During his experimental forays into printmaking, Gauguin exploited the mysterious obfuscations that can occur when an image on one surface is transferred to another. In Tahitian Woman with Evil Spirit, for example, he transformed a detailed pencil drawing on one side of the paper into a strangely atmospheric print (or transfer drawing) on the other. He did this by covering a separate sheet with stiff oil paint, laying clean paper over it, and drawing on top with pencil; the pressure of the pencil caused paint from below to adhere to the back of the paper, effecting the transfer when the two sheets were peeled apart. The blurry, accidental markings that resulted impart a dreamlike quality befitting the subject of a woman haunted by a spirit.
As he so often did in the paintings and works on paper he made in the 1890s, when he lived in Tahiti, Gauguin combined a motif from an earlier work (a horned male sculpture) with a detail from a photograph of an “exotic” locale, unfamiliar to Europeans of that era (in this case, a postcard featuring a spiky-haired Tongan girl wearing a beaded snake necklace). By manipulating such images, Gauguin supplanted the reality of contemporary Tahiti, whose culture had been desecrated by decades of French colonial rule, with a vision suggesting the primordial world he had longed to encounter there.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)