French Post-Impressionist and Symbolist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) had a notoriously difficult personality and wasn’t recognized for his artistic achievements until after his death, but his work influenced Picasso and Matisse and inspired a modernist style (Synthetism) and entire art movements (Primitivism, the return to the pastoral).
In 1891, in the face of financial ruin and harsh criticism, the artist sold 30 of his works and used the money to set sail on a 69-day voyage to Tahiti. He went there in search of an untouched beauty far away from “everything that is artificial and conventional”, but what he found was a land ravaged by decades of colonialism.
Gauguin spent the next two years painting fanciful scenes of the island and its inhabitants and engaging in flings with local teenage girls, which made him the subject of fierce gossip back home. “[Gaugin] is always poaching on someone else’s land; nowadays, he’s pillaging the savages of Oceania,” said Camille Pissarro.
Upon his return to France in 1895, Gauguin brought back some of his most fiercely original work. He was finishing his first-ever series of woodblocks to accompany Noa Noa, an idyllic (and mostly erroneous) diary of his travels. Though the book wouldn’t be published until years later, he presented the series of prints in a studio show in 1894. Several versions of "l'Univers Est Cree" were among them.
The artist used blunt objects, needles and sandpaper to score the surface of the block, creating a primordial jumble of strange figures and animals who writhe about on the shore of a tumultuous sea. The print was done in the style of a monotype, with the painted block pressed against the paper. It’s a vision of the savage rebirth Gauguin hoped to find in Tahiti, but could only produce from his vivid imagination.
Read more about Paul Gauguin on the Matthews Gallery blog.