A painter chooses to colour the moustache blue. The question is why? Mrs. Cottard in Proust’s “The Way by Swann’s,” provides an answer, in the characteristic bourgeoisie way of talking through implications, while criticising the work of a painter, she says that to increase the quotient of strangeness in his painting – a portrait of her husband – he coloured the moustache blue. So, when a painter in an otherwise mediocre painting adds the incongruity of a blue moustache, that is , an aberration, a distortion to the harmony of the artistic work, he consciously or otherwise attempts to mask the lack of artistic fineness, which his intelligence must eventually reconcile to, by essentially creating a distraction.
But what if a painter chooses the colour ochre to highlight a human body? Like the “Yellow Christ” of Paul Gauguin. In other words, what if the painter actually thinks in colours different than what is the natural occurrence or association of colours with different objects.
The urge of the artist is different then. Rather than the presence of corruption as is apparent in the case of ingenious painter, here the artist is trying his best to prevent corruption from entering his work. He refuses to filter his mental images through any cultural sieve. What gets registered on the canvas then, is the relatively greater approximation of the innate imagination.
A way to differentiate between the craft of anxious-to-please artist and the raw projections of a mind pregnant with vibrant images is to assess the worth of an artist’s work against the parameter of variety. Paul Gauguin’s work is not just about glow of terror and awe but also the warmth of sensuality and lavish repose. If there is desolation in “Yellow Christ” then there is unmistakable gush of eroticism in the paintings such as “The Two Tahitian women with Mango Blossoms.”