Friday, October 29, 2010

Some Strangeness in the Proportion

Enigma, Gustave Dore

Edgar Allen Poe's works have inspired hundreds of artists - the images arise unbidden as we read the stories and poems. A random Web search turned up far too many to sort through, but the oil paintings of UK illustrator Brian Pedley jumped out for their unhinged sense of panic and vertigo and their atmospheric vibe.

The above is his interpretation of The Fall of the House of Usher, and below is "The Man of the Crowd."

I've always loved Gustave Dore's illustrations for Poe's immortal poem, The Raven - you can download them as an iPhone app now. But I will never forget discovering the yellowed, oversize edition - the size of an atlas! ("elephant folios" I think they used to call them) - in the crumbling library of a 100-year old grand dame, the kindly and very old-world Mrs. Gray, our minister's mother in fact, with whom I passed some autumn evenings as her caretaker during my 15th year.

Dreams No Mortal Ever Dared To Dream Before
From Gustave Dore's illustrations for The Raven

In my own work (and life!), I've long held to Poe's prescription for beauty, as given in Ligeia:

There is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportion...

Graphic novelist Neil Gaiman has written a great little homage to Poe that draws upon that quote for its title. Worth a quick read for anyone who's ever gone off the deep end with Poe - if only for the span of a brief plunge into madness, death, and obsession - and loved it.