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Research

To kick off third year, I wanted make the kind of thing I'd like to be commissioned for after I graduate, so I was drawn to one of my favourite authors: Oscar Wilde. At first I planned to illustrate a collection of his short stories, but having reread them and been appalled at the shocking amount of racism sewn into each of their plots, I didn't think it was worth trying to salvage the magic that initially attracted me to them. Even though Wilde means a lot to me personally, and I want to honour that through my illustrations, I also don't want to promote any of his works that perpetuate harmful stereotypes and prejudices. 

Nevertheless, I was attracted to a story of his called The Portrait of Mr. W.H, written in 1889. The story follows a man called Erskine whose 'friend' (hint hint) starts a theory that Shakespeare's Fair Youth was a man called Willie Hughes, the only 'proof' being a few puns of his name in a handful of sonnets. He forges a portrait of W.H in a desperate attempt to convince Erskine, who discovers the trickery and denounces the theory. His friend takes his own life and Erskine inherits the portrait, only for the cycle to repeat once he shows the portrait to another friend several years later. 

It's a very unusual and weirdly structured story - I'm not surprised that its relatively unknown- but to me it says a lot about how queer people need to see themselves in history to root themselves in the present, and how art can preserve the evidence of queer love when everything else seeks to destroy it. On the other hand, it shows how the lines between historic facts and emotional truths can be burred to the point of delusion. All these themes are only becoming more poignant the older this story gets, so I think there's a wealth of context to explore in a new set of illustrations.

Nika Golz

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