“The landscape, with its pure, intense colors, dazzled and blinded me…” Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) “In nature colour is used…as a mechanism to attract. The Blue Trees attempts to waken a similar response from viewers. It is within this context that the blue denotes sacredness, something reverential.” Konstantin Dimopoulos (Artist, 1954-Present)
I recently took in an art exhibit, Gauguin & Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise, with my two oldest daughters. I had always been drawn to the style and vibrant colours of his latter works, and since Seattle was this show’s only stop in the United States, we thought it was worth the trip down…and we weren’t disappointed. The exhibit was a series of galleries showing Gauguin’s progression from an his art collector / friend of impressionists / young artist years right through to his death in 1903 on the Marquesas Islands. His early works definitely shows the influence of the emerging impressionists and although he was personal friends with the likes of Pissarro, Paul Cezanne and van Gogh (who he lived with briefly in 1888), he never really felt like he was a part of this new direction in art. Then at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris (the same one that erected the Eiffel Tower) he becomes fascinated with eastern culture after visiting the elaborate mock Javanese village and Cambodian pavilion. This obsession would eventually lead to the breakdown of his marriage and the first of two trips to Tahiti, which was then at the furthest reaches of colonial France. It was here that Gauguin immersed himself in the native culture and more importantly, the intense beauty of the natural landscape. He would become a gardener of natural colour, harvesting the hues of this strange land and fixing them to canvasses rich in culture and symbolism, so that over a century later, I could visit his Polynesian haunts with my own two eyes. His work here emerged as something more primal, less contrived than many of the impressionists he had admired back in France and yet he still managed to incorporate that unique sense of colour later made famous by such artists as Picasso and Matisse. In essence, Gauguin had found his muse in Tahiti. The exhibit also included many Polynesian artifacts of the period, carvings and ornaments that would have affected his outlook at the time – so one really felt that you had immersed yourself in his world, at least while you were in the galleries. On our way back to the parking lot from the exhibit, we stumbled upon an interesting art installation in downtown Westlake Park. The Blue Trees by Konstantin Dimopoulos looks exactly as it sounds…with the trunks and scaffold branches of the Honey Locusts (Gleditsia triacanthos) painted in a startling biodegradable cobalt colour. Call it coincidental, but I was really struck by the fact that it reminded me of Gauguin’s work, particularly the predominance of blue in many of his canvasses. I had to wonder how many future artists were being inspired by these blue trees, and if some day, say a hundred years from now, people would be viewing their collected works in the gallery I had just come from.