You may well wonder what on Earth is the connection between my small silk kerchief, hardly a scarf, showing vodka bottles and the colourful painter Paul Gauguin. I have to take you far back to the mid Sixties when my youngest child started school. Our two girls never went to nursery classes or kindergarten; they played together in a safe garden, had a swing, sandpit, pets, a den under the stairs, and each other. I was a stay-at-home mum in their very early years. Suddenly, with both children at school, I had a moment of rebellion, left the Monday morning laundry and routine housework and enrolled for a one year, one whole day a week oil painting class at Loughton College in Essex. I had done art at school but was now a thirty-odd year old back at an easel with eighteen year olds. Of course, the dirty laundry still had to be dealt with on Tuesdays, but what an escape on Mondays!
I have retained only one piece of work. Everything else was binned. I regret destroying my quick ten minutes sketches of a male model with beautiful make up, perfectly coifed hair and painted fingernails. I had no idea who he was. Only years later I learned he was Quentin Crisp, who would go on to write The Naked Civil Servant. He must have been hard up at that time. An excellent model. My oil painting is a copy of Paul Gauguin’s two Tahitian women, Nafea F’aa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry). The brief was to do a copy of any old master. I was the only student to choose Gauguin. I was escaping the housework; Gauguin gave up his ‘safe’ French city life as a stockbroker to paint and later after many travels adventured to the South Pacific to live in Tahiti. I felt we had something in common.
Tucked in the corner of my painting you will see an advertisement for a restaurant near the Gauguin Museum in Tahiti. This is owned by a dear friend from youth of my husband. Their mothers were close friends and we kept in touch with news over the years despite living in different corners of the world. After my husband’s early retirement, we decided to visit our friend and his lovely Tahitian wife. (He has an amazing life story which I will tell another day.) Of course, during our visit, we toured the museum, but sadly there is little of Gauguin’s work there. It hangs in galleries and collections around the world, but everywhere in Tahiti you see images of my copied painting, including the menu of our friends’ restaurant near the museum in Papeari. I even bought playing cards in the museum showing the image of my painting. It is reputed that the original sold for $300m.
But where does my silk kerchief come into this tale? We took a cruise to the Society Islands from Papeete on the small cruise ship Paul Gauguin and visited Bora Bora to the world famous Bloody Mary Restaurant and bar. Of course, we had the famed vodka cocktails, got sand between our toes from the sand floor and couldn’t stop humming Blood Mary and Bali H’ai from Hollywood’s South Pacific all the way back to the ship. Thank you John Mitchener for inventing the character in his short story writing and later Rodgers and Hammerstein for the musical. Yes, it was a tourist trap, but I would not have missed it for anything.
Busy Bee, Scarf Face!