I Learned To Love This Painting

7 Oct 2012

Note that I said learned—because I did not particularly care for or respond to Gauguin's oil painting Fatata Te Miti when I first saw it. I thought there was too much going on and the colors were too aggressive. It made me anxious and uneasy.

Only when I started to research Gauguin's oil painting techniques did I start to realize that the artist intended to elicit such a response, and that he was working through how to evoke a certain reaction with color and shape as he put oil on canvas.

Fatata te Miti (By the Sea) by Paul Gauguin, oil on canvas, 1892.
Fatata te Miti (By the Sea) by Paul Gauguin, oil on canvas, 1892.

First, the colors Gauguin used are not found in the natural world—at least not like he uses them—not even in the South Pacific, where the artist retreated during a lengthy part of his life. The large expanses of violet, orange, black, and turquoise are exotic and intended to be so. They evoke thoughts of a tropical paradise, and the warmth of the colors reinforces this.

 The "frontal assault" I feel when I look at the painting is created by the broad areas of color that, positioned as they are horizontally, but with jagged edges and serpentine borders seem to ride on top of each other and loom very close to the forefront of the picture plane.  

The repetition of the shapes also lends itself to the "tight" quality of the work. The jagged white of the ocean foam is mirrored in the purple sand or earth at the base of the painting and gives a sense that the land and sea are both closing in. The two female figures, with their backs toward us, seem to be fleeing as much as frolicking, making me subconsciously wonder what we should all be running from.

Delving into Gauguin's oil painting this way served me well. It made me cognizant that my reaction was somewhat provoked by the artist—and that shows an ingenuity and artistry that is worth learning about. But that is what you get when looking at the best oil painting art out there. You learn from the best, even if at first you don't know it. 

In The 75 Greatest Artists of All Time, you'll find page after page of the world's top artists past and present—and the reasons why their work is a cut above the rest. I gleaned so much just on my first read-through and I know it will be the same for you. And it's sure to be just the beginning! Enjoy!


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