By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
Among his many talents, 19th-century author Edgar Allan Poe might have been prescient: In 1843, he wrote “Lo! ‘Tis a gala night,” and behold: Oct. 22 will indeed be a gala night — when Ashton Gallery celebrates the opening of “The Poe Show” at Art on 30th in North Park.
The opening reception, according to organizers, will present more than artwork. There will also be “poetry, short stories and all things Poe” — including an appearance by the author, returned from the grave to attend the show in his honor.
The exhibit was juried by Chris Semtner, curator of The Museum of Edgar Allan Poe in Richmond, Virginia. Semtner, who is also an artist, hoped to select works for the exhibit that reach beyond the imagery commonly associated with Poe’s well-read works. His writing is more eclectic than many readers are aware. In addition to his horror and macabre stories, he wrote comedy, literary critique and detective fiction.
“I was trying to show the full range of Poe, not just ‘The Raven,’” Semtner said. “I wanted to show that he had a sense of humor, too.”
Painter Dawn Kureshy, who has a studio at Art on 30th, has been a Poe fan since her youth, and her submission to the show reflects both the macabre and the comedy.
“As a teenager — and I’m sure there’s a lot of people who can relate to this — I was obsessed with gory novels, and I took a class where we had to read Poe and Mary Shelley,” she said. “So, when this show came up, I was like, ‘Oh, gosh, what can I do?’ It was a challenge. I ended up doing a lot of research on Poe. It was fun. It was also interesting.”
Semtner accepted the result of Kureshy’s effort, a painting called “Insanity Rocks.” The painting captures the dark nature of some of Poe’s work and his wit, with an adaptation of a quote that has been attributed to the author: “I do not suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it.”
The exhibit’s call for submissions attracted the interest of artists from across the country, eager to explore Poe-etic expressions through the visual arts.
“It might be a surprise to see the different ways Poe has inspired different artists,” Semtner said. “You might anticipate a dark and melancholy show, but you’ll see some lighter pieces. This show is demonstrating that Poe’s works are very much alive and very much relevant. They are continuing to inspire the next generation of art. His works have lived on not only in his writings, but in other artists who are inspired by him, like Alfred Hitchcock or Salvador Dali.”
Patrick Brown, who has one of his paintings in the show, was not only inspired by Poe, but has developed a fondness for the man behind the renowned writings.
“He struggled just like any other artist that had to submit and submit, and try and try and try,” Brown said. “He wore a lot of different hats, did a lot of things, went in a lot of directions. Definitely, having a struggle in my life coincides with Poe’s. It makes him more endearing, a closer connection. He did amazing things. He had a pretty short life. Didn’t really get the accolades until his latter years. And he has a talent that I wish I had — I wish I could write as well.”
Serendipitously, when Brown first learned of the exhibit, he had already been working on a portrait series called “Sins of the Father.”
“It’s dark subject matter,” Brown said, “so when I saw the flyer it caught my attention. I went online. There were a whole lot of Poe photos to choose from. I chose the most popular and tried to research the color of his eyes. I came up with everything from gray to steel blue, but everything I read said he had sharp, piercing eyes.”
According to Semtner, Poe continues to inspire new works in a variety of media — new ballets, new operas, new writings. “There’s never any shortage of visual artists who find inspiration in Poe’s work, even after all this time.”
—Kit-Bacon Gressitt writes commentary and essays on her blog, Excuse Me, I’m Writing, and has been published by Missing Slate, Ms. Magazine blog and Trivia: Voices of Feminism, among others. She formerly wrote for the North County Times. She also hosts Fallbrook Library’s monthly Writers Read authors series and open mic, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.