Ron English has bombed the global landscape with countless unforgettable images: on the street, in museums, in movies, in books and on television.
Coining the term ‘POPaganda’ to describe his signature mash-up of high and low cultural touchstones; from superhero mythology to totems of art history, his work is populated with a vast and constantly growing arsenal of original characters.
English featured in the hit movies Super Size Me and Exit Through the Gift Shop, and hosted Britain’s The Other America series on Sky TV; he has also made numerous television appearances worldwide.
He is the subject of the award-winning 2006 documentary POPaganda: the Art and Crimes of Ron English and the 2009 documentary Abraham Obama.
He has exhibited worldwide in numerous prestigious galleries and his work resides in the permanent collections of Rome’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MACRO), Paris’s Museum of Modern Art, amongst others.
English continues to create art that propels unstated cultural norms just beyond the bounds of comfort into a disconcerting realm simultaneously hilarious and terrifying.
In this poem, one of the most famous American poems ever, Poe uses several symbols to take the poem to a higher level.
The most obvious symbol is, of course, the raven itself. When Poe had decided to use a refrain that repeated the word “nevermore,” he found that it would be most effective if he used a non-reasoning creature to utter the word.
It would make little sense to use a human, since the human could reason to answer the questions (Poe, 1850). In “The Raven” it is important that the answers to the questions are already known, to illustrate the self-torture to which the narrator exposes himself.
This way of interpreting signs that do not bear a real meaning, is “one of the most profound impulses of human nature” (Quinn, 1998:441).
Poe also considered a parrot as the bird instead of the raven; however, because of the melancholy tone, and the symbolism of ravens as birds of ill-omen, he found the raven more suitable for the mood in the poem (Poe, 1850). Quoth the Parrot, “Nevermore?”
Another obvious symbol is the bust of Pallas. Why did the raven decide to perch on the goddess of wisdom?
One reason could be, because it would lead the narrator to believe that the raven spoke from wisdom, and was not just repeating its only “stock and store,” and to signify the scholarship of the narrator. Another reason for using “Pallas” in the poem was, according to Poe himself, simply because of the “sonorousness of the word, Pallas, itself” (Poe, 1850).
A less obvious symbol, might be the use of “midnight” in the first verse, and “December” in the second verse. Both midnight and December, symbolize an end of something, and also the anticipation of something new, a change, to happen.
The midnight in December, might very well be New Year’s eve, a date most of us connect with change. This also seems to be what Viktor Rydberg believes when he is translating “The Raven” to Swedish, since he uses the phrase “årets sista natt var inne, ” (“The last night of the year had arrived”). Kenneth Silverman connected the use of December with the death of Edgar’s mother (Silverman, 1992:241), who died in that month; whether this is true or not is, however, not significant to its meaning in the poem.
The chamber in which the narrator is positioned, is used to signify the loneliness of the man, and the sorrow he feels for the loss of Lenore. The room is richly furnished, and reminds the narrator of his lost love, which helps to create an effect of beauty in the poem.
The tempest outside, is used to even more signify the isolation of this man, to show a sharp contrast between the calmness in the chamber and the tempestuous night.
The phrase “from out my heart,” Poe claims, is used, in combination with the answer “Nevermore,” to let the narrator realize that he should not try to seek a moral in what has been previously narrated (Poe, 1850).
Poe had an extensive vocabulary, which is obvious to the readers of both his poetry as well as his fiction.
Sometimes this meant introducing words that were not commonly used. In “The Raven,” the use of ancient and poetic language seems appropriate, since the poem is about a man spending most of his time with books of “forgotten lore.”
“Seraphim,” in the fourteenth verse, “perfumed by an unseen censer / Swung by seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled…” is used to illustrate the swift, invisible way a scent spreads in a room. A seraphim is one of the six-winged angels standing in the presence of God.
“Nepenthe,” from the same verse, is a potion, used by ancients to induce forgetfullnes of pain or sorrow.
“Balm in Gilead,” from the following verse, is a soothing ointment made in Gilead, a mountainous region of Palestine east of the Jordan river.
“Aidenn,” from the sixteenth verse, is an Arabic word for Eden or paradise.
“Plutonian,” characteristic of Pluto, the god of the underworld in Roman mythology.
A yellow fever epidemic may have planted the seeds of inspiration for Washington Irving’s iconic tale of the a headless horseman. (Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection)
At that time, New York City was in the grip of its tenth epidemic of yellow fever, a viral disease that killed 5,000 residents of Philadelphia in a single year and was on track to do as much cumulative damage in New York.
Yellow fever, which is spread by mosquitoes, was poorly understood at the turn of the 19th century.
Medical professionals speculated that it was caused by slum conditions in city centers (including landfill and stagnant water—this was closest to the mark).
They blamed West Indian refugees and shipments of rotten coffee.
They even pointed the finger at the luggage of foreign sailors.
The epidemics exacerbated post-colonial racial prejudice and encouraged xenophobia; Philadelphia built the nation’s first quarantine station in response to a 1793 outbreak.
Yellow fever threw a bright light on economic inequality in the affected cities: families with the means to do so, like Irving’s, fled the “miasmic” urban environment for more healthful climates.
Families that could not afford to seek “pure air” suffered not only from the virus, but from the terror of their neighbors: infected neighborhoods were marked with yellow flags or roped off, and few doctors were willing to treat the disease, the symptoms of which included the kind of bleeding and vomiting best left to horror films.
In the late 1700s one of the many sources of death, at the time, was a nasty little thing with the incongruously pleasant name of “cinnabar.” We’ll show you how fashion trends combined with chemistry to kill people off.
No one puts on make-up for their health. In the 2000s, fashion regimes involve injecting poison into the face. In the early 1900s, make-up would sometimes blind women and occasionally cover them with radium.
In the 1800s, arsenic-based make-up and tonics would shrink down women’s capillaries and, at times, poison them.
It was in the 1700s that people really went to town. The standards of the day were different. Women liked dark lashes and eyebrows, so they’d darken their facial hair with soot.
Other than that, they wore very little eye make-up. They also didn’t go overboard with the lips. It was the skin that they concentrated on. If you’ve ever seen horror movies involving creepy porcelain dolls with chalk-white skin and dark red splotches on their cheeks, you’ve seen the last remnant of the fashion of the 1700s.
Women painted their faces pure white with Venetian ceruse, which was made by mixing lead with vinegar. Because make-up was expensive, and washing wasn’t considered healthy, they wore this lead until it wore off, sometimes for weeks.
(Some ladies at this time also came up with the pre-cursor to botox, an enamel-like coating that stiffened parts of their faces and didn’t allow their skin to wrinkle.)
Then came the pièce de résistance. Red cheeks were considered natural and youthful. A little red was good. More red was better. French court women slathered themselves in it, starting at the corners of their eyes and spreading it to the corners of their mouths. In 1781, French women used two million pots a year.
This rouge had to work well with the white paint, and it had to stick around for a while, so it couldn’t be berry juice. Cosmetics makers put their heads together and came up with a little thing known as cinnabar – a pigment that was sometimes used to decorate paintings or pottery.
We now know it as mercury sulfide. It’s shown to cause neurological disorders, emotional problems, and peeling skin (so once you start using make-up, you need more make-up). Pregnant mice exposed to mercury sulfide gave birth to offspring with incurable neurological disorders.
One celebrated beauty, Maria Gunning, died at twenty-seven due to her make-up. Exactly how many other women (or men, who also painted themselves) died due to mercury or lead poisoning, and how many families were affected, we can’t tell.
Because these products were most used by the rich and powerful, it’s possible that history could be different if people at that time had decided they liked darker skin and eye-shadow.
The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous Sherlock Holmes stories.
For those not familiar with the story, Holmes sends Watson off to investigate a mysterious murder surrounded by stories of a mysterious, spectral hound seen roaming the hills of Devonshire, supposedly part of a curse on the Baskerville family that has been haunting them for generations.
A great story, no doubt, but the real legend that it’s based on is no less creepy.
According to legend, a man named Richard Cabell lived in West Buckfastleigh in the late 17th century. A squire by trade, he was, by all accounts, an absolutely hated man known for his violent tendencies.
Supposedly his family had supported the wrong side during the English Civil War, and Richard ended up marrying the daughter of the man who had imposed fines on the family and sent them into financial ruin.
The marriage meant that he got his estate back, but the ending was anything but happy.
The locals were convinced that he had sold his soul to the Devil, apparently finding this a much more likely explanation for the return of his fortunes than the idea that he was just a stand-up sort of guy.
In an absolutely unproven version of Cabell’s story, it was said that his wife eventually found herself the target of his rage. (Death records show, however, that the historic wife actually outlived him by more than a decade.)
Cabell was said to have chased her out onto the moors in a jealous rage one night, killing her. In retaliation, her faithful hound ripped out his throat.
Cabell was laid to rest in the local church, but the villagers were afraid that he would rise from the grave and return to torment them. Instead of a simple grave, he was buried in a sepulchre lined with iron bars and a tomb sealed with a massive slab, all designed to keep him inside.
Almost immediately, villagers claimed to hear hounds howling in the night, pacing outside of his grave.
Naturally, they were the hounds of hell, sent by the Devil to collect the soul that he’d been promised. Other stories claim that the sepulchre is regularly visited by demons, hoping to succeed where the hounds have failed.
In 1901, Vittorio Alinari, head of Fratelli Alinari, the world’s oldest photographic firm, decided to publish a new illustrated edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
To do so, Alinari announced a competition for Italian artists: each competitor had to send illustrations of at least two cantos of the epic poem, which would result in one winner and a public exhibition of the drawings.
Among the competitors were Alberto Zardo, Armando Spadini, Ernesto Bellandi, and Alberto Martini.
While Martini did not win the competition, he, as Vittorio Sgarbi wrote in his foreword to Martini’s La Divina Commedia, “seemed born to illustrate the Divine Comedy.”
The 1901 contest was followed by two more sets of illustrations between 1922 and 1944, which produced altogether almost 300 works in a wide range of styles, including pencil and ink to the watercolor tables painted between 1943 and 1944.
While repeatedly rejected publication during his lifetime, a comprehensive edition of Martini’s La Divinia Commedia is available today.