Thanks to Maria Popova at Brain Pickings I recently discovered a whole series of Salvador Dalí’s illustrations for classic works of literature. Click on the caption to see the full complement of images.
Also as a bonus check out Dalí’s twelve signs of the zodiac.
Babel. Ink on Watercolor Paper
This is a drawing I did several months ago. I was inspired after reading Matt Kish’s illustrated Heart of Darkness to try my hand at a more literal illumination of the Tower of Babel.
Notice how Clarke “illustrates” the sound effect of a heartbeat growing louder and louder.
Harry Clarke illustrated many of Poe’s stories and the above image from “The Tell-Tale Heart” is one of my favorites. Clarke’s use of design and attention to detail allow him to contain almost the entire narrative in this one memorable and eery image.
The video below is an animated short film from 1953 which communicates the visceral experience of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” It tells the story through narration and a series of images rather than merely animating the sequence of events. Instead of being a traditional cartoon, the camera pans through a number of cubist-like paintings, focusing on essential details, symbols, and events in the story. The comparative stillness in most of the film makes the few sequences of action that much more striking. Visual elements like the old man’s eye are repeated and paralleled which heightens the sense of the protagonist’s mania. The dead white shape of the eye is mirrored in the moon, then a vase, and then again in the buttons of the police officer’s jacket. Overall this film finds a perfect balance between being innovative in a way the serves the source material while still being traditional enough to not distract the viewers with unusual form.
Matt Kish, an English teacher, librarian, and self-taught artist recently released a version of Heart of Darkness featuring an illustration for every page of Conrad’s important and poignant masterpiece. Heart of Darkness was required reading in college and to be honest I had trouble getting through it the first time. Perhaps part of the problem was that I was forced to read it from a massive Norton’s Anthology, and books are not meant to be experienced in that context. While I was unable to make it through the book itself, my professor’s explanation of it had a profound impact on my creative and personal philosophy. I had always meant to reread it, and when I saw this beautifully illustrated edition I knew it was the right time to tackle the novel again. Kish’s illuminations are the perfect companion to Conrad’s novel. They create a visceral and aesthetic experience that heightens the tone of Conrad’s already powerful voice. They also allow the reader to more easily follow all of the repeating images and motifs of the story. This combination of art and literature allows Conrad’s message to more immediately and more thoroughly permeate the reader and serves as a wonderful example of the possibilities for modern illumination.
While the bright colorful images may at first seem to jar with the tone of a book called Heart of Darkness, they in fact only serve to highlight that evil happens under the sun as well as under the cover of night. Furthermore, the garish and sickly colors create a strong feeling of disease and corruption which fits excellently with the themes of the story. Kish’s introduction to the book describes his creative process and explains the different aesthetic decisions he made while illustrating Heart of Darkness.
You can read what Kish has to say about his work here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matt-kish/on-my-illustrated-edition_b_4273506.html
“O miserable cities of designing men.”
“They constantly try to escape from the darkness outside and within by dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.”
I. “O miserable cities of designing men.”
II. “They constantly try to escape from the darkness outside and within by dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.”
These two pieces are part of my “Choruses from the Rock” series and both titles are lines from the poem. However, they are not meant to illuminate T.S. Eliot’s work, rather they serve as a response to the six months I spent in Tokyo. By alluding to the poem and referencing my own experiences, I hope to both deepen the meaning of Eliot’s poem and to communicate my impressions of Japan by creating a dialogue between his work and the Japanese culture. In some ways the pieces are a critique of Japan, but one made with the highest respect for Japanese culture and an awareness of my own limited knowledge on the subject.
Both drawings’ measurements correspond directly to the proportions of the Japanese flag and mirror the design of a circle in a flat color field. The first drawing is reminiscent of a computer chip with all its elements homogenized and separated into clear and precise squares. The second drawing also alludes to a computer chip, but the darkness outside and within is seeping through the paths created by the carefully planned order, seeking out fault lines. The darkness will shatter man’s systems as surely as the terrible earthquake on 3/11 shattered the land.
The two lines of poetry which serve as the titles came to my mind shortly after my arrival in Tokyo and returned during almost every conversation I had about Japan. They began to represent all the struggles of life in Tokyo and helped me to understand and empathize with the desires and hardships of the people. I use these two lines, not because I believe Tokyo to be any more miserable or dark than any other city, but because in many ways they have worked the hardest to “develop systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.” I was and still am dazzled by Tokyo. I’ve been to cities like New York and Washington D.C. and none of them compare to the beauty, safety, or efficiency of Tokyo. It has exasperating quirks like every other place, but it truly is an incredible city. However the culture that creates such a city is a grinding one. Depression, mental illness, and high suicide rates lurk beneath the glistening exterior. The drive to be perfect, to fit into the group, and to maintain appearances is killing the Japanese people. Beneath the veneer is a miserable city of designing men frantically trying to create a system of rules that will protect them from the evil without and within their own hearts.
I love Japan, and I enjoyed living in Tokyo. There are many things America could learn from Japan; a greater appreciation for beauty, a focus on needs of the group rather than of the individual, and an impressive work ethic to name a few. I empathize with the struggles and sins of these people. If I were to design a city, it would strive towards the same areas of excellence as Tokyo and yet would also be shot through with a similar darkness born in my own heart.