By Dr. Lori Phillips, Art and Special Interest Lecturer
A trip on the m/s Paul Gauguin is truly a heavenly voyage. In July, my niece Delaney and I traveled to the beautiful islands of French Polynesia. I was a lecturer on the ship, speaking about the art and artists of the region.
Throughout history, explorers searching for paradise have found it in French Polynesia. As they did for Captain James Cook, Captain William Bligh, artist Paul Gauguin, and the guests on the ship, the islands of the South Pacific have continued to surprise and satisfy. What is it all these travelers have in common? They were all mesmerized by the beauty of the South Pacific and tried to find a way to document their new visual environment.
In the 1700’s Captain Cook had various illustrators aboard his voyages to visually document what was seen. Since the camera had not yet been invented, everything had to be hand-drawn or engraved. Captain Bligh was careful to have botanical and zoological illustrators on his ship to draw the flora and fauna of each island. In the 1880s, only a hundred years later, Paul Gauguin took his first of many trips to Tahiti to record the amazing natural beauty of the people and their surroundings.
His use of color and light to show the primitive sensuality of Tahiti is now well known. Gauguin kept visual journals he titled “NOA NOA” for the purpose of recording objects and people for later use in his paintings. He also wanted to show Europeans the stunning beauty of these islands.
Paul Gauguin’s “NOA NOA” travel journals
What does this have to do with our cruise? We decided to do the same. In our suitcase we brought 25 watercolor journals and a few small watercolor sets. With the assistance of two very helpful Paul Gauguin cruise directors, Máire and Carlos, we began to set up tables on the motus to assist the guests in creating their own visual travel journals. The guests studied the plants and fish we all saw. We even drew the people, documenting both our experiences and our visual environment.
Drawings of the guests, July 2019
We thought other guests would enjoy creating their own visual travel journals. So, after our first day on Huahine, we arrived on Paul Gauguin Cruises’ private island of Motu Mahana off the coast of Taha'a. The motu is reserved for the sole use of guests of The Gauguin and comes replete with a floating bar, incredible snorkeling, and a wedding ceremony venue. We all relaxed in the palm-fringed water, sipping cocktails, and enjoyed a private barbeque served by the crew. Having set up a few tables of materials, we had about a dozen guests who were willing to give drawing a try.
Guests painting, July 2019
Bora Bora was our next stop. Delaney and I rented scooters and made our way around the entire island, stopping to draw the folks we saw along the way. There are no colors in the watercolor sets that could compare to the blues of the sea. The peaks of Bora Bora are not easy to describe visually or verbally. On the second day there, we took the ship’s shark-and-ray tour and actually swam among these fascinating creatures. Our guide was amazing and even knew the names of the eels and rays!
The last port prior to our return to the ship’s home port of Papeete, Tahiti, was Moorea. Moorea is an island very close to the Island of Tahiti and is every bit as beautiful as all the other islands. The local people were filled with a welcoming spirit and taught us to dye a pareo, creating our own design. Back on the ship, we held a travel journal class, and many of the guests painted some of the flowers they had photographed.
Guests paintings, July 2019
Returning to the capital of French Polynesia, Papeete, the guests’ curiosity was piqued. They were anxious to visit the many galleries and museums that exhibit the art of both locals and outsiders. Many knew of the beautiful travel journals painted and drawn by the artist Jacques Boullaire (1893-1972). His studies of the region's indigenous peoples can be found on prints and engravings throughout French Polynesia.
Our trip on The Gauguin was more than any traveler could expect. Perfect food, great activities, and amazing staff and crew. The rich visual collection of images and memories will be with us and the rest of our traveling companions forever.