24 Sept 2017

Paul Gauguin: Painter in Paradise

Gauguin, Voyage de Tahiti lands upon our shores as a compelling welcome distraction to an otherwise calamitous September of hurricanes, earthquakes, civil unrest and threats of WWIII. Despite its languorous title, it promises no Tropical bliss or frangipani blossoms as it whisks us away from our daily contrivance and the Autumn chill for the Paradise atolls of French Polynesia, the backdrop to the last decade in the life of anti-conformist 19th century French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) who had fled modern civilisation in order to live the simple life, immersed in nature.

(pict source)

Few of us will have been aware of Gauguin's life beyond his enchanting Polynesian portraits, and the film by Edouard Deluc attempts to remedy that. Be warned though that any hope for a smooth, fancy-free voyage across lush lands and ombré waters sprawled below heavenly Summer skies is 'compromised' as our voyage is in fact a tale of trouble in Paradise... and this means dark clouds!

Soon the landscapes of the island merge with the landscapes of a troubled mind. This is no blockbuster, no special effect in sight, no big budget, and no unnecessary pathos. It commands however a certain curiosity and sensitivity on the part of the viewer in order to appreciate such a movie. Here we have a painter's tale of Paradise lost.

'Haere Mai', oil on burlap by Paul Gauguin, via Guggenheim Museum, NYC

Gauguin, Voyage de Tahiti depicts Gauguin the artist (Koké as the locals called him) entertwined with the man himself, who had rejected the French Establishment, relinquished wife and offspring who he could no longer financially support, only to get caught up by his demons and by Establishment again thousands of miles later. This is a tale of artistic genius, moral dilemma, financial destitution, a tale of redemption and disillusion, a quest for identity and authenticity, a depiction of mysticism and a rejection of the so-called civilised world.

Paul Gauguin could have enjoyed a comfortable existence should he had kept to the conformist route he had taken as a marine merchant and a stockbroker's assistant, but then there would be no Paul Gauguin the artist. He died a pauper instead, yet rich within from the life and travel experiences he acquired along the way. His frugal livelihood contrasts with his oeuvre dotted across the world in art places and private collections, testimonies to his posthumous glory and recognition. When he relinquished his privileged upbringing and financial stability in order to embrace the artist's lifestyle, Gauguin embarked upon the exciting, harsh, morose, unpredictable, temptation-laced, financially unstable existence at odds with the traditional family life, the picket fence and the prim and proper.

This poster features 'Tehamana Has Many Parents', oil on jute canvas by Paul Gauguin

Vincent Cassel wears Paul Gauguin's role like a glove. One of the most prolific, versatile, immersive French actors of my generation, he excels at playing troubled characters with heart and soul: the known and the unknown, the modern and the period, the suave and the slick, the affable and the utterly despicable. In a nutshell, he lives and breathes and inhabits each of his roles. Cassel took up art classes to get under the artist's skin and learn the ropes like how to hold a paintbrush properly and how to apply paint. He caught the bug and ended up painting for himself in his spare time!

From the outset, the film appears to incarnate French cinéma d'auteur in the manner in which it explores the life of its main character. The methodology is by way of a close-range character study, down to the minutiae of glance, heartbeat and sigh. It strives for detail, and an intimate - intimist - soul journey, a stark-naked biopic portrayal in its varied facets that distills the character with spirit and truth, no embellishment or happy ending for the sake of it. It soaks in the atmosphere and takes us on with it.

'Orana Maria (We Hail Thee Mary)', by Paul Gauguin, via WikiArt

The film hasn't been out a week that it is already being criticised for its lack of objectivity. It conveniently - controversially - glosses over the fact that Gauguin then aged 43 fell in love (in lust?) with a 13-year old local Tahitian girl called Tehura (also known as Teha’amana), whom he then married. The girl was a juvenile! A closer look at Gauguin's biography reveals that his private life was dissolute: a life-long philanderer who contracted syphillis along the way, which he then transmitted to his conquests. Some will wave it off as an element of Bohemian territory - oh lovely!

Yet not looking at discrediting the critics, it must be added that the History of France and the world at large demonstrates that however morally wrong it was (is), the mature man-young girl 'paradigm' was (is) no rare occurrence, especially in the Arts, the Royal courts and under certain ideologies!

'Tahitian Pastorale', by Paul Gauguin, via WikiArt

Digression aside, such straightforward revelations in the film would have dented an already morally-questionable complex, flawed character but a glossing over ends up as a disservice and as an unvoluntary form of complicity. Truth hurts, so does its misrepresentation by way of a lie.

Those of us who had been blissfully unaware of Gauguin's dirty little secrets until today, are likely to be left confused, tainted, unsure as to whether still respect the artist, or dissociate his paintings from the man: respect the oeuvre but dislike (repudiate?) the man. Artist and man being intrinsically entertwined, this is simply impossible. My only surety in this is that I will never look at the portraits of Teha'amana and her virginal, innocent girl friends in quite the unbiased way I used to.

It remains that Paul Gauguin was a creative genius, the precursor of Modern Art and a visionary in his own right. His Art navigated the troubled waters of his soul in a spellbinding way. To see and think of him as a painter solely is restrictive: he was an accomplished artist whose Art encompassed printmaking, engraving, sculpture, ceramics and decorating. His creations are showcased in the most prestigious modern art galleries of the world, including Guggenheim and the Art Institute of Chicago, as further testament to his worldwide recognition.

"Gauguin was radically creative throughout his career. He never stopped experimenting with new methods, and his art continues to fascinate because it remains unpredictable, contradictory, and enormously varied in medium, form, and content." - Artist as Alchemist, the Paul Gauguin exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago (June 25 - Sept. 10, 2017)

Gauguin, Voyage de Tahiti, directed by Edouard Deluc, starring Vincent Cassel, Tuhei Adams, Malik Zidi and Pua-Tai Hikutini, out now in France.

P.S: There is an interesting parallel to be drawn between Paul Gauguin and Scottish novelist, poet and travel writer Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894): both artist contemporaries from the second half of the 19th century, travellers and adventurers, who both died in Polynesia (Stevenson in Samoa), in middle age. Stevenson documented a particular segment of his journey to France as a short story, 'Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.' If Stevenson is still fondly remembered in the Cévennes to this day, it is because - according to a local politician and historian - 'he showed us the landscape that makes us who we are.' Such a statement may well apply to Gauguin too, in relation to Polynesia.

18 Sept 2017

Aerial Views of Bygone England

In order to visually grasp in one quick swoop the extent of Britain's heavy industrialisation during the 1920s (notwithstanding the fact that the bulk of its Industrial Revolution had already been through by then), seek no other evidence than photographic - and better still the aerial shots! Britain from Above has made this possible, not only for institutions and corporations but also for the general public, by releasing its impressive photographic archive collection (over 82,500 records for England alone!) which provides the tools for a spot of investigative geography and history, right from the comfort of your home. And fascinating it is bound to be to anyone with a connection to Britain and curious to discover the face of its past!

Beswick, Manchester (1927), via Britain from Above

Second to none, Manchester was once my second home; I spent 16 years of my life there. Naturally as soon as I came across Britain from Above, curiosity got the better off me and I sifted through Manchester's photographic records, seeking the familiar neighbourhoods I had lived in and semi-familiar environs which I had travelled through, worked in or visited for one reason or another. Needless to say that present-day Manchester bears little resemblance to its bygone self, bar for specific landmarks: town hall, churches, flagship stores (the Lewis's department store, now Primark), canals, railways, certain roads and playing fields, and the odd pub here and there that has survived the accelerated nationwide 'pub cull' of the last 20 years.

As shown in the Beswick ward above, like elsewhere throughout the working-class areas of the city radiating right out of its centre, row upon row of identikit 19th-century brick terraced and back-to-back factory houses used to be tightly laid out, taking up every inch of available space for cheap low-rise high-density working-class housing - which was turning to slums by the 1920s. Nineteen thirties Manchester was a crowded place; its population had peaked at 766,311 inhabitants in 1931 before steadily shrinking, in line with the collapse of the textile and affiliated machine tool industries, down to 404,861 by 1991, a massive 52% fall in numbers within 60 years! By 1991, the slum clearances and industrial wastelands were lending a surreal urban landscape, especially east (Ancoats to Ashton-under-Lyne axis) and northeast (Cheetham Hill to Oldham axis).

Ordsall Hall Paper Works, Pomona Docks and Manchester Ship Canal, Old Trafford (1929), ibid.

From such a bird's eye view, from such a height, with eveything appearing like distant patterns dotted upon a canvas, it is all too tempting to feel nostalgic and gloss over a time period that was actually anything but kind and sweet. Although full employment was on - except during the Great Depression, it still came at a price, even by 1920s standards: harsh working conditions, long working hours, low wages, poor health, cramped and unsanitary living conditions, not to mention the smog, a deadly combination of smoke pollution (from factory and domestic coal burning) and fog, creating pea soup, which plagued industrial cities with a thick yellowish toxic shroud, bringing asthma and other respiratory ailments and drastically reducing visibility.

Manchester Ship Canal and Partington Coal Basin (1929), ibid.

Furthermore, the nation was still recovering from the throes of WWI, where 23,792 men and women from Greater Manchester alone had lost their lives on the front! Extrapolate this to the number of households affected by loss, the mothers, widow(er)s and orphans, the harsh economic reality of daily life sharpened the grief some more. You can be certain that the photographed households you are looking at are testaments to pain and hardship.

Manchester's cityscape is industrial no more! Photography by Daniel Nisbet, 2008, via Flickr

Further Resources on Manchester and the British Industry:

15 Sept 2017

A Matriarchal Society

You may or may not have realised by now that our Western societies are moving full-throttle into matriarchies. Their manifestations are multi-fold and encompass feminism, gender theories, identity politics, equal pay, and body positive movements, all facilitated by the PC brigade, mainstream media (MSM), social justice warriors (SJW), the one-way liberal free speech and the art of virtue signalling.

Plus model wife, mom and feminist Tess Holliday urges you to #effyourbeautystandards

Yes, we are firmly treading buzzword territory here, yet instead of shrugging it off as some passing fad, we should be worried because the rise of matriarchy goes hand in hand with the neutering of male masculinity, which historically has led to system failure and societal collapse.
Change agents are at play in the remodelling of the West that we used to know as kids, into a new paradigm that seems at odds with traditional values: you are not losing the plot, this is all part of Cultural Marxism! It all looks good and promising in theory though - superficially - giving us the impression that we are moving into an egalitarian, fair, sustainable and empowered society. But take a harder look and you will see for yourself that we are moving into a fractured society instead.

Glamour model, drama queen, mum and a loose woman who rules her roost: Katie Price

A matriarchy is a society ruled by women, as opposed to a patriarchy, a society ruled by men. More broadly so, a matriarchy is characterised by female dominance over a family (microcosm), a corporation, government, or society at large (macrocosm).

Here is what to expect from a modern matriarchal society and note that we have already ticked every box of it:

  • Emphasis is placed upon the individual within society, for their own personal needs and aggrandisements to be met: me, myself and I! Selfies galore testify to the obsessed, narcissistic reflection that has been promoted, encouraged and engineered. The quest for fickle, instant, brief fame is on.
  • Permissiveness in society and emancipation of women are emphasised and blown out of proportion, misleading the young, the gullible and the confused into believing that with nothing being sacred anymore, all taboos being lifted, you can just behave any way you want, without repercussion! A society that lets go of its moral compass, that operates without bearings, and whose rules and goal posts of virtue are always shifting, is dysfunctional. Paragons of virtue, a thing of the past!
  • A society run on emotion and feelings instead of reason, pragmatism and logic, makes it volatile and unpredictable!
  • Questioning men's traditional role within a couple/ family, as the head of the household, bread-winner, protector, nest builder and DIYer. Questioning and attacking manhood, misinterpreting it as machismo. Men have it tough as it is nowadays: no male role models or mentors who can help shape their formative years (absent fathers, no close family members, fairweather friends, peer pressure, Mcjobs, unemployment, etc.). Compulsory military service used to bring structure, obedience, independence and used to be a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood. Besides the collapse of christianity and fragmentation of communities has also led men astray. Meanwhile equal pay between man and woman in the workplace is not a sign of equality; it is falsely empowering the woman by disempowering the man. It is also sending a signal high and clear that men are no longer considered bread-winners of the family and may be dispensed with. Patriarchal values are shaken up and belittled.
  • Breaking up the traditional man-woman family set-up and ruling it out under this newfound no-holds-barred permissiveness is a sure way to undermine both the male and the female, and break down family values once and for all. We run the risk of ending up with generations of confused kids who come from test tubes and surrogacy, plus those who suffer the consequences of divorces and illicit affairs. They will have no idea who their biological parents are. Such a confusion erases in effect personal family history: no more lineage, no more anchorage, no more roots, no more identity.
  • Promoting the gender-neutral agenda to kids: deterring little girls from looking girly (no more pink skirts and flowery cardigans!) and little boys from exclusively playing boys games (electric trains, football, etc.).

Neither male nor female: YouTube beauty sensation Jeffree Star

  • Metrosexuality, androgyny, and asexualisation: ultimately what we are witnessing is a blurring of the physical, cosmetic, societal, and moral characteristics between male and female. This comes to light as artificial intelligence and the increased robotisation/ automation of our lives are coming into force. We are losing the humane side of our human selves and turning bionic. Transgenderism is part of the transience of modern society.
  • Beauty standards are retuned and redefined. Sexualisation of pre-pubescent girls and boys on catwalks, fashion advertorials and in the entertainment industry. A body positive attitude towards obesity and its polar opposite might sound encouraging yet this brushes aside health implications and moral issues; it encourages the individual to pursue their hedonistic or punitive ways, not to aim for a balancing act. Sports and entertainment personalities are turned into heroes and role models (the Kardashians, here we go!) and given status and airtime. 
  • Empowering the odd and the misfit: as harsh as this sounds, it is true. Anything goes, a woman can be fat and sloven, tarted up like a tart, tattoed up like a sailor, swearing like a trooper, polyamorous (new spiel for promiscuous), woman one day and man the next, working traditional men jobs (as an army chief, a miner or a roofer for instance), proudly sporting body hair as a badge of honour! A woman is given permission to be unwomanly. Shun at your peril and the little SJW worms will crawl out of the woodwork to give you an earful!
  •  A lenient judicial system that fails to protect traditional values and puts women at risk, victimising the victim: 'She was wearing a skirt, walking home late at night, she was looking for trouble'.
  •  Any cultural incompatibility is played down instead of being addressed. Thus the incompatibility between a matriarchy and an ideology that is intolerant towards women's rights and liberties (ex: Islam), this being exacerbated under the West's open-border policy and lenient immigration legislation.

When males have been stripped out of their masculinity, of their role within society, they are left with nothing but asserting their masculinity through derisive cosmetic enhancement: bushy beards and tattoos. Enough said.

Men and women shouldn't be competing against each other no matter what. They are biologically different. Men's built and musculature naturally means that they are more suited to physical tasks than women; they also are more pragmatic in their approach to life's problems.

Likewise women tend to have an attention to detail and an ability to multi-task and empathise that men do not quite get and this is fine. Biologically-speaking, men are the hunters-gatherers (providing food and shelter) and women the nurturers (looking after the home and kids). There should be no reason for a battle of the genders in the name of fighting sexism. Men and women complete each other. Within the partnership, women bring sensitivity to men's sensibility and vice versa. Equality is about complementarity of the fortes and the highly-strung feminists out there who are pushing ahead with matriarchy are failing to recognise this.

Further Reading on Cultural Marxism:

2 Sept 2017

Mireille Darc, a Role Model for French Women

Mireille Darc was more than a French actress and a household name. I would go as far as describe her as France's sweetheart - and by the same token as the understated embodiment of the French woman inside and out. With a first name that sings the sunny South of France (my mum's name!) and a surname that is a tribute to Joan of Arc, you are off to a good start!

Mireille Darc, the quintessential French woman!

Mireille was a leading actress in her younger days, a valeur sûre: effortless, true to self, a natural. Yet her film portfolio might not be considered consequential by those cinema purists who shun popular modern-day stories and comedies of errors about ordinary life. No superheroes, special effects, Shakespearean tirades or costumed dramas in sight. What interested Mireille was to portray life as it happens, without artifice.

Mireille Darc and Alain Delon: each other's biggest love in life!

A word of caution: to confine Mireille to her movie acting days would be to rob her of her vibrant off-screen personality, philanthropy, grace and kindness, her business acumen, her second career as a successful TV documentary-maker, and her involvement in TV series and theatre roles later in life. The smouldering beauty was also a muse - not least to the love of her life, the incandescent French actor Alain Delon, and a loving second mum to her stepchildren.

On screen and off screen (pict source)

Mireille was driven: a plate-spinner, fingers in many pies lady. Starry-eyed and an award-winning dancer, she left her native Provence at the age of 21 for Paris where she intended to make it. She never looked back!

Unlike many of her contemporaries (Jeanne Moreau, Brigitte Bardot, Claudia Cardinale), Mireille remained timeless, ageless. She kept her slender figure, impeccable dress sense, elegance and positive attitude. Not to mention her fresh face, trademark sleek blonde bob, beautiful gleaming smile and a glint in her eye that made her the endearing mother, sister, best friend and confidante all along. She didn't let age get in her way: who would have guessed she was in her late 70s?! She kept her health problems under wraps, behind close doors, only for the very close few; she wouldn't have allowed it to vanquish her.

Even after splitting up in 1983, those two remained close till the very end! (pict source)

Mireille's legacy is multi-fold: she is a case in point, not only to young actresses but also to women in general. She shows us how to incorporate longevity into a career, stay grounded, focused, true to self, open to opportunities that ring true to us. Follow your heart, love with all your might, stay loyal. Stay strong and do not get mislaid by the deadly temptations of the art world, excesses and burn out. Ironically very few actresses paid their respects to Mireille on her funeral yesterday. Yet the populace was there, crammed outside the gates of the Saint-Sulpice Church in Paris: they didn't let her down! Mireille was one of us and never left us. She lives on in our hearts.