“I shut my eyes in order to see.” Paul Gauguin
I am forgetting what my terrace looks like. It has been raining a long soft winter’s cry, and the ground can absorb no more. The sky is either dark, or white, with no definition and no depth. It looks like a sheet, a backdrop, a blank canvas. We long for traces of blue again, spring green in the trees, and the full on orchestration of bulbs. A time when the artist’s paint box is open, the artist’s brushes are busy all day, and the world will pop up and come back like a diorama. Until then, I have to regard my naps as prayer.
How did this happen? A few weeks ago we had a burst of bright warm weather. I started the spring clean-up at our place. Now our lot looks at once like a “Before and After.” No sooner did I hang the hummingbird feeder then the temperature took a dive. Fortunately no hummingbirds in sight. They are smart enough to stay down in Napa Valley or Santa Barbara or wherever they winter. Funny how we northerners think of this as their base, and the southern venture as something they go and do because they have to. No doubt the folks down south see it the other way around.
I wandered into the Gauguin exhibit at The Seattle Art Museum (SAM). Did I say wander? No, I was called! Color shock therapy awaited, just as it had for Gauguin when he began painting in Copenhagen, producing canvases like some form of self-medication. Scandinavian and Pacific Northwest climates being similar in this respect. Gauguin was not happy in Denmark. A stock market crash pulled the rug out from under his bourgeois lifestyle, his marriage dissolved, and he left it all for the love of making art. In Tahiti. There Gauguin was essentially following his own visions. Not even Tahiti was as colorful as Gauguin made it out to be. He believed in it, “Pure Colour! Everything must be sacrificed to it.” And so everything was.
Instructing the young Paul Serusier in art, Gauguin suggested painting the colors he saw before him, but using only brilliance. “How do you see that tree? It’s green? Well then make it green, the best green on your palatte. How do you see those trees? They are yellow. Well then, put down yellow. And that shade is rather blue. So render it with pure ultramarine. Those red leaves? Use vermillion.” And in this way the art world took one giant step from Impressionism to Post-Impressionism: driven in part by the hunger for more vivid color.
I keep coming back to the hummingbirds, the ones who aren’t here. Hummingbirds may go as far south as Mexico and Central America and as far north as Alaska, always taking the same path. To fly so far and so fast, they need to gain 25-40% of their body weight before migration. Then they fly low, skimming over tree tops and skimming over water, keeping an eye out for insects and flowers… And like Gauguin they go solo, going for color.