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.