Essay: Visual Communication and Cultural Meaning Research

    Visual Communication and Cultural Meaning: Research Project

Very early on in my development as an artist, as a creative person in general, I was always interested in the complex and the dark nature of art. The horrific and queer. My ideas on their own accord are just as strange and detailed, some have remained with me years and they keep on reappearing into my head so I can reconstruct them, enunciate them with further development.

Over the years, I find more than one art movement influences me, in reference to the current direction of which I’m taking with my art, and within those movements a number of artists. The Arts and Crafts movement, founded by William Morris, Art Nouveau, with the artist Aubrey Beardsley, the Aesthetics movement, or specifically the Aesthetic literature; a formation where author and playwright Oscar Wilde and Beardsley were collaborating members and of course; the Gothic – notably its architecture and literature alone. These four movements of art and design were interlinked, because of their usage of design itself. They were purposely decorative, and complicated; the artists themselves were intricate. That within itself is something I feel connected to. It asks the question as to why these movements in comparison to me wanted to take this route as an art form – was it to escape reality? Am I trying to escape reality like Aubrey Beardsley?

For example, if you look into the art works found in the Art Nouveau sub-movement; Rococo, every piece of the detail are based upon the painter’s imagination. The only perhaps realistic features are the people, the remarkability of the compositions. The surrounding central figures are mythical or supernatural humanoids. Aubrey Beardsley emulated this. His work strongly held a form of sexuality, exposing the sexual nature of the human body similar to how the Ancient Greek and Roman sculptures did from earlier centuries. Based upon the fantasy that sex could be permanently open and not hidden away, to look upon the human body as an art form, to expose intimate areas for the eyes to see – which in this day and age, is happening, has happened. In my early adolescence years I also was fascinated by both areas of the spectrum – I would draw mythical creatures and explore sexual scenarios (which my peers considered “porn”), as it was, as I saw it then to be inquisitive, considered it normal to venture into the anatomy of the human body.

An artist of the late stages of Art Nouveau, which I took immediate attention to was Leonetto Cappiello and his piece Maurin Quina, 1906. An advertisement for a brand of absinthe named Maurin, which upon its release – in response to the depicted imagery, was banned. The moment I set my eyes upon this poster, I was intrigued by the formation of the research of portrayal that was placed into this particular masterpiece. It spewed with history, mythology with a mysticism of possible demon/Satan worship; a reflection upon modern-day gothicism.


                      “Maurin Quina”, 1906            “Sanguis Daemn (Blood Demon)” – my art, 2010.

In comparison to my personal style, if you exclude the lack of colour, Cappiello’s artwork is considerably simplistic, minimalist; which of course, contrasts with the original nature of Art Nouveau. However, it has kept a reoccurring figure of ancient history. Outside of my love for art, I am drawn to demonology which studies demons within many cultures outside religious context. Demons, are as supernatural beings possibly the most rehashed elements of mythology today, far more so compared to other mythological creatures. Used frequently in gothic literature, the inspirations of the undead (zombies, vampires) – all of which are witnessed with the productions of early 20th century – 21st century horror films, and psychological thrillers. For instance, in Islamic folklore there is a demon of which kills human beings for their blood and flesh, using their body as a host.

Reason of course demons are so frequently used in the likes of religious text, folklore, modern fiction and art, leading to Leonetto’s work are because of their nature. They are commonly known as tricksters, jesters of the court. They are also seen as guardians of treasures, even messengers of Gods. A demon or devil challenges people, makes them question themselves. Their sanity perhaps, if you go back to “demonic possessions” which were and still are being blamed for simple diagnosis to various mental illness; Schizophrenia being one. Maurin Quina mingles into an altered metamorphosis, as mentioned, taking an infamous figure in human history – the Devil and combined it with the temptations of “la fée verte” – the Green Fairy, the logo of absinthe. A fairy, being a manifestation of a demon, only in a smaller form.

In a similar context to Maurin, where the demon has been taken into account as a swindler, when I approach aspects of various demon mythologies and bring in what some people would call, the “monstrous” side of the supernatural creature in question – similar to the horror film genre, there is no sophistication to the thing itself. This a theory played within Christianity, the fear of a temperous, powerful and sometimes physically grotesque spirit. The narrative, is therefore complex; whether it is in a decorative form or how a mind interprets it at first hand.

Another characteristic of Cappiello’s Maurin, is of how he illustrated the demon for the painting. It holds a coyness – a vulnerability to the pose, carefully constructed to imply an impish miscontrudeness to it – concluding that its body-language is a lie, toying with the viewer, effeminate in its stance. Unknowingly, had I replicated this imagery – despite being naive to the artist at hand.

“The Others” (my art), 2010

Never had I found a reference to replicate the posture of the creatures implied, it was simply through imagination and memory. Could this be a suggested distant “psychic” link between artists? Similar to twins theorised to possess strange telepathic links; knowing what they are each thinking? Could it be the same for completely unrelated artists? Was I somehow replicating Cappiello’s ideas onto paper, regarding my altered approach, and differed influences?

The creature in my art, was a “monster” from Others by British author, James Herbert – released in 1999; a novel about a man named Nicolas who is investigating into the allegations of mistreatment towards residents within a nursing home -only to find that the nursing home is in fact containing experiments, and those who suffered from untreatable congenital illnesses. All the while, with Nicolas finding out secrets about his own past.

What interested me about the novel’s narrative;  was the great homage to classical horror –  where such things as malformation were a reoccurring distinguishing feature. Beasts that due to their outwardly appearance creates a somewhat irrational fear for us humans. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelly is an outstanding story about such a phenomenon, where the physique of the creature is so primitive in the eyes of sophistication, no one is able to look past what it is. The experiments, of such similarity in Herbert’s novel are what people could call “demonic” in essence, due to their flexing personalities – the creations of the physician, like the monster of Frankenstein having to deal with what they are, trying to defend themselves from the scrutiny of the outsiders.

How does this psychological debate of the miscontrudeness of demonology and appearance of artwork relate to the complicated visual aspects of Art Nouveau, Gothism, or Art and Crafts? Because, with a visual construction of these movements, there has to be a mean of escape, like with my first question – are artists trying to escape reality because it’s so dull? Artists of such movements come across as solitary people, keeping their private lives in the shadows (whether it is out of choice, or the fear of scrutiny) and with doing so replacing the world and society around them with their masterpieces. Art, doesn’t matter what form, whether it is to write, to draw, paint, or to act out a scene in theatre; artists have this need to not conform to real time. I feel that the thoughtful, if not useless decorations that are squiggled into negative space, the Arabesque, are a means of the creator avoiding leaving the room of which they created their piece. Trying to perfect something they cannot perfect in their own lives; so they create a story with the lines; with mythology and monsters because it’s far more interesting than sitting in a room full of people and talking about nonsense.

This brings me back to the subject of Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley; two artists in their own right in the Aesthetics movement, and both skeptics of the world during their time. Wilde was a critic of Victorian era England, very blunt in his views and in a sense was incredibly truthful in what was occurring around him. He took to the philosophical view of “Hedonism” – a controversial view or was considered controversial.

It spoke that people could be allowed to express themselves, express pleasure and comparing it to today’s society, Hedonism evidentially exists. People have been granted to live their lives openly; for example, two consenting adults allowed to love, regardless of sex. However, at the time it was a questionable way to live, people who acted this way or allied themselves with Hedonists were of course casted out.

It was because of this, that the Aesthetic movement materialized in the first place; it was a means of the “queer” artists of the crusade (writers, painters, actors etc.) to co-exist in this little world that was hidden away from reality, the scorn. The movement within itself was the equivalent to a singular portrait of the Art Nouveau, a tapestry of Arts and Crafts and the architecture of the Gothic.

These Aesthetic artists had their fantasy built around them, and that one fantasy drew outsiders in because it was a different way of living. Work of the association was of course exposed to the public; getting somewhat mixed to negative reviews at the time; because it was showing the honest authenticity of the world of which people lived.  Wilde was an illuminating figure when it came to such; as he was the man that would force into people’s faces with the artists’ opinions and lives, with the subliminal message “We do exist, and we’re going to make sure you know we exist, we’ll even force our opinions down your throats if we must”.  A complete contrast to the reasons behind the Aesthetics movement, however, it seemed to work in his favor for a time.

Today he has a great fan community, including myself.

Looking towards Aubrey Beardsley as a very large dissimilarity of Wilde; impersonating the pacifist; a person who questioned the world, but decided to change it through art instead of speaking his mind verbally. Their collaborations with one another identical to the close relationships in history; real life or fictional; the closest comparison can interestingly be found in Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. In truth, they’re chalk and cheese, but amazingly, they were their own bread and butter.


“Lysistrata Defending the Acropolis” by Aubrey Beardsley, Illustrations to Lysistrata

The crudity of the visual can hopefully speak for itself, it shows immediate mockery, for this illustration through the eyes of a masked man, the mockery materializing from three women. However, expand outside the box, metaphorically speaking; and this one person is embodying the society around of which Beardsley had to endure every day. When he was well enough to explore the world around that is, for because of Teburcilousis, he was normally trapped within the walls of the house or his bedroom, hearing stories. Stories of which were interpreted into these designs, making imaginably humorous takes of what he heard, and in doing so exaggerated the scenario, because it gratified relief from his illness.

There is again the subject of nudity used in all of his work, which is a rematerializing theme within genres of Art Nouveau, a reminiscence of Rococo, [xix]Ukiyo-e (“Ukiyo” Japanese for “Floating world” in English”), two art movements that occurred before Art Nouveau’s popularity in Europe. Sex, whether it is found in sculpture, painting, prints, and literature, must be a gauge for a means of escape if you look into modern-day and ancient pornography, whether it is to see sexual intercourse, kinky foreplay, or a seductive pose (erotica).

When all of this boils down to how this affects me as person and my own artwork – I can base this all to one thing. I’ve experienced things in my life that has resorted to me evading the sourness of my relationships in regards to family and friends. The expenditure of time I place into the notions behind my drawings, and the continuous refurbishing of the ideas, the construction of the colour, the figures; it’s me enjoying time away from the problems which persist in everyday life. It doesn’t even stop at visual drawing, it includes my writings. Sometimes I’ll sit at computer, whether it is to role-play (I use this figure of speech outside the world of RPG, I take it into a form of a story, I put my heart into the characters). Or to finish a chapter of my fan fiction or original fiction; and simply type away until it’s complete. Hours go by, and by the time I’m finished, the day has gone and its night time. It just concludes that possibly, even for a realist like me; if I am to be influenced for such complexities, I may be attempting to escape something I am trying to understand. Reality itself.


September – October 2011


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