Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Gauguin: Off the Beaten Track Review (Maximilien Le Roy, Christophe Gaultier)

The celebrated French primitivist artist Paul Gauguin took himself to the ends of the earth in the final years of his life, ending up in French Polynesia where he painted his famous Tahitian paintings before dying in 1903 at the age of 55. Writer Maximilien Le Roy and artist Christophe Gaultier show the reader Gauguin’s day to day life during these times in their pretty decent comic, Gauguin: Off the Beaten Track.

Gaultier’s colourful, appealing and eye-catching art is the best part of the book and the style feels appropriately similar to Gauguin’s too. The comic is somewhat informative if you don’t know much about Gauguin’s life like me - Le Roy shows him as an iconoclast, standing up for the Tahitian natives against the French government (particularly the gendarmes whose slander case against Gauguin would prove successful in court) and thumbing his nose at Christian missionaries. The latter he did by hosting debauched parties in his “House of Pleasure” where he drank and slept around with the native girls. His lesser known artistic efforts like sculpting and writing are highlighted too. 

Some context would’ve been preferable but I understand why Le Roy chose not to include any given that this is exclusively about Gauguin’s last days. And I would’ve liked to have known what was up with the leg injuries that plague him throughout - how did that happen? I appreciate the unobtrusive narrator choice and showing not telling but some notes at the back of the comic wouldn’t have gone amiss. 

There’s no real story here, it’s more of a gently moving portrait of the artist’s final days which is both occasionally interesting and mundane in equal measure. At any rate, as Andre Gide once said: “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore,” and in daring to live an unconventional life off the beaten track, a world away from Western civilisation, Gauguin found the inspiration to create his greatest art - we should all be so brave. 

Gauguin: Off the Beaten Track is a fine, if unexciting and sometimes opaque, comic about Paul Gauguin’s final days - worth a look if you’re interested in the artist.

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