The neighborhood is the Dallas Arts District, and Tahitian Girl, by Paul Gauguin, might just be my favorite piece in all of the Nasher Sculpture Center, one of the world’s preeminent modern and contemporary collections. If you’re wondering how I could walk past every other masterpiece there and pick out this, albeit comely, three-foot tall chunk of wood, well, like I said, it’s personal.
My relationship with Tahitian Girl goes back to a moment when my own sculpture needed just such a muse. And hers was the best kind of inspiration: affirmation, that the work I was making at the time was work I should keep making. Ever since, a Nasher poster bearing this image has hung in my home as a reminder.
It’s pretty obvious Gauguin had a thing of his own for this particular Tahitian girl, just as he was known to have had a thing for, and to have painted, other native girls during his years in French Polynesia. And ignore for a moment the David Levinesque caricature of a body, with its humongous head and monkey arms; Gauguin suggests instead a dark and sensuous creature, twisting upward like a curvy cloud of smoke from a smoldering ember in the stump below.
Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin was born June 7, 1848.
Paul Gauguin (French, 1848–1903); Tahitian Girl, c. 1896; Wood and mixed media, 37 3/8 x 7 ½ x 8 in. Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection, Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas.
Photo by David Heald