Posted on

Don’t let yourself down.

Did I get this wrong? I can’t properly tell. The idea for this joke was to have the British artist Julian Opie as Dorian Gray. The stock Julian Opie character has a heavily outlined normal body, but with a featureless circle for a head, which floats, neck-less, above the body. You know the story don’t you, the Oscar Wilde story, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’? Dorian Gray has his portrait painted. The portrait ages while he remains eternally youthful. Dorian becomes more debauched as time goes on and the portrait keeps changing, reflecting not only his physical degradation but his moral one as well. My idea was for the Opie circle head in the portrait to be half deflated. But I ran into an unexpected problem. Any photographic reference to ‘deflated’ or ‘deflated ball’ on the internet always has a flat bottom – it is always resting on something. But a typical Opie head, sans neck, is a circle that floats. How to draw it? A straight line at the bottom was obviously wrong. But what shape was right? All deflated balls have creases within the silhouette, but I ruled this out (perhaps wrongly) as it suggested 3-dimensionality which felt out of kilter with Opie’s flat 2-D circles. I also thought that crease lines within the silhouette would obscure the whiteness within the circle head and I worried that this already small (and shrunken) head would then be completely lost in the cartoon. In the end I went for a roughly circular bottom with a caved in top that flowed over the sides a bit. It makes no sense really but I couldn’t for the life of me think what did. This intriguing mystery will have no further interest for me or anyone else for the rest of time. The irony is that the whole joke depended on my depiction of the head in the portrait. And I just don’t know if my intended meaning translated. The response to this cartoon when it was published was a bit underwhelming, so perhaps it didn’t. It has left me feeling a little deflated. (I have quickly rushed to the mirror but am again disappointed – I’ve got a flat bottom)
For the room and the portrait I used as reference the 1945 movie ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. I have only seen clips but a good friend who has seen it says it is really terrific. I don’t doubt it – the ‘before’ and ‘after’ paintings they had painted for the movie are very impressive. In the several movie remakes since 1945, the paintings don’t really compare. I don’t know who painted the ‘before’ painting but the ‘after’ is by Ivan Le Lorraine Albright, an early enthusiasm of mine and an inspired choice to paint the ancient, degraded Dorian Gray.