Origins: Part Two – Romanticism

In this ongoing series of articles, about the conception and realisation of our work, we hope to provide an insight into exactly how we function as a design team and where the ideas and techniques originate. In part one, we gave an overview of our design practice and the way in which we develop and use our own system of icons. In this part we hope to shed light on the importance of Romanticism and Symbolism and the part they have played in our progress.

Though the word gothic has become firmly attached to modern music and fashion scenes, its roots stretch back hundreds of years to a time when the themes of death and tragedy permeated literature and visual arts of the time. Romanticism, as an art movement, climaxed between the late eighteenth and the mid nineteenth century, and although very broad in the subjects that it confronted, there is a strong gothic element that Faye and I are particularly interested in. The creative work produced during this period is rich with haunting and hallucinatory images of fallen cathedrals, crowded cemeteries and bleak, spectral landscapes. Sorrow and despair had become the fashion of the day.

“I tried in vain to find The middle and the end of space;
I know not under what fiery eye I feel my pinions breaking;
Burned by love of the beautiful I shan't have the sublime honour
Of giving my name to the abyss That will serve me as a tomb.”
(Les Plaintes d'un Icare | Charles Baudelaire | 1857)

The notable poets and painters of this incredible era left behind an exciting collection of material for anyone interested in the theme of death in the arts. The visionary writing of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and later, Charles Baudelaire read, in places, like hideous nightmares while the hellish landscape of opium use, described by Thomas De Quincey, heavily influenced our early drawings. Poison, love, loss and grief became well-trodden ground for a group of artists whose crushing fear of failure and defeat would drive many to madness and some to take their own lives. One artist in particular whose work exemplifies the spirit of Romanticism was the German landscape painter Casper David Freidrich. His canvases perfectly capture the lingering, oppressive feeling of melancholy and impending death with almost frightening clarity.

Though the graphic style of our work seems, at first, to share little with the work of the Romantic period, it has formed the foundation of everything we produce. The recurring motifs of decay, beauty and the grotesque have become embedded in our drawings and we owe as much to the poets and painters of the 19th century as we do to any modern graphic artists.

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