Apr 21, 2014

Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel

Put down that map and get wonderfully lost.

Paul Gauguin, 1848-1903, died at 55 on May 8, 1903.

A large copy of one of his signatures (he was known to have about 5 or 6) welcomes you at the entrance of the cultural center bearing his name and dedicated to this loved, hated, damned, or controversial artist. The left depicts the Brittany period of his life while the right explores the Polynesian period.

Gauguin was called a plagiarist as well as a master and everything in between depending whom you spoke to. He was a lonely renegade, poverty affecting his pursuit of art and family life. He often compared his paintings to music and was considered a fairly good musician by some.

'Je pars pour être tranquille pour être débarrassé de l'influence de la civilisation. Je ne veux faire que de l'art simple; pour cela j'ai besoin de me retremper dans la nature vierge'. I leave to be quiet and to be away from the influence of civilization. I only want to make simple art; I need to steep myself in virginal nature.

In 1891 and after 69 days at sea, he arrived in Tahiti in search of that, only to find French administration's unfair treatment of the natives and much influence of colonial authority and Catholic Church. He left very disappointed and disillusioned. He returned to the Marquesas (Hiva Oa), 10 years later, in 1901 hoping the remoteness would help him in his quest of the primitive and wild. He encountered the same and identified himself as their defender to the extent of even defying the judicial and administrative powers up to a few months before his death.

Many questioned the cultural immersion Gauguin claimed to have had with the natives. Studies now prove that the names of his paintings and some of his writing show he was much more involved than previously thought.

The cultural center contains 117 legal faux (legal reproductions) of some of Gauguin's paintings. They were all done voluntarily by Viera and Claude Farina.

Well thought to be just a legend - finally found
A reproduction of "the Maison du Jouir" (house of pleasure), Gauguin's house and atelier, are found in the exact location of his personal home. Next to that home is a well which for years was thought to be a legend but was finally found and excavated in 2,000. Natives didn't use wells so only 3, including Gauguin's have been found on the island.

Jojo - Jacques Brel's airplane
Jacques Brel, 1929-1978, on Hiva Oa 1975-1978. His tomb is near Gauguin's but was vandalized so we could not locate it.

'Partir est une fête, Rester serait la mort'. To leave is a party, to stay would be death.

Brel, a singer, composer, writer, actor, director, sailor, and pilot believed men are nomads and that there are two ways to react to what you don't know: Say that it is idiotic or go check it out. He preferred to check it out and tended to favor other men who did too. His pet peeve was stupidity and he believed that stupidity was pure laziness, a type of grease around the heart and the mind. He sings and thinks a lot about death, not having very good health himself and knowing it is the common denominator.

He and his wife settle here where he is unknown. He finds that most of the money France sends to Polynesia is used by Tahiti, leaving little to the Marquesas and others. He fights for some more fairness: education for the kids, medication, books, dentists, etc. He opens the first movie theater in Hiva Oa purchasing two projectors and showing Bonnie and Clyde. Honoring the personal use of his plane to help bring mail, freight, and people to and fro, small planes here are still part of the Jacques Brel air plane club.

He dies fairly young. His work environment filled with smoke - It was believed he had lung issues.

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