This is nevertheless true: I am a savage


Paul Gauguin’s Polynesian paintings are beautiful, mysterious things. In the 1890s, they suggested to the French men who saw them in Paris that traveling to Tahiti might include sex with gorgeous women, and maybe even men. What a Parisian woman felt looking at these paintings, I could only guess. Did she look over her shoulder to see if she’d been caught looking too closely? How did she respond to the question, not rhetorical I think, that Gauguin asks in the title of one painting, “What! Are you jealous?” In his own writings Gauguin tends to drastically synthesize the complexity of his artistic production into self-promotional statements such as, “I am beginning to think simply, to feel only a very little hatred for my neighbor – rather, to love him.” For me, it was a visceral-aesthetic response to Gauguin’s paintings, to their uncanny erotic beauty, that drew me in and sent me on a transformative journey of my own.

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