And now, as the night was senescent,
And star-dials pointed to morn–
As the star-dials hinted of morn–
At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn–
Astarte’s bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.
excerpt from “Ulalame”
by Edgar Allen Poe, 1847
From out of the nebulous light, at the end of a path, Edgar Allen Poe describes the appearance of the goddess Astarte. Here, she is an imagined figure of the night, or what’s called a nyktomorph. In darkness, when forms blend into one another and color is suppressed, our minds can create entire fantasies out of the shadows we encounter. Our inclination is to evoke something to make sense of what we can’t clearly see. But this impulse isn’t merely intellectual, the enveloping mystery of the twilight adds an emotional dimension—often fear and wonder—which lends these conjured figures and scenes a fantastical quality.
The Romantic artists capitalized on these emotions and images to inspire their work. William Blake called upon his own mystical visions to produce his paintings, while Henry Fuseli mined folklore and superstition to render canvases full of our nighttime fears. The Romantic movement was born of a rejection of the dry logic and scientific rationalizations of the 18th century’s Age of Enlightenment. Spurred in part by the rediscovery of the ruins of Pompeii, and a fresh look at the work of Poussin, the Romantic movement began as a neo-classical revival in the late 1700’s. Growing into dominance by the 1830’s, Romanticism evolved to inspire the Gothic revival and encourage the experience of extreme or heightened emotional states through art. Just as the idea of the nyktomorph captured imaginations of the mid-19th century, so too, it has stirred the artists in Curious Matter’s exhibition “Nyktomorph.”
The nyktomorph becomes the black figure at the foot of our midnight bed through Suzan Courtney and Brian Oakes as they summon classic demonic images in Alter Ego and Devil Proof. Jimmy Fike and Kay Kenny search the evening sky with their cameras for the elusive evidence that these shapes do indeed exist as palpable entities with Star Hole and Camera Obscura.
As a changeable shape, the nyktomorph becomes an exploration in the mutability of the human form with Ricardo Hernandez’, Comiendose Vivos/Eating Themselves Alive. Edward Fausty recreates this human mutability through conception and growth with #24 (Self –Portrait) from his “Going Back” series. Mary Hill, in her video Father and Daughter, builds on the sailor’s mirage of the mermaid and our tendency to create chimaeras out of frightening and unfamiliar life forms.
Stacy Seiler shares the Romantic’s attraction to ruins and mysterious histories. Her drawing Tension renders with rusted iron the architectural remnants of our industrial past, allowing the medium of the work to add further weight to the subject.
The psychological space that brings us together or keeps us apart is the subject for Cedric Yhuel’s Untitled #1 from his series “Champs Magnetiques.” Our public longings and private fears create a drama of tension in this image. Carrie-Ann Bracco explores similar territory with her Night, Sebago Cabin From the Lake. The ambiguity of the house, crouching sinister in the dark, or as a welcoming beacon of safety from the dangers of the night, remains unresolved.
R. Wayne Parsons makes our reaction to the eerie indeterminate quality of Biomorph #14 the true subject of his photograph. And it is the medium itself that changes shape in Conor Fields’ drawing Sweet Spaceship!. The Tang™ liquefying or dry, depending on the humidity, keeps the drawing in an on-going state of flux.
The nyktomorph remains elusive and protean throughout our explorations here. The one constant is its emotional content. It brings up our most primal reactions and instincts in our fear of the dark. Still, the artists of “Nyktomorph” have gone into the night to see what they can see and have brought back a measure of enlightenment from the wavering shadows.