"If I am not grotesque, I am nothing."
This is just a note, light and quick like a well-wisher's shadow, to wish my sickly, skinny boy a happy birthday. He would be 137 today, dapper and milk-skinned, had tuberculosis not shot his lungs full of holes. He died in 1898, unable to push his body to his 26th birthday – exhausted by the blood-lettings, and by his art that drove Victorian England to an insanity of fear.
It was a fear of the decadence, eroticism, lush beauty and unbridled richness – crawling under the skin like iridescent beetles – that ran through his drawings. It was the fear of the terrifying life that beat behind the shadows and lived within the lines of those illustrations.
He was Oscar Wilde's 'monstrous orchid', in a gray suit and yellow gloves, effete and marvelous. I can't imagine what it would have been like to meet him, yet I follow him always.
So happy birthday, Aubrey Beardsley. I have never experienced such grotesque loveliness.