Even before I took on the Classic Monsters project, I understood that all of the paintings would be self-portraits. Still, I feel that the flourishes and flaws of Dorian Gray draw some of the most obvious parallels to my own experiences.
Perhaps I'm deceiving myself when I imagine that everyone goes through a point in his/her life when s/he can relate to Dorian Gray and his glamorous Faustian tale. If you subscribe to the belief that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, public opinion falls away and whether you're loved or loathed, you can still see the face of a god in the mirror. On one level, this is actually healthy.
But with Dorian Gray it's a veneer and the true self-loathing, guilt, and shame are sneering just beneath the reflective surface, betrayed by ugly actions.
Unlike a lot of the classic monsters, I have no childhood associations to Dorian Gray. In fact, I was ignorant to his existence until a rather dull late afternoon when I was 19 or 20, sitting in a small, stagnant university classroom before a memorably boring history professor who looked like a soul-sucked Oliver Hardy.
The fact that I can't even recall the focus of this class (other than the broad term "history") is a testament to how little I retained of the horribly presented course material but like a glimmering diamond crowning a pile of shit, the man with no soul inexplicably assigned us to read Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, possibly the best piece of literature I've ever had the honor to read.
If Dorian Gray hadn't been portrayed so effeminately, I'd maybe not have drawn the connection. Instead, he was like the evil twin to the archetype with which I most identified. But it rapidly became clear that this wasn't some twisted Gemini to my adored archetype but rather a different shade on the same spectrum. I understood that not only was I capable of this narcissism but there was actually a side of me that longed for it and felt a wounded pride in it.
In darker moments, I wanted to watch the world choke on my perfume. This wasn't a personality shift or anything of the sort; I had been exploring these fantasies and absurd love letters to myself for as long as I could remember. The difference is that I was now conscious of how selfish many of my conceits could be and I actually enjoyed this awareness with an arrogance that overshadowed guilt.
Again, I feel this must be something that everyone goes through when trying to find him/herself but perhaps I'm deluding myself for comfort. In most cases these were simply unhinged internal dramas amplified to create a self-importance that the world wasn't giving me.
Dorian Gray not only explores every vice under the sun but also every vice that the sun's never touched. With my illustration, I was most interested in exploring sexual vices. The juxtaposition of Dorian Gray's angelic beauty and internal perversions creates the perfect blend for heartbreak.
It's terrifying and simultaneously exhilarating to imagine a face that's so easy to love masking a mind that delights in emotional torture. The idea that you could be the sacrifice of the night on the satin sheet altar to a god that worships himself far more than you ever could. This is the true horror of Dorian Gray and it screams in the hot blood of anyone who's ever been poisoned by betrayal and felt the strange addiction to that disease.
In my illustration, Dorian Gray is in a state of vulnerability; the chamber that displays the insidious portrait that takes on his darkness as he remains forever young and beautiful. To reinforce this vulnerability, I wanted to frame the portrait in rejection. Amidst the metal roses and thorns, lesbian faces touch tongues in a symbol of rejection. This is the coldness that Dorian Gray drives into everyone he meets but the same frigidness to which he is impervious.
None of the women are actually kissing as I didn't want true love to be anywhere in the world of Dorian Gray. Instead, he is surrounded by animalistic lust, damaged souls licking each other's wounds with poison tongues.
The women seduce each other, corrupting innocence with the same perversion that Dorian Gray uses to corrode the people he preys upon. But as these metallic women get lost in one another, they are oblivious to Dorian, unable to see his supernatural beauty, blinded by sexual longing.
A false sense of warm radiates from their physical beauty, creating enough romantic longing for Dorian to feel the thorns of rejection. While I see lesbianism as something completely natural, the women portrayed in the frame of Dorian's portrait are simply the personification of rejection on a sexual and emotional level.
Their symbolic preference of lust for one another over the crippling emotional longing Dorian invokes in the world around him doesn't derail Dorian by any means but rather serves as an unnerving reminder that in some dimension, his weakness is conceivable.
To Dorian's left, we see a statue of nude lesbians touching tongues. One woman's hand transforms into a barbed, dead tree while the other woman's arm transforms into a barbed root system. A metal snake twists through the branches, poised before a single golden apple.
The allusion to Eve and the snake are further reinforcement of sexual corruption and shame as well as a reminder of Dorian's misogyny. Likewise, the forbidden fruit here is another indicator of rejection, but here it is the gold rejecting the cold, dark, twisted iron, the soul rejecting the flesh, the love that will always be out of reach for Dorian Gray, lost in a world of vice and deluded narcissism.
The portrait itself recreates the first painting I did since a long hiatus. The painting, also titled "Dorian Gray" was actually put together for a Halloween costume. I went as the glittering, eternally youthful version of Dorian while holding the corroded painting under my arm the whole night. In the book, Dorian Gray's portrait is hideous.
As much as that makes sense on a symbolic level, I felt it was much more painful to have a beauty still obvious in the portrait but to have that beauty tarnished by the growing darkness in his actions. His icy, narrowed eyes are framed with a deep red, his lips stained and soaked with black poison, and traces of blood linger on his hands as he stands in proud reverence of his base crimes against the soul. Crying feminine masks vomit forth purple drapes from swollen red lips.
By contrast, the physical Dorian is casually poised, refusing to let his veneer of arrogance down enough for the symbols of his downward spiral and weakness to penetrate him. His thorns artfully tucked behind the ruffles of his ever-alluring rose, he stares out with eyes equal to the iciness in his portrait, yet somehow made safe with eyeshadow and mascara. He wears benign pink and lavender colors with playful polka dots, hiding the wounded and crazed demon just beneath the surface.