Ned occasionally inserted into the process is that the tattoo looks at the viewer. The subject is seen from the back or in profile. The gaze determines the relationship. And that is another inexhaustible topic.
|Notice how the lady tattoo on the neck is looking at you.|