PURGATORY, TOWARDS THE DECAY OF MEANING by Ken Hollings
130x182mm, 344 pages, Black and white printed, Softcover, Perfect Bound, 2022
In Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, British artist Basil Hallward sets off for Paris, intending to take his greatest artwork with him. In the 1961 film The Rebel, another British artist, Anthony Hancock, also sets off for Paris, intending to take his greatest artwork with him. Seventy years may separate the two stories, but very little else.
For this sequel to 2020’s Inferno, Ken Hollings turns his attention to Europe at the height of decadence and decay, following the twin fates of Hallward and Hancock as they are drawn, like so many nineteenth-century artists, towards the French capital. It was here that August Strindberg struggled to turn iron and carbon into gold, while esoteric aesthete Sâr Péladan staged his sumptuous Salons de la Rose+Croix.
In thirty-three essays modelled on Dante Alighieri’s Purgatorio, personal reflection, historical incidents and unexpected mythological correspondences combine to unearth a restless underground of alchemists, poets, painters, and philosophers.
Their influence would shape the future events of May 1968 and presage the emergence of a uniquely European form of Trash cinema devoted exclusively to beauty, sex and despair. Hollings’ radical retelling reveals that, while Hell may be a tough act to follow, Purgatory can be just as weird and far more dangerous.