Yinka Shonibare – Dorian Gray

Horror narratives are cyclical and often self-reflective – evolving from literature to theatre to film and, as I express here on the blog, onto artwork. Bouncing along and between these different mediums means horror continues to generate its relevance and influence. To show how this is true, take my recent Art of Fear discussion about how artwork functioned within the horror of The Picture of Dorian Gray. In 2001, British born Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare produced Dorian Gray, his first photographic series in which he assumes the lead role. Here, much as in the book and film, Shonibare uses this story as a commentary on Victorian (and contemporary) values of class.

Another stellar example of this is experimental filmmaker Ivan Zulueta’s Frank Stein (1972) which I hope to discuss more in length here soon.

The Art of Fear: The Picture of Dorian Gray

In The Picture of Dorian Gray – a young man’s debauchery and vice manifests in his portrait after his wish to remain young is mysteriously granted.

We’re starting off The Art of Fear with one of my personal favorites and one of the strongest examples of art in horror cinema, Albert Lewin’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). It’s based on Oscar Wilde’s delicious 1891 novel of the same name and, with some small variations, stays pretty true to the original narrative.[1] On that note, I want to clarify that this discussion is on the 1945 film version so any deviations and changes from the literary language or subsequent remakes are not considered.

The story goes like this: Dorian Gray is a young man so distraught after realizing that his portrait, painted by friend Basil Hallward, would always exist in a beautiful youthful moment while he would eventually age and whither that he manages to magically transmit the residue from his ‘lust for life’ experiences onto this painting. Meaning that the painting would bare the brunt of these actions, turning ugly and old while Dorian remained the same. His decades-long reign of the 19th century’s version of ‘sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll’ (and murder) leads him down many regretful paths. He tortures himself by viewing each of the portrait’s new evil transformations but revels in his cheating of death. It’s only until a young woman believes in his goodness that he, rather forcibly, expels his history from the painting back onto himself and dies a hideous old man.

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