The 100 Works of Art series of posts is drawing to the end of the (Visual) section, so now would be an excellent time to start with the first. It’s not an academic review or even a newspaper-style selection of social must-have art: everything that’s included on here is included because I like it and it has meaning to me; no inferences about the social worth of the work or its wider saleability need be drawn.
23. Another Happy Ending, G K Blekkenhorst (2003)
Gillian Blekkenhorst, a Toronto-based illustrator, artist, set-dresser, animator, all-round genius and fascinating individual, once did me the very great favour of being a member of my social circle, despite the oft-lamented Atlantic Ocean. As a result of knowing her since about 2002, I’ve had one of the great pleasures of befriending artists early in their career (as discussed here): seeing her work grow and develop over time into a solid personal style and evolve new flourishes and proclivities. I was even fortunate enough to need an artist for my degree project at roughly the time she needed some extra money, so we worked together on Kissing Carrion.
There is a great deal of affection bound up in my appreciation of Gillian’s work anyway, but one of the reasons we first became friends was down to shared interests, and one of those shared interests was the Ovidian story of Narcissus: once upon quite a while ago, I wrote her a short story, never published, riffing on the idea of narcissism and creating someone whose sole desire was to transform their face in the mirror into that of their idol. In return, she gave me the original of this artwork, and it has travelled with me through several homes, a copy adorned the centre of another degree project (one which I got into trouble for) and most recently been added to the mythologia tattooed on my skin.
Aesthetically there are several things which have always delighted me about this pencil drawing: it represents a tendency in Gillian’s art towards the elongation and distortion of the human form, which is eerie and otherworldly, as befits a story of preternatural beauty; it demonstrates a depth and darkness of texture which draws the eye inward to the flash of white where two bodies meet, and the line of action is carried through from the tip of the fabricated wing to the disappearing underwater leg of the reflection. Narcissus rises out of the reeds by virtue of his prosthetic just as his reflection heaves himself from the waters: even when the mirror of the lake is broken, there is mirroring.
Conceptually there is a wealth of meaning to be read into it, if one is minded to. Certainly there is nothing to be attributed to the artist beyond the love of the myth and her desire to draw beautiful and unnatural figures locked in an impossible act of love, and to work on bodies breaking the surface of the water. But on explaining the tattoo version of this to strangers, I find there’s a lot to be said: it’s the marriage of nature and artifice (Narcissus’s mechanical wings vs the natural, flame-shaped wings of his reflection); it’s a paean to impatience (the reflection tires of being gazed at and breaks the water to make his move); it’s a celebration of the impossible; it’s a love song to the very literal ideal of self-love.
It is also, like the original story in Metamorphoses, a cautionary tale: do not become so wrapped up in introspection (contemplation of the self) or in self-satisfaction (narcissistic) that you forget to live. A pertinent enough lesson to warrant getting it tattooed, even if the drawing wasn’t pretty enough on its own.