The cliche of author Edgar Allan Poe is that he was a misunderstood, sad, weird little fellow who, at worst, liked murdering people and, at best, just liked to hit the bottle during fits of depression. The general public’s sensationalized visual of him looks like any Johnny Depp character in any Tim Burton film.
Even Poe’s work has become kind of cliche. It’s general knowledge that the dude wrote “The Raven” and that the great love poem “Annabel Lee” was probably inspired by his first-cousin wife.
Thus, how do you represent something and someone so iconic in pieces of art without making that art look like a cliche goth fangirl poster?
That’s the challenge painter Heather Wirth faced for her upcoming exhibit at Image Optical. With Poe at the show’s center, she began her process by re-reading his macabre stories.
“I read his work and hadn’t done that since middle school,” Wirth said. “It was completely different. I remember in middle school this oversimplification of everything, all the metaphors that we honed in on … To read it as an adult is like, ‘Wow, this man was phenomenally talented.’ I wanted to get at the essence of Poe.”
Wirth struggled to keep the work from being too dark or from presenting too-literal interpretations of his stories and life. She limited her color palette and avoided relying on angry brushstrokes. Murderous rage was too easy. She wanted deep and sadly beautiful.
Her show’s 15 pieces call on motifs that reoccur in Poe’s life and literature, like the raven, his sad eyes and strong female characters. One piece reflects on Poe’s real-life mother and the loss of her son.
There is also subtle homage to Poe’s skills as a horror writer. Wirth worked torn pages from a 1958 novel she found at a thrift store called “Anatomy of a Murder” into the paint of another piece.
It was rewarding to try to get at the heart and soul of Poe, Wirth said. His violent fictional twists and real-life heartbreaks, however, at times made her “feel like a character actor who does a study of someone so they can more actively portray them. Poe had such a difficult life … I will wake up in the middle of the night and I will have dreamt about a child being kidnapped, and then there’s a flood and it’s taken all of us away.” An artist’s dreams courtesy of a minister of nightmares.
See how Wirth’s hard work and restless nights paid off starting this Saturday at Gallery Hop.
Marcia Evans Gallery
The abstract and figurative canvas oil paintings in this month’s show, titled “After the Storm,” symbolize the seasons of change in an artist’s life. The work is by John Donnelly, an art professor at Mt. Vernon Nazarene University and one of Marcia Evans Gallery’s most prevalent artists. This is his first solo show at the space.
Italian glass artist Davide Salvadore uses his fascination with music and African textiles as inspiration. He employs traditional Italian glass-blowing techniques, such as murrine (the fusing together of glass rods to craft a pattern), to create his striking sculptures. Touch away, the artist says. Feeling the glass gives viewers a better understanding of the artist’s creative decisions.