The Picture invites nine artists to respond to Oscar Wilde’s late 19th Century story, The Picture of Dorian Gray, from an early 21st Century perspective. Since its publication, the eponymous Picture has taken on a life far beyond Wilde’s novel. Much like Stoker’s Dracula, or Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, it has been reinterpreted and reimagined through 130 years of popular culture. Over time, it has become a shorthand for vainglorious behaviour, for preternatural youth, or as a cautionary morality tale.
As much as society and art have developed over the last century, the themes and concerns expressed within The Picture of Dorian Gray continue to resonate. They have taken on new and renewed significance within contemporary discourse. The purpose of art, youth and beauty, the superficiality of society, corrupting influences, doomed romance, transgressive behaviour, class, shaping of identity, and queerness, are all familiar subjects explored by today's artists.
Each artist brings to the exhibition their interpretation, less of the novel itself, but rather their idea of it. Their different experiences, backgrounds, ages, genders and sexualities shape their perspective of this infamous subject. How, to a greater or lesser degree, it might have impacted or influenced their idea of art and the self, of portraiture and aestheticism. How they might have been empowered or restricted by their chosen identity, and how they might relate to or reject the pursuit of beauty for its own sake. And how they might feel seduced or repelled by the bacchanal spirit or the lust for youth, influence and success.
As Oscar Wilde sets out in his preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, the relationship between artist, artwork, and viewer is multifaceted and mysterious: contradictory whilst containing an essence of magic. A painting may stand as a threshold; it is up to the viewer whether they want to step over it and enter into the artist's world.
"All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors."
Oscar Wilde from the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray