“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?”
Hamlet Act V, Scene I
These are the words of Shakespeare‘s Prince Hamlet, spoken as the young prince holds the skull of Yorick, the long departed jester of his father’s court. Hamlet cradles the skull and laments the disappearance of Yorick’s joie de vivre, gone missing in death. Life once apparent vanishes and with it the beauty of laughter, song, dance — the hallmark of Yorick’s role as court jester for the royal hall of Denmark. Yorick’s skull in the palm of Hamlet has become a hallmark of heavy drama — the inconsequentiality of life played out in the hand’s of a prince. For Australia-based illustrator Ken Taylor, it’s a moment to reflect on death through beauty. His jester is the messenger, the face of a child speaking words of the end.
Taylor’s ‘Masque,’ an illustration first used for a gig poster for a Pixies concert, shows a young woman in full performance — hand raised in monologue, face strewn with stage tears of blood. She is the young Hamlet with Yorick against her breast, but she is also Yorick, the jester in masque entertaining, mid-soliloquy. This is Taylor removing the modern world from his illustration and playing his part in the history of Western art, continuing the centuries old tradition of depicting the theme of vanitas, vanity and unavoidability of death. The performer is here to remind the audience of its own mortality, momento mori — remember that you have to die. A warning used to hold back the all too human urge of hubris.
Taylor’s illustration pulls you in with a beautiful girl, the white stage makeup — the weep of red. In the darkness of her wardrobe is the skull. Taylor’s work is a quiet reflection on our relationship with our death, if we could talk to it and prepare ourselves, what would we say? What would we want to hear? In ‘Masque‘ Taylor has created a character made for those questions. She is soothsayer. A herald to the beauty in understanding our own mortality.