One move in a series of actions I’ve been taking to advance my progression in getting my act together this year was contributing an illustrated article for our Student Union’s Magazine, NEST. The next edition had a science fiction theme, which I was very ready to get behind, and each issue has an ‘Interview with a Dead Artist’ article, so I took this as an excuse to reanimate one of my very favourite artists, and bother him with pointless questions.
Thumbnail sketches working on the beautiful Beardsley face:
Whistler’s Peacock Room, which he raved about once upon a time:
I’d been trying hard to push myself into action in illustration for a long time. With this drawing, I wanted to try out the methods outlined by Yuko Shimizu on her website. It felt good.
This was also a good opportunity to exercise writing. I talk a lot about how I’d like to write more, and more disciplined, formalised, sensible writing. I tried, and did this:
Recent attempts to bring cohesion to our increasingly fragmented world have resulted in collaborations between the Military Forces and the Arts Council. One such project – Operation RE:BOOT – revisited the experiments in reanimation first pioneered by Giovanni Aldini in the 17th century, and was largely successful in its mission of bringing back to life a number of influential artists from different major artistic movements of the past two centuries.
Nest speaks to Aubrey Beardsley, an important figure of the Art Nouveau period who used his revolutionary stylistic methods to explore the decadence, pomp, and often condemnable subject matter of his natural lifetime, at the close of the 19th century. The artist has taken up residence in Whistler’s Peacock Room, and requests at all times to be addressed as ‘Monsieur Beardsley’.
N: Your work, your choice of subject matter, at that time was incredibly brave. How did you deal with the damning reviews and overwhelmingly hostile reception of some of your more risqué work?
AB: I lapsed into depression, again and again, and often that would go hand-in-hand with episodes of blood-spitting. However, after a time I came to understand that one may affect cool indifference and mask despair; moulding that outward cast to a befitting shape, and feeding on the attentions of your critics. Sensationalism is a stimulant not solely for the audience. Though your generation may find it much more difficult to produce even murmurings of novelty.
N: Do you have any advice to give to the students of LCA on being successful in the art world?
AB: What can I relate? The atmosphere of our fin-de-siècle was potent, tangible, and we posed our questions or solutions as befitting the time, but that century was long ago. Yours is simply madness to these poor eyes. How could I advise you here?
N: What do you make of the state of the world today in comparison to that which you left over one hundred years ago?
AB: Being here, I feel nothing more than a minor character Dante never cared to bring beyond his Inferno. This torturous dismemberment from everything I had known and loved, only to be positioned here; some godforsaken fortune-telling box, answering drivelous questions that wound me deeper and deeper still, an excruciating and constant reminder of this fallacy of an existence, all to ‘bring about a greater understanding of my work’, ‘establish direct contact for future art’s inspiration’. This is nothing more than a final drastic and sordid attempt to peer behind the lace-trimmed curtain of my bedchamber to see what demons I did keep as bedfellows.
N: You were Catholic-born, and returned to the religion at the end of your life. How was that possible for you – mentally, spiritually – returning to your childhood beliefs at twenty-five years old? Secondly, what do you believe today?
AB: My life was plagued by frightfully common fears – illness, hatred, debt – but I lived. My death I do not remember so much, but to be welcomed into the arms of a Heavenly Father whose embrace promised me an eternity of peace was surely a calming respite from the terrible nothingness I was facing. I was not so painfully lucid as you find me now. Brought back as curio on display in this lifeless Peacock Room – I can see clearly that this is an overwhelming sin. I never did accustom to speaking about my faith in my natural life, and now, my context has made the task insurmountable.
N: I am curious to know why you decided to settle here, in Whistler’s Peacock Room, after there had reportedly been so much animosity between the two of you?
AB: Whistler’s peacocks are beautiful dead things. I simply wanted to be near them.
N: You contemporaries were famed for their sharp wit. Do you have any bons mots for our readers?
At this moment I was escorted from the room, and the interview was terminated.
– END –
I enjoyed playing out the things I’d been studying for CoP for this restricted, defined purpose. This bit was, I thought, worth putting up here (though I cut it from the submission for print as it was already too long), if only as a harrowing reminder of what I think sometimes:
This reanimation – this confounds any semblance of existence I had come to understand on my short mortal term on this earth. While I occupied it, I would curse the consumptive, flesh-made form I had been burdened with, and now that I am freed from the brunt of it, I cannot accept that I am alive, and from that, it confounds the very ideals I lived by in that time. It is a strange and terrible paradox beyond the powers of my brain, and indeed, truly that is all that is left of me.
– REAL END –
Reading through his letters was effective in researching how I might steal his voice. The affected dandy was a fun character to play.