This week I had the good fortune of stumbling upon the works of Franz von Bayros (1866-1924), an artist most closely associated to the Decadent movement which placed him in the illustrious company of the likes of Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley. It wouldn’t be fair to say that this was my introduction to the ornate and secretive erotic phantasy realms of von Bayros. I actually wear a T-shirt regularly emblazoned with one of von Bayros’ works depicting a woman succumbing to passionate lesbian advances in an intricate field while a wooden plank transforming into a bound woman performs fellatio on a winged penis. It’s a T-shirt for the post-punk band Entertainment and, though I loved the artwork, I wore the T-shirt primarily as a fan of the band. It wasn’t until this week that I stumbled upon similar works and quickly confirmed that the artist whose erotic surrealism I’d silently enjoyed was von Bayros.
A Fetish for Betrayal
I’ve often kept my own sexuality private, finding a mixture of sacred reverence in holding it close to my heart while fearing some sense of sexual guilt or humiliation if I were to explore it publicly. Without going into detail, a series of psychologically embarrassing sexual events occurred in my life from about age 7 to my early teen years and I spent a great deal of my youth finding it impossible to reconcile feelings of lust and love. I wrote poetic fantasies about the imagined liberty of being a eunuch, freed from sexual longing. In my shamed state, a sexlessness resulted in a purity of romance. I had my fair share of admirers in my teen years and while I often stoked the embers of passion with love notes in lockers, mix tapes, and poetry, I balked at pursuing anything physical. Often this resulted in the objects of my affection moving on to more experimental pastures and I was left with painful feelings of betrayal that somehow made the whole thing even more romantic to me.
A lot of von Bayros’ work reminds me of those feelings; trusted lovers reveling in devotion to a secret sexual world behind closed doors. Often when my own relationships dissolved like sugar in a glass of stagnating water, I fell asleep at night in mute anguish imagining scenes similar to those so intricately rendered by von Bayros; occult Sapphic bonds much stronger than anything I could convey in my silly love notes and amateur adolescent poetry. In my teenage naivete, I felt a coldness envelop my heart as I imagined a young woman with whom I’d once pondered eternity now laughing at me in the dark while her friend introduced her to a world she’d sometimes pondered but never known. Flagellating myself with these fantasies of betrayal became a masochistic fetish unto itself. Of course, this is simply a fragment of a picture in time; I had my sadistic natures and my personal perversions that I kept to myself. But in my head, I played this pure individual lost in a world of sexual traitors who laughed at innocence before placing it into their glossy mouths to dissolve on their tongues like candy. I was somewhat shocked when just a few years ago, I found many parallels in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.
Cold Mannequin Lust in the Decadent Movement
This blending of sexual confidence and elitism exudes from the illustrated daydreams of von Bayros. Though the lesbian lovers and mesmerized dandies seem to be enjoying bonds with one another to varying degrees, I find little to no warmth in the often grotesque facial expressions, distorted limbs, and twisted smiles. Instead, it’s the momentary brain death of a pornographic orgasm, a cold recoiling of introspection that can accompany physical sexual fascination. It’s a disconnected reality wearing a flowery mask of romance. There’s an element to these works where excess spills over into waste; aimless blank socialite horror on some frilly alien frequency. Yet, it’s as if there’s a wall of glass separating that world of fleshy explorations and at times that glass seems hopelessly mocking. It’s difficult to reconcile the touching warmth of holding hands with maidens seduced by vampiric dominance, writhing in chemical ecstasy while welcoming an addiction to betrayal with fluttering eyelids. I’m left admiring the work of von Bayros the way I once admired unspoken kisses in secret places, drowning in echoes of clandestine sighs between plastic mannequins.
Baffling Moments of Bestiality
Not all aspects of von Bayros work in the Decadent movement connect so profoundly with me. For its pure arrogant debauchery and further alien qualities, I can appreciate his tendency to include bestiality in these secret scenes. However, it adds a facet to his work that’s not personally relatable, despite my adoration of depressing juxtaposition. In some attempt to translate the odd moments of bestiality, I’m reminded of a scene in a Bret Easton Ellis novel in which a guinea pig wearing a priceless diamond necklace crawls amongst the wasted nude bodies of its benefactors. Perhaps there is some parallel of gluttony that I can comprehend but it doesn’t feel sexual.
I’ve been wanting to explore the erotic dimensions of my own mythology for some time but haven’t had the consciousness necessary. I imagined that sex would become more prevalent in my work around the time that I entered the cups suit of my tarot series or in the 2nd phase of my graphic novel which will focus almost exclusively on the sexual aspects of my characters. I’m sure when the time comes, von Bayros will be a huge influence.