Showing posts with label illustration. Show all posts
Showing posts with label illustration. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Visual Interpretations of Oscar Wilde's Salome at Delaware Art Museum

Salomé, 2011, Barry Moser
Oscar Wilde had quite a reputation as a provocateur in late 19th Century Victorian England -- and it's that reputation, as well as his wit and his sexuality, that people commonly remember today, even moreso than his work.

In the early 1890s, shortly after the publication of his famous (and only) novel "The Picture of Dorian Grey," Wilde became a success as a playwright. The one-act play  "Salomé" was written in French after a conversation about the Biblical story of John the Baptist inspired him. Wilde, of course, was Irish, and he usually wrote in English. He chose the language because of his love of France -- the country he would retire to after he served jail time for “gross indecency with other men” just a few years later.

“Salomé” is short and brutal, centering around a beautiful young woman living with the stigma of her mother's accused incestuous marriage to get stepfather, Herod II. When John (referred to as C) insults her mother and spurns her, she exacts her revenge: When Herod offers her anything she wants if she dances for him, she chooses Jokanaan’s head on a platter. Literally.

Salomé Kisses the Head of Iokanaan, 2011, Barry Moser

The Dancer's Reward, 1906, Aubrey Vincent Beardsley 
Salome was first published in English in 1894, translated by by Wilde's lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, and with illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley. The translation was more flowery than Wilde's style, the illustrations, compared to “the scribbles a precocious schoolboy” by Wilde himself, are sometimes over the top. In 2011, Salome was re-translated by Joseph Donohue, in a style that most agree more closely fits with the way Wilde originally wrote it in French. The illustrations for this version are by Barry Moser; the etchings, in contrast with Beardsley’s style, have an almost photo-realistic look.

The cistern, 2011, Barry Moser
The exhibit starts with Moser's work. This seemed backward to me at first, but as I went through the room, it made sense. Moser's illustrations, placed in chronological order tell the story in images. By the time you get to the last one, you have his idea of what Salomé was really about (the captions on the wall help if you’re not familiar with Wilde’s version of the story). Moser sets a dark mood, featuring a diverse cast of Romans, Nubians, Jews, and Nazarenes. The etchings convey the feel of a stage play, or at least the feeling that real people are being portrayed.
"Let me kiss your mouth," 2011, Barry Moser

“Let me kiss your mouth” shows Jokanaan, the object of Salomé’s desire, despite his almost emaciated appearance, refusing her advances. Wilde plays with sexual objectification — Salomé is seen on both sides of it, and she commands the power position at all times, at least in her own mind. After Moser’s interpretation comes Beardsley’s. The two collections couldn’t be less alike, but, while Moser’s etchings are stunning, Beardsley’s are not inferior — just wildly different.

The Stomach Dance, 1906, Aubrey Vincent Beardsley 
Beardsley’s illustrations have a look that more closely resembles political cartoons, and he was pretty clearly making some statements of his own that weren’t actually in Wilde’s work -- for example, there is homoerotic imagery where there was none on “Salomé,” and Wilde is caricatured more than once (and not in a flattering way). In a couple of instances, Beardsley’s original submissions were rejected for being too bizarre, sexual, or off the map; the Rejected and Accepted versions are displayed together.
The Peacock Skirt, 1906, Aubrey Vincent Beardsley 

Despite Wilde’s criticism’s of Beardsley’s work, the lithographs are quite beautiful and captivating. “The Peacock Skirt” look as if it could be a high fashion illustration, but it does highlight the almost detached interpretation, as it doesn’t directly refer to anything in the play. As an exhibit as a whole, “Salomé” bridges over a century, showcasing a great difference in aesthetic. Some might argue that the Donohue/Moser update righted the wrongs of the 1894 Douglas/Beardsley collaboration -- and there’s little doubt that the update more accurately captures Wilde’s words as they were intended. But to be able to look back on the 1894 artwork in conjunction with Moser’s enhances the timeliness of Beardsley’s work. It was both a reflection of and a rebellion against its time, which is something that can’t be truly captured in the 21st Century.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Modern Illustration Comes Alive at Delaware Art Museum

Vertical Hold, 2009        
Sterling Hundley (born 1976)

If Howard Pyle could come back, a century after his passing, and experience the work of the great modern illustrators, would he recognize it as illustration? How has illustration evolved, and is his legacy reflected in modern illustration? These are some of the questions posed by State of the Art: Illustration 100 Years After Howard Pyle, guest curated for the Delaware Art Museum by David Apatoff (perhaps best known in the art world for his contemporary illustration blog, Illustration Art). It's easy to see why Apatoff was the curator for the job -- his authority on the subject seems to come from pure passion. 

The eight artists featured have careers that span from the 1950s -- just about the time that photography took over as the dominant medium of choice for magazine covers and advertisements -- through today. The work of Bernie Fuchs, Milton Glaser, Peter de Séve, Sterling Hundley, John Cuneo, Ralph Eggleston, Phil Hale, and Mort Drucker is familiar, to varying degrees, to anyone exposed to modern American culture, from highbrow art connoisseurs to preschoolers.

The journey starts with Fuchs, the earliest illustrator in the show, and the only one to have passed on, in 2009. Fuchs, who grew up in a poor coal mining town in Illinois, came to exemplify 1960s illustration. He had the ability to create illustrations with photo-realistic detail, but, just as things shook up in American society, his work evolved into a more impressionistic, experimental style, while still retaining much of the technique that Pyle would recognize. 

Suicide, 1984, for “A Twilight's Last Gleaming” by Frank Deford, in 
Sports Illustrated, November 19, 1984           
Bernard Fuchs (1932 2009)

Glaser, whose work also shaped the commercial art world in the 1960s, took a different tack; he was not a photo-realistic illustrator, so he focused on concept in his work. Shapes layer to create familiar images, some of the first of what we recognize today as graphic design. Before computers, Glaser's techniques blazed the way.

Hermann Hesse & Family, 1974, for Hermann Hesse 1975
Calendar (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc.)     
Milton Glaser (born 1929)

The work of de Séve will be recognized by everyone; in addition to being a prolific commercial  illustrator with a distinctive cartoony style, he designed characters for the digitally animated feature film Ice Age. Original sketches are on display, as well as a video monitor that shows how far illustration, with the help of a large team of digital technicians and creators, has truly come.

Scrat, Character study for Ice Age (Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 2009)
Peter de Séve (born 1958)

Philip Larkin and Bob
Dylan go antiquing
, 2011        
John Cuneo (born 1957)

Hundley melds traditional illustration style with a "conceptual twist," with images that skew perspective and even use illusion to create two images at once, such as his William Henry Harrison, that captures the short-lived American president speaking at a lectern and lying in a coffin simultaneously.

Cuneo utilizes one of the oldest mediums, pen and ink, to create modern illustrations with fearless subject matter. His rich, lively style will be familiar to readers of The New Yorker and Esquire, among others.

Eggleston was selected as one of the most important artists working for Disney's PIXAR Studios, known for films such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Wall-E. Pieces include character drawings done in pastels, offering a peek at well-loved PIXAR moments before they went high-tech.
School, Sequence Pastel for Finding Nemo (Pixar Animation Studios, 2003) 
Ralph Eggleston (born 1965)

Hale creates huge, dynamic paintings with a fearsome edge -- some bring to mind some of Pyle's darker work such as The Flying Dutchman, but the figures are not only off-center but at times painted with parts of the head and body cut off by the edge of the canvas. His work has been used as the cover artwork of novels by by Joseph Conrad and Stephen King.

Nostromo, 2007 Cover for Nostromo,
by Joseph Conrad (Penguin Classics, 2007)     

Phil Hale (born 1963)

Finally, Mort Drucker's illustration is known and loved by anyone who has ever spent their allowance money on the new MAD magazine. His distinctive caricatures and highly detailed comic panels have become respected at the level of other fine art -- and original panels for the pages of MAD are on display.

Put*on, for MAD, January 1971          
Mort Drucker (born 1929)

It's an eclectic mix, and one that will enthrall art lovers and illustration aficionados of all ages. State of the Art: Illustration 100 Years After Howard Pyle will be on view from February 9 to June 13 2013.