Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) was a French post-Impressionist artist. Underappreciated until after his death, Gauguin is now recognized for his experimental use of colour that was distinctly different from Impressionism.
In 1891, Gauguin left France for Tahiti, which had long loomed large in his imagination as a paradise unspoiled by European social mores. There he created luminous paintings and small, totem-like wood sculptures that he described as "ultrasavage." These works were not so much a depiction of what he saw, they were an idealized projection of what he had hoped he might find. The artist returned to France in 1893, but, disappointed with the response to his Tahitian-themed paintings, he left permanently in 1895 and made his second voyage to Tahiti. In 1901 he moved to the remote Marquesas Islands, where he died in 1903.
His use of expressive colours, flat planes, and simplified, distorted forms in paintings, as well as a rough, semi-abstract aesthetic in sculptures and woodcuts, exerted a profound influence on avant-garde artists in the early 20th century, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.
Searching for a society that is less sophisticated and elemental than his own native France, Gauguin dreamed of a land where time stood still. A land where its people were still dependent on the gifts of nature and told the stories of their ancestors to their offspring. Eventually, the painter departed to Tahiti in 1891.
After weeks at sea the island glistered at the horizon like an emerald in an ocean of sapphires. Welcomed by the sounds of a thousand birds, the painter waded through the crystal clear water towards the beach. He wished he could capture all the vibrant colours of these creatures on his canvas.
Fascinated by myths and legends, Gauguin was delighted to hear ancient stories from the islanders, which they recounted as part of their oral tradition. One of these tales was about the beautiful Vairumati, a mortal who became the wife of a powerful Maohi god called Oro. Inspired by the countless tales from the South Sea people, the painter decided to explore the island, hoping he would find artefacts and other remnants of Vairumati and her bygone era.
During his island explorations, the painter visited a shrine on top of a sacred mountain. He was convinced that the large stone idol was worshipped in earlier times and got lost in his own thoughts about the island’s past. Gauguin believed that the monuments created by these ancient cultures for religious purposes and as works of art were inseparably linked with nature.
Continuing his quest to find some sort of relics of Vairumati that survived the ravages of time, Gauguin learned about the Areoi, a secret society of warriors who where the descendants of legendary deities and heroes. Devoting their whole lives to feasting and dancing, they were seen as the mediators between the people and the gods. Captivated by the tales of the villagers, the painter wished to meet the mysterious Areoi to capture a glimpse of earlier times, a time that wasn’t altered by colonialism.
As the painter left the village, two girls who overheard his conversation with their family, told Gauguin that they occasionally heard unexplained sounds coming from the depths of the forest. It was only at night these sounds would escape the woods and it were always the same deep humming noises they experienced. Nobody believed them, but they entrusted their story to the painter. They parted ways after they told him which path he should follow.
As darkness enshrouded the island, the painter followed the trail leading him to the heart of the rainforest. A small light appeared in a distance, which grew bigger and bigger with every step he took. After a while, he thought he was hearing distant drums and chants, but ignored it as he thought it was nothing more than an illusion. All of sudden, he laid eyes upon a huge bonfire, where leaping flames illuminated ritualistic dancers. Intrigued by the spectacle, Gauguin sat down on the forest floor and watched the spectacle, unbeknownst to the natives. Slowly but surely, he drifted away on the sounds of the hypnotizing drums. As the flames transformed into smouldering embers, the moon made place for her brighter counterpart.
Rays of daylight began to penetrate the thick canopy as the painter awoke from primeval dreams. Suddenly, a mysterious apparition with phosphorescent yellow eyes peered from behind the vines, looking directly at Gauguin. Without saying a word, the manifestation made clear that the painter should leave the rainforest at once. Without warning, the entity slowly dissolved, leaving Gauguin in a state of disarray.
Baffled but confident, the painter headed toward the beach. Voices in his head told him he would find the answers to all his questions at the place where he first set foot on land. As the sounds of the breaking waves became louder and the soil under his feet became less firm, he fell to his knees. In a moment of supposed epiphany he felt as if he was being watched and turned around. He gasped for air when he witnessed dozens of ancient spirits coming towards him from the edge of the rainforest. Surrounded and enclosed by primordial beings, he succumbed to their final ritual and transcended to an unworldly place.
Paul Gauguin perished that day on the beaches of paradise. Although the painter did find a new home, away from France, he kept yearning for a land untouched by modern society where the people were still connected with nature and their ancestors. As Oviri was the goddess of mourning in the early times, Gauguin made a statuette bearing her likeness. Later, it was placed on his worldly resting place where it stands guard till this very day.
The Amsterdam-based duo Wanderwelle returns to Silent Season with their second album. Gathering of the Ancient Spirits is inspired by the last years of the life of Paul Gauguin, which he spent on the islands of French Polynesia. The album tells the alternative history of his search for a land that is untouched by modern society and whose inhabitants were still dependent on the gifts of nature and connected to their ancestors. During his stay, the painter encounters forgotten rituals and the primordial beings which haunt the islands since the dawn of men.
In 2018, it’s exactly 115 years ago that Paul Gauguin passed away.
This album is an ode to one of the greatest artists that ever lived.
Written and produced by J.P.A van Dulm & A.G.A. Bartels
Available September 2018
Illustration by Floor van het Nederend
Mastered by Shawn Joseph at Optimum
Design and layout by Jamie McCue
Vinyl distributed by Juno Records
[SSV13] Silent Season 2018