October 19th, 2020
As today’s presenters walked us through Aubrey Beardsley’s artistic style — the strong, curved composition, the economical design, the transformation of graphic art through line-block photomechanical reproduction — all I could think of is a young man outrunning death. Maybe that’s why I’m not a historian — dates don’t stick (I still, embarrassingly, panic when I have to recall the dates of the Victorian Era, for instance), but somehow things like this do. I was struck when Paula said that Beardsley was eager to disseminate his work, to publish widely, because he knew he would die young from tuberculosis. This urge, perhaps a seeking of immortality or at least a recognition of one’s having lived by others, appeases me somehow to Beardsley, and when I go back to the work with this understanding, I see death, and so too life, in every stroke.
I connected to the work of my favorite painter, Jean-Michel Basquiat, in a similar way. It was only after I read Jennifer Clement’s Widow Basquiat that I felt a pull to his paintings. In them, resides the electric, charming, and often cruel man. The kind of man who would walk the halls of MoMA, sprinkling water in crooks and crannies as a ritual.