Gauguin and the Bodhisattvas

Sebastian Matthews

Text (sic): Gauguin & the Boddhisatvas


Image: a scanned index card containing typewritten text, which reads: I remember wandering the Cambridge streets for hours, passing through the stations of the day, stalking experience with the tenacity, the luminosity, of hungry jaguars. We’re both mildly stoned. Slipping through empty alleys. Making our way unseen through crowds of lunchtime workforce (only a small boy looking up in wonder). Burning our attention into a pulsating bush of birds that, when I clap my hands, explodes into a fireworks bouquet. We bring the simple food of hummus and pita into our mouths and, ecstatic, pour water on our hands. ¶ We have read too much Castaneda of course, and would register low on the reality meter, if there such a thing, and someone Orwellian enough to use it. But no matter: we’re alive, awake in our bodies, having a blast. We’ve been doing this kind of thing all summer. ¶ The idea: to be so open to experience that it starts


Image: A section of a hand-assembled collage containing fragments of Gauguin paintings, notably including Tahitian women, statues of Bodhisattvas, flowers, human faces and eyes.


Text continues: coming to you, drawn as if by a great synchronistic magnet. &, if that doesn’t work, then take any opportunity that comes our way——part samurai, part Desolation Angel, part Hardy Boy. We’ve honed it to a spiritual practice. ¶ Now we are in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the day has faded into a gray solidity; people are beginning to stir from their workaday stupor, heading home. We’ve just stepped out of the long, dark chambers that house the ancient Boddhisatva statues. They sit in line, each glowing in perfect sentience; larger than life, all knowing, ever compassionate. There is nothing but to be quieted in their presence. Consciousness seeps out from their stone chests like heat from a coal stove. ¶ We have entered a brightly-lit maze of modern art. First passing under the Mondrian women (floating like angels), then the Rothko color fields (standing like gravestones), the Chagall skylines, the Beckman fantasia balls…Slowly we make our way to


Image: Another section of the same hand-assembled collage containing fragments of Gauguin paintings, notably including Tahitian women, statues of Bodhisattvas, flowers, human faces, and womens’ legs.


Text continues: the furthest backroom, to the wall-sized Gauguin. It’s a late masterwork, one of the colorful Tahitian women series. But this is more than an edenic study of native sensuality, a white man’s wet dream of the good life. Generation of Gauguin women are spread out across the canvas in a panoramic life span: a baby girl in the right hand corner, then various young women sitting alone or off talking in pairs, ending with an old woman crouched in the other corner. The canvas is made up of fields of greens & blues; women’s bodies glow yellow & brown. The size of the thing stops us in our tracks. Standing before this mythic world, I feel as thought I am slowly rising up out of my body. ¶ THIS IS IT, Alistair whispers. IN THIS EVERYTHING. I am drawn to the bare-breasted young woman standing slightly off-center. How could I not be? She’s Eve reaching up and picking


Text continues: fruit from some unseen branch. Her eyes are half-closed in concentration in the act of reaching. She is naked except for a loincloth drawn loosely across her sturdy frame. For her (for me) there is nothing else but the moment. The past and the future fall off to each side, rich with mythic significance. A river flows past, trees bend and paths winds as animals scurry under foot. In sum : a life flows from birth to death. But now, only this body, this piece of fruit in my hand. ¶ When Alistair walks up silently to wake me from this spell, I try to stay focused on the painting. I am no longer looking at the image as much as taking it in through my skin. Before leaving, I bend down to read the title. Perfect! The three essential questions. WHERE DO WE COME FROM? WHAT ARE WE? WHERE ARE WE GOING? about the author