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Monday, 9 September 2013

nikolai kalmakoff: 'the beardsley of st petersburg'

Angel Of The Abyss, undated
Salome Sphinx, 1928
Household Spirits, 1927
Taurus, 1927
Nikolai Konstantin Kalmakoff was a Russian-Italian aristocrat born on the Italian riviera in 1873, a symbolist painter, part of the 'visionary' movement, an eccentric, recluse, occultist and misogynist who died, long-forgotten, in poverty in Paris in 1955. Most of his paintings are lost. Those that remain were, for the most part, only found by chance at a fleamarket in the 60s. Now those paintings go for thousands at auction. Although almost as classic (and possibly repellent) as his life story in their decadent themes, filled with monstrous Medusa women and sphinxes, Salome and the minotaur, not to mention devils, Kalmakoff's art also still looks as if it really did come from another realm. Technicolour, intense, beautiful and sometimes frightening, Kalmakoff's labyrinth is definitely one where the demons are as enticing as they are menacing.

"She made me live in an imaginary world taken from the Brothers Grimm with a sprinkling of ETA Hoffmann. I devoured those tales with delight. Around the age of nine I would often wander into the furthermost room of our house, where I would carefully conceal myself. Then, alone in the darkness, I would call upon the devil to appear."

Kalmakoff on his childhood German governess (and earliest influence), from the Visionary Revue, which has the full story on his life as well as a complete gallery of his work.

oh, you devil you – cinzano advert, 1966

mood indigo

From the series Destinations (imagined) by Boston, Massachussetts photographer Alicia Savage.
"They started walking, letting the first pavement they came across guide their steps.
A little pink cloud came down from the air and drew up close beside them.

       'I'm going your way,' it winked.
       'Let's step on then,' said Colin.
And the cloud wrapped itself round them. Inside the cloud it was warm, and it smelt of candy-floss and cinnamon. 
       'Nobody can see us any more!...' said Colin. 'But we can still see everything that is going on!...'
       'I think it is slightly transparent,' said Chloe. 'Better be careful!' 

From Froth On The Daydream (L'Ecume des Jours) by Boris Vian translated by Stanley Chapman, 1967.

It's been a long 18 months since the first photographs from the shoot of Mood Indigo appeared. Michel Gondry's big-screen version of Boris Vian's Froth On The Daydream novel still has no UK release date, and reviews from premieres and releases elsewhere in the world are mixed. Gondry's way with a dreamlike narrative seems to be as much in play as it was in Eternal Sunshine, and there are nods to Terry Gilliam-like touches, which is definitely a good thing, but there's also a sense that the darker edges of Vian's original story have been quietly smoothed out, leaving a tragic romance floating in a fluffy cloud of surrealist quirks. We'll see, eventually, but at least the film tie-in reissue of the novel, due any time between now and January from Serpent's Tail, will be the hard-to-find translation by Stanley Chapman from 1967. Bittersweet, like the story, but if it gets the book a wider worldwide audience, that's something in itself. 

Sunday, 4 August 2013

where is arthur sultan, the surrey mystic?




Screengrabs from the 1978 TV film The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash
Whatever happened to Arthur Sultan, the Surrey mystic? It's a question that, probably, no one has asked in the years since The Rutles went to his secret retreat in Bognor for a weekend of Ouija board table-tapping (and the rest). We – okay, I – can imagine that after the tragic departure of Rutles manager Leggy Mountbatten for a teaching post in Australia, and the swift exit of the shocked and stunned Rutles from Bognor, Arthur might have turned to other bands: The Rolling Stones, The Who, Herman's Hermits. Or written an English version of the I-Ching based on cricketing terminology. Or even tried to levitate the local bingo hall in Woking as a protest against inferior-quality Jesus sandals flooding the hippie scene (and to raise the profile of his wholefood shop). More likely, the Maharishi of Bognor is now the billionaire owner of an online psychic hotline based in Singapore, with a 20-year-old 'paranormal investigator' (and actress) girlfriend, and a basement full of clones of himself ready to unleash on the world in the near future. 

At least there isn't such a mystery about the man behind Arthur Sultan – actor, playwright and theatre director Henry Woolf. Woolf was already a seasoned thesp in TV and film when he first performed with Eric Idle in the latter's BBC2 comedy sketch show Rutland Weekend Television in 1975 and then took on the role of Arthur Sultan in All You Need Is Cash, the fake rock doc about beat behemoths The Rutles. A veteran of the avant-garde, with a hefty dose of childhood pal Harold Pinter's kitchen sink, Woolf's on-screen performances notably also include the 1967 film adaptation of Peter Weiss's play Marat/Sade (a play that was still causing controversy and audience walk-outs when the Royal Shakespeare Company staged it in 2011) and early 70s Doctor Who baddie The Collector. For more on Woolf's sinister looks, absurdist drama and unexpectedly scary roles see Familiar Unknown.

roman muradov – a literary pen

Nine writers by Roman Muradov (from top left): Raymond Queneau, Proust, Guy De Maupassant, Chekhov, Tove Jansson, PG Wodehouse, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Nabokov, Kafka
Roman Muradov's fantastic illustration work has featured in The New Yorker, Vogue, The Wall Street Journal and Time among other publications, he's published comic art zines inspired by Italo Calvino and Raymond Roussel (and a Proustian one-pager called Remembrance Of Things Pasta styled in the manner of a Monty Python sketch), illustrated an edition of Poe's The Purloined Letter for Scout Books, and his Yellow Zine doffs the cap name-wise to the 1890s decadence-dominated literary journal The Yellow Book. More of his vintage-style drawing and influences will appear in the autumn, when the London-based Nobrow Press (which I've written about before) bring out Muradov's first graphic novel, (In A Sense) Lost & Found. In the meantime, you can see (and buy) his work on his website and tumblr, Bluebed.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

vogue magazine 1970: clothes for new druids


More from the era when mainstream magazines such Esquire and Harper's Bazaar were running articles about the occult revival, pulp top-shelf mens magazines would have witch becostumed saucepots on the cover and even hypnotists could be hip with their own chart-aimed album releases. This is from the October issue of Vogue magazine in the UK, my current favourite of the Vogue occult fashions – see also Vogue goes spooky, part 1 and part 2.

happy lughnasadh, lammas, freyfixa – the first of the harvest festivals

Kern Baby, photographed by Sir John Benjamin Stone, 1901


"Till recent years a rather common form of the revelry and thanksgiving which have ever taken place at the ingathering of the harvest was the Kern, though it has now died out everywhere except in a few Northumbrian villages.

One of the customs of the festival of Ceres, it had many local variations. It was observed in the northern part of Northumberland at the close of the reaping, not the ingathering. Immediately the sickle was laid down and the last sheaf set on end the men shouted that they had "got the kern". Then a curious image was produced – an image dressed in a white frock with coloured ribbons and crowned with corn ears – stuck on a pole, and held aloft by the strongest man of the party while the rest circled round it. Subsequently it was taken to the barn, set on high, and the merrymakers fell to on the harvest supper."
Quoted from Sir Benjamin Stone's Pictures: Records Of National Life And History (Cassell, 1904)

The kern baby – apparently headless, not a baby, and awaiting some spectral groom – a peculiarly gothic version of the traditional harvest corn dollies.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

echoes: poe's geometry - otherworldly curves and rectangular obscenities

#190 Vinyl via Geometry Daily
"… the first thing to notice about Poe's dream rooms is their shape. It has already been said that the enclosures of Poe's tales incline to a curving or circular form. And Poe himself, in certain of his essays and dialogues, explains this inclination by denouncing what he calls the harsh mathematical reason of the schools and complaining that practical science has covered the face of the earth with rectangular obscenities. Poe quite explicitly identifies regular angular forms with everyday reason, and the circle, oval or fluid arabesque with the otherworldly imagination. Therefore, if we discover that the dream chambers of Poe's fiction are free of angular regularity, we may be sure that we are noticing a pointed and purposeful consistency in his architecture and decor." 
Richard Wilbur in The Recognition Of Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Eric W Carlson (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1966)

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

through the looking glass, 1968

Clone utopia – it all adds up.

the wiccan circle: concretism


Another dose of 1970s electronic, folkie and cut up pagan documentary sounds – The Wiccan Circle, by a band called Concretism, and with a Ghostbox homage video to match. They must have seen us coming.

stranger in a strange land: carl spitzweg

Der Rabe (The Raven), circa 1845
Gnome Watching The Rail Transport, 1848
The Sorcerer, 1875
Carl Spitzweg was a Munich-based painter whose works included traditional Romantic landscapes filled with paths of yearning into the mountainous unknown. However, he also had a wanderlust that drew him to unusual characters (hermits and eccentrics), satire of the military and the fantastical world of imaginary beings. His sorcerer and dragon (pictured, bottom) are fairly typical fairytale figures, but it's his wistful gnome seeing the force of progress (centre) and particularly his anthropomorphic raven (top) that stand out, far stranger for swerving the usual fantasy pigeonholes.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

parisian gothic: pole ka's street art

All pictures by Pole Ka from her Autopsie Printannière series, 2013
A pulsating illustrated heart with it's internal workings exposed sits on the entrance to the website of French artist Pole Ka. Most of the work within, which has featured in exhibitions, fanzines, pamphlets, on gig posters and postcards as well as on city streets, is just as visceral in every sense, exposing organs and intense ideas. Death, gender and birth are the big themes, with a heavy dose of surrealness, as bodies are dissected and bisected with vegetables, babies turn mothers into kraken, tarot cards are redesigned with schlock horror blood and guts and Henry the Eighth's wives are united by multiple ghostly foetuses and executed heads. But, even at their most unsettling, Pole Ka's style is still delicately beautiful. There's something else here other than the straightforward gothically morbid, and her latest works (pictured) suggest that's worth keeping an eye on.

overhill - "someone is all alone someplace they shouldn't be"


Horror films..."In them the night is always falling. Someone is all alone someplace they shouldn't be. If there's a house, it must be the only one for miles around. If there's a road, it must be deserted. The trees are bare, or if they have leaves, they rustle darkly. The sky still has a little gray light. It is the kind of light in which even one's own hands appear unfamiliar, a stranger's hands." 
Quoted from Terra Incognita in Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art Of Joseph Cornell by Charles Simic (NYRB Classics)

Rebecca is a Londoner who just wants a bit of peace and quiet in Cornwall to finish her novel, but the locals have other ideas – British independent horror is looking up, going by the teaser trailer for Overhill alone. The world premiere is this Thursday, so there's not long to wait to see this classically-inspired chiller. Might have to watch The League Of Gentlemen again first though: "This is a local town for local people".

marianne faithfull: good witch


"The poster on the cover portrays singer Marianne Faithfull in comic-strip style as a good witch come to bring life to a desolate Britain." Daily Telegraph Magazine, April 10, 1968

Designed by Peter Blake (whose birthday it is today, happy birthday), with dragon sculpture and costume by Blake's wife Jann Haworth, and inspired by the Arthurian legend of Morgan Le Fay.

randomness - june 2013: illusions and revelations

via International Times on Facebook
Here we go again, living in the future and walking back through the past at the same time. Change is the only constant. Nothing is what it seems. Life's like that. So we cluster recurring motifs in different ways like Joseph Cornell boxes: ancient woodland, fox and owl, concrete public building, obsolete technology, folklore ritual, abandoned hospital, vintage school textbook, surrealist painting, full moon, magpie, standing stones. Or listen to songs with unsettling sounds, or read poetry about becoming shadows, or watch films about something that is other, all of which have their own recurring motifs. Make your own comfort zone. 

Except that if this was a film, there's the scene where someone sees something they weren't meant to see but needed to. Or otherwise learns something that turns everything upside down. The reveal moment. So, supermoons aren't rare (but they do look good). Oliver Cromwell liked a bit of a boogie. The original novel of Frankenstein isn't actually very well-written. Austerity isn't good for us. Spies like us more than we thought. A new town in England has a blank war memorial in remembrance of those who will die in future wars. Are you confused yet? Good. Whose reality is it anyway?

A drop in the ocean of what was missed while this blog was in the doledrums: Sheffield Fire & Police Museum Dummies (I always like a good dummy, you dummy) at Between Channels; Vintage Dutch Safety Posters at 50 Watts; the highly surreal genius of How To Look At More Than Meets The Eye by Ad Reinhardt from 1947 at Stopping Off Place; The Geography Trip's Pylonic Irrigation mesmerising mix of sounds; lots of things at Things Magazine but just now I like Fax Evolution best; another championing of unsung graphic design from the 1920s to 1970s at A Survey of Ukrainian Book Design; the 'perky' creepiness of 70s Italian film music at A Sound Awareness, and Taken To The Cleaners - Posters, Signs And Stickers From Laundrettes That Time Forgot at Voices Of East Anglia.