“May the day come when I’ll flee into the woods on an island in Oceania, there to live on stillness, ecstasy and art” dreamed Gauguin in Gauguin: The Other World. While this is both a dynamic and beautifully illustrated graphic novel, exploring Gauguin’s eternal quest to find a great new world, it is not suited to every reader.
The latest addition in the Art Masters series is perfect for those with an art background; for students studying History of Art, Gauguin is a masterful blend of the influential and obscure that characterises the Parisian’s work. Consequently, this text is a painless way to gain an in-depth knowledge of his life and works. Even art fanatics will find value in the captivating Parisian art and drama that surrounded Gauguin’s life.
However, for any art-neutral readers, this graphic novel may be a bit out of their depth: this book is full of symbolism, rich imagery and so many ‘isms’ that it may leave the reader feeling a bit overwhelmed.
Author Fabrizio Dori is not afraid to cast the artist in a bad light: in fact, the oft-humiliating portrayal of Gauguin is justified when Dori explores how Gauguin abandoned his family in search of his imagined alternative universe. However, while the portrayal of him may be somewhat unflattering, from him consistently refusing to financially contribute to his family to lying to the face of his dramatically younger Tahitian mistress before abandoning her, there is something relatable, even admirable, in Gauguin’s constant financial turmoil and desire to do so much more than the attainable.
Other books in the Art Masters series include graphic novels on Dalí, Munch, and Rembrant, each artist having its own unique narrative structure and design. Contextualising the work and life of an artist into their imagined dreams and mental processes is an engaging and effective way of teaching art, which is evident in the superb work on Dalí. In this attempt, however, the constant use of Tahitian myth and imagery in Gauguin: The Other World, is problematic. For while it indeed was the main inspiration of many of Gauguin’s works, the lack of context and critical evaluation behind Dori’s depictions of Gauguin’s inspirations can be lost on the uninformed reader.
Dori plays on Gauguin’s belief that he was a stand-alone figure within Tahitian culture: the only white man approved by the Tahitian Gods for his attempt to portray their culture. Yet, Gauguin’s sense of grandeur is balanced out by the artist being forced to appraise his own life as his shadow escorts him to death.
Where Dori is negligent in the novel is the lack of time dedicated to exploring Tahiti and its culture. While author Fabrizio Dori may have been mimicking Gauguin’s own claims to use places and people for the sake of his art, his exploration of Europe versus Tahiti is unbalanced. Dori’s depiction of Europe is supported by multiple influential voices of the period. Sadly, Tahiti is not given this same representation.
This issue of representation does little to diminish the power this work has to communicate an entrancing story of an essential artist. Gauguin: The Other World is a commendable piece of work that exemplifies Gauguin’s influence on Modern art.
Gauguin: The Other World by Fabrizio Dori (SelfMadeHero 2017)