My Life as a Gothic Novel

Jean-Marie Poumeyrol
Jean-Marie Poumeyrol

My room is strewn with the detritus
Of my attempted past lives:
The deadmens suits of discarded personas,
Soiled with sweat and stained at the crotch;
On the floor lie at succession of cracked masks,
Obscuring chalk drawings of circles and pentagrams,
The walls are lined with shattered mirrors
A procession of refracted images
Which if superimposed would reveal
To everyone interested a detailed confession
Of my life as a Gothic novel:
The sad eyes heavy with unquiet sleep
Stare back at me unfocused,
People used to say I was bleakly handsome
And though I couldn’t quite see it myself
I took them at their word,
Ran with this perception and granted it half a reality
But is this any excuse for such overweening vanity,
Because looks are always waving goodbye
In the darkening glass as the autumnal light fades.

The rain is soon to set in,
I doubt it will stop until after journey’s end.

Venus Descending

Dorothea Tanning-Voltage 1942
Dorothea Tanning-Voltage 1942

Watching from the balcony of the hotel room
as the heavens are roused from the operating table
after a long coma induced by a junkie anaesthetist
the wild eyed planets are out of sync, unaligned
dying stars radiate their baleful influence
motionless waves frozen smooth as panes of glass
we intuitively understand what this stillness signifies
so let’s down this bottle, the last of the champagne
negligently toss the empties onto the street
step inside, close the curtains, turn off the lights
hastily fumble with underclothes and clasps
you’re needling kisses are more suggestive
of bite marks and deep wounding scratches
that infect immediately with a vivid fighting fever
hopefully there is time enough left to stake
out exclusive territories of mutual antagonism
time enough for you to taunt me with infidelities
for me to tease you with my wanton indifference
to tie each other up in exquisitely painful knots
bound together by our hatred occasioned by passion
that exhilarates to the point of total exhaustion
let the world go to its doom, why pretend to care
about some misty future when we have this moment
a moment of sleek skins pressing each other slickly
a moment of merging mouths breathing in fumes
why lose this moment stretching towards eternity
when before we were alone on separate islands
calling out to each other as we stumbled and fell
over roots hidden in the treacherous undergrowth
this moment when we have discovered each other
if you move over a little and lie back I will continue
we still have time enough for one last big fight
before we fuck again, die a little death before
the grand operatic finale scored by some bombast
and as I repose supine I see you as Venus descending
with a movement fluid yet infinitely heart breaking
flaring up with a sudden intensity that I cannot contain
even as I hold down your head and grab the rope
of your tangled unruly tresses flowing over my thighs
and at long last I let the universe and everything
dissolve in the flash of illuminating blinding white light.

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion c.1944 by Francis Bacon 1909-1992
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion c.1944 Francis Bacon 

In 1936 the painter and art dealer Roland Penrose (also later the husband of Lee Miller) and the art critic Herbert Read, who were organising the International Surrealist Exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries, decided to pay a visit to the studios of the Irish born painter Francis Bacon in Chelsea. Bacon showed them four large canvases but the visitors were underwhelmed, to say the least. Penrose declared that they were insufficiently surreal to be included and is reported to have told Francis, “Mr. Bacon, don’t you realise a lot has happened in painting since the Impressionists?”.

However much this must have stung, Francis Bacon apparently agreed with Penrose’s assessment as he would later, when very famous, ruthlessly suppress any pieces that pre-dated his breakthrough painting Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion of 1944; that is to say, that any painting produced before he had engaged, assimilated and felt in a position to response in a highly personal way to the great Continental European avant-garde currents (including, naturally enough, Surrealism), were to be excluded from his oeuvre. Quite rightly so, as the critic John Russell noted, “there was painting in England before the Three Studies, and painting after them, and no one…can confuse the two,” which of course extended to Bacon’s own work.

Painted on Sundeala boards, a cheap alternative to canvas, used frequently by Bacon as he was often short of money due to his heavy drinking and lifelong gambling habit, Three Studies presents three nightmarish figures, Bacon’s horror take on Picasso’s biomorphs, with elongated necks and distended mouths, against a lurid, harsh, burnt orange background. Christ and the two thieves crucified have been transformed into the Furies. Bacon admitted to having been obsessed by the phrase in Aeschylus, “the reek of human blood smiles out at me”, and in a sense Three Studies is a raw, visceral, pictorial actualisation of such a striking and terrifying line. After all, Bacon was the best exemplifier of the Bataillean aesthetic in the visual arts; the body as meat, the world as an abattoir, the endless scream of being.

Wallpaper

Mimi Johnson, Dorothea Tanning, Martha Johnson-Seillans 1966

This charming, playful family photograph of American Surrealist Dorothea Tanning with her two nieces Mimi and Martha Johnson, taken at the home she shared with her husband Max Ernst in Seillans, France, features wallpaper, the only thing that happened in her childhood home in Galesburg, Illnois, prominently.

In several of her works, noticeably Children’s Games and the final masterpiece of Surrealism, Room 202, Poppy Hotel, the wallpaper conveys a sense of menace bordering on horror. In her concentration on claustrophobic domestic spaces Tanning anticipated a whole wave of female artists, noticeably the photography of Francesca Woodman.

Dorothea Tanning-Children's Games 1942
Dorothea Tanning-Children’s Games 1942
Francesca Woodman, From Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976
Francesca Woodman, From Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 

 

 

 

The Dog

goya_dog1
Francisco Goya-The Dog 1819-1823

The Dog is one of the fourteen Pinturas Negras (Black Paintings, see Painting It Black) that Goya painted in his house outside Madrid towards the end of his life. The Dog conveys a sense of sublimity, terror and an unbearable pathos with an enviable simplicity.

The painting is divided in two unequal parts: a dirty ochre above and a dark brown below. There has been much debate regarding the origin of the shadow to the right of the painting, and whether it is intentional, however it probably was the previous design on the wall which Goya painted over. Staring upward into the vastness of the sky is the dog, alone and apparently sinking into the quicksand of the earth. All the heart-break and despair involved in terrestrial existence is concentrated in the expression of mute appeal of the dog  as he searches the heavens for a sign of a return of his varnished master.

The Dog has been called the first Symbolist painting  and was held in particular high regard by Picasso and Joan Miro.