The Italian conceptual artist Alighiero Boetti, as his onetime protégé Francesco Clemente recalled, “considered that there was a big difference between people who moved north towards power, order, and control, and people who moved south, away from them.” Boetti himself had moved from Turin, in Italy’s industrial north, down to Rome, and then, for a while, to Kabul, Afghanistan. But historically, this southward vector has rarely been the one chosen by artists, whose profession magnetically draws them toward courts and capitals, patrons and potentates. Paul Gauguin was one of the first to take the opposite route, and he remains the most emblematic and radical of those who’ve tried to flee the world’s metropolitan centers, submitting without resistance to what Charles Baudelaire had once diagnosed in his poem “Le Voyage” as the “Singulière fortune où le but se déplace, Et n’étant nulle part, peut être n’importe où,” or, to turn French verse into English prose, the “singular fate of having a goal that keeps shifting, and being nowhere, might be anywhere.” The story is well enough known: Gauguin, grandson of a pioneer of socialist feminism, Flora Tristan, was born in Paris in the revolutionary year of 1848; he spent part of his childhood in Peru (where his grandmother had roots) and part in France, before spending much of his young manhood at sea as a merchant marine and then a naval sailor. He liked to think of his Peruvian forebears as Indians. “As you can see,” he would later explain, “my life has always been very restless and uneven. In me, a great many mixtures. Coarse sailor. So be it. But there is also blue blood, or, to put it better, two kinds of blood, two races.”
more from Barry Schwabsky at The Nation here.