This is the first of a series of lectures that Nelson McKeeby gave at a midwestern art college where I grew up about biomythography and the identity of the artist. McKeeby often credits Toulouse-Lautreck as the first artist who obscured then revealed identity in creating biomythographic work. I have also felt that he sees many connections between the great artist's disability and that of the great artist.
I think we can skip attendance.
Henri Perruchot said in his book on Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the famed artist said, " Tolouse Lautrec was in many ways an ethnographer, focused on the people in his scenes. Of the background he said, "Only the human figure exists; landscape is, and should be, no more than an accessory." Toulouse-LauTrec could be said to be my mentor from time and space. Struck by deformity he refused to take his place locked into a family estate, but took himself and his paints out into the world searching for le milieu, or the place in which to observe humans in their environment. And in doing so he created biomythographies, his own, and the people who lived around him.
The formulae for biomythography, as Lautrec and myself discovered, is like that of gunpowder. There are many ways to express the formula, but in the end one proves superior and is repeated often, being reinvented over and over. For Toulouse-Lautrec, that formula is to take a strong dose of the truth, then flip it on its head, breaking societies' rules to expose greater truths. In the Streetwalker, Toulouse-Lautrec took a popular prostitute that inhabited his milieu and brought her out into the daylight. Here her exotic hair that gave the women her knick name "La Casque d’Or", or gold helmet, does not look exotic, but instead appears quaint. A person of the era would not humorously that the woman was wearing a jacket that was essentially a regimental officer's dinner undress, something that a helmeted soldier just might wear on parade. Despite the woman's occupation Toulouse-Lautrec in no way tries to belittle or defame her, or cast any mental judgement at all. He face is pretty, she has a small tired smile, and she is neither brazen or covetous, as the formula of the day demanded when recording the images of so called "fallen women."
The biomythography Lautrec presented was a real communication using mythologized figures. Lautrec, a rich scion of a great family, elected to play the penniless artist. Rejected by women who could not see through his deformity, he found love and acceptance among the nominally despised sex workers of Paris. Those sex workers he in turn mythologizes and in the process brings out their inner beauty and the quiet turmoil of their lives.
And in the biomythography of LauTrec we find what I feel is a standard of the artform, and that is easter eggs. An Easter egg is a fact or an obscure bit of information that is, or so I beliefe, designed to hatch someday in the inquisitive reader's mind to help them understand the enormity of the universe. Although Toulouse-Lautrec focused his paintings on his beloved prostitutes and dancers, he often let his brush spill out tiny secrets. In the rint Moulin Rouge: La Goulue, the mentioned woman dancing center of the work is the famous dancer Louise Weber, but also shows in shadow her also famous, though now obscure and forgotten, dance partner Valentin le désossé. The character of Valentin, at least his stage presence, is shown by Toulouse Lautrec's scrupulousness at showing his muscular face, precise stance, and beautiful form.