Self-Possession ⸰ Reclamation ⸰ Wild Power
Witches celebrates the channelling of a fundamental power and poise. One that dissolves the constraints of those who fear you.
In these accessories the subversive genius whose art set Victorian-era London on fire combines with the poetess whose witch-words re-cast poetry.
This arresting, unflinching artwork is from Beardsley’s first major commission. Already we see here his revolutionary graphic style; the simplicity and purity of line, areas of detail and untouched paper background contrasting with bold masses of flat black. All entirely novel for his time. Despite this simplicity, he achieves incredibly deep and powerful characterization. His witches aren’t crones. They are upright, proud. One gazes with powerful defiance, challenging us, the viewer. Their downturned, arch, disdainful mouths and androgynous figures aggressively critique Victorian concepts of sexuality, beauty and gender. Their faces are haloed by hair that's like a compelling mass of wild, flowing energy.
Beardsley challenged, subverted and innovated in the most public of forum. He skillfully exploited his fame and the cultural milieu in which he and his work existed. Dickinson turned inwards, shutting out much of society - but through this, she was able to achieve a similar outcome.
Four years after her death her poetry became a stunning success, she now stands as one of the most important American poets - read widely across people of multiple ages and interests.
Dickinson's independence of mind is expressed through powerful honesty and inhibition in her work. She challenged the existing definitions of poetic form, the poet's work and womanhood. Her poems at once witty, satirical, ironic and wry display a strong sense of self as a poet and a woman, their overarching moral vision breaking or transcending oughts, shoulds and cultural constraints.
Dickinson lived just a few miles from where the Salem witch trial hangings would have taken place. In this poem she challenges these events and their influence, asserting the persistence of witchcraft - a recurring resurrection and also a living thing - not simply hung on a wall, as an example, to look at.
Dickinson refers to the writing of Elizabeth Browning as ‘tomes of solid Witchcraft’. Elsewhere she re-writes enchantment and hysteria as a ‘divine insanity’. She sees nature, god and witchcraft as one and creates a symbolic bond between women writers and witches, standing in opposition to a traditional Christian patriarchal narrative. Art and nature is witchcraft, which is liberation.