Thursday, 30 December 2010

Oppressed Birdman With Human Aspects

Monkey Eating Eagle, 1981

Roman Caesar, 1970

The Leper, for Flaubert's St. Julien the Hospitaler, 1956

"The owl that calls upon the night speaks the unbeliever's fright" for William Blake's The Auguries of Innocence, 1959

Mandrill; Hyena, both 1951

Rooster; Scorpion, both 1951

Old man seen from behind, 1952

Portrait of an Irishman, Sean O'Casey, 1952

Love me, love my dog, 1958

Death among the thistles, 1959

Dog in the meadow, 1964

Oppressed birdman with human aspects, 1969

Crow, 1978

From Horned Beetles & Other Insects, 1958

It took a while to find a reasonably-priced copy of The Complete Prints of Leonard Baskin, but it was worth the wait. From the introduction by Ted Hughes:

These images... resemble stained glass windows - not only physically (though they do that too, obviously enough, with their starkly subdivided interiors, their palimpsest of mapped inner regions opening behind and within each other), but in the way they process our attention. They place us within a sacred building, as if we were looking out through these icons and seeing the world's common light changed by them. Or else they place us outside looking in. Then we see through their symbols still further mysterious business going on round an altar. That deeper life, in other words, is not just deeper than ordinary life, or just more universal. It is elect and consecrated. I hesitate to call it religious. It is rather something that survives in the afterglow of collapsed religion.

This rich inwardness of Baskin's art has many components. Some of the more accessible of these, maybe, can be seen in his graphic style itself, which is so like a signature, so unique to him and so consistent, that it might well interest a graphologist. But the oddities of it hint at other sources. As if a calligraphy had been improvised from the knotted sigils and clavicles used for conjuring spirits, those bizarre scratch-marks of the arcane powers, such as we find in practical grimoires. This element of his draughtmanship is no more than a trace, but it peers from every interstice, and suggests a natural psychic proclivity, enough to attune his operation, perhaps, to certain freedoms familiar in Jewish mysticism. A passport between worlds usually kept closed to each other. It is one of the essentials of his work's power to disturb, and of it's weird beauty too.

Previous posts on Baskin here and here.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Lucjan Mianowski

Works by the Polish artist Lucjan Mianowski (1933-2009). More: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Hannah Höch Bilderbuch

Hannah Höch, Dumblet and Her Egg, detail

I had no idea this existed before I stumbled upon it at the Berlinische Galerie. I should obviously have been paying more attention to the Weimar blog, which also has several of Höch's paintings I hadn't seen before. She created Picture Book (Bilderbuch in the original German) in 1945, although it remained unpublished until 1985, and it contains an assortment of fantastic collage creatures accompanied by the artist's short, playfully nonsensical rhymes.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Interview with Jim Jupp

Jim Jupp co-founded the Ghost Box label with Julian House in 2003, and has released music as Belbury Poly and Eric Zann. He very kindly took the time to answer a few of my questions.

Ghost Box seem to be interested in both the sinister (Lovecraft, The Stone Tape) and the benevolently paternalistic/institutional (Penguin paperbacks, public information films), and especially in the overlap between the two. Do you have a specific connection between them in mind? Or is that for listeners to decide for themselves?

The intersection of those two worlds is very much what Ghost Box is about and it's something that Julian and I stumbled on really in trying to package our music and show how it referred back to our own interests and obsessions. It's a mystery to us why it works but there just seems to us, to be some kind of logic to a world where weird cosmic and occult fictions play out against a background of post war modernism and paternalistic institutions. Maybe something to do with the otherness of things recalled from childhood and the way that images, sound, Tv pictures take on a fantastic aspect through the medium of memory- so a perfectly mundane illustrated book or public information film from the dimly perceived past takes on the magical qualities of a dream.

Many artists have appeared in recent years with similar influences to yourselves, including some (Broadcast, Moon Wiring Club) who have ended up collaborating with Ghost Box. Do you think this is more than coincidence?

I think this is partly coincidental but in music and any other forms of culture it always happens that some themes seem to swing into the spotlight simultaneously for different artists. In the case of Broadcast I'd say that they were in this territory long before any of us and were a major influence. We were in touch with Moon Wiring Club from back in our first year of operation and I think that this was a case of parallel evolution: the emergence of another label with a strong senses of visual identity and narrative set in a hazily defined parallel world. I think now though partly because there was a scene identified as "hauntology" there are now acts emerging who hang everything on images from old Dennis Wheatley novels and Hammer films, but that was only ever a small part of the influences at work on the Ghost Box artists. Inevitably any genre terms becomes a stick to beat you with and I see hauntology used to describe wildly differing kinds of music, to be honest I don't really understand what it means - it was very nice and very flattering to be part of a new genre definition but at Ghost Box we're trying to shuffle politely sideways off the hauntology stage without anyone noticing.

If Ghost Box imitators started springing up in the same way as Boards Of Canada clones did a few years ago, would you feel the need to change your approach in any way? Or are you happy for the Ghost Box world to be expanded by others in the same way as Lovecraft's was?

Well I think I partly answered this in the previous question. I'm not sure that we have that many imitators musically, but I do see the influence of Julian's artwork cropping up (sometimes blatantly) all over the place in the work of new artists and sometimes work from established artists at bigger labels. That's not a problem for Julian I don't think its very nice to know we've been a very subtle (almost invisible maybe) influence for some artists.

On the subject of BOC I'd have to acknowledge their huge influence on what we do, our musical approaches may have been different but that goal of the past reinterpreted as a magical or dreamlike world is something for which we are entirely indebted to them. I find their records still thoroughly fresh and exciting even now, I don't think I'll ever get tired of them. Its odd because that period of British electronica from the mid nineties to the early 21st century was extremely prolific and exciting and yet with hindsight a lot of the records seemed to be so damned zeitgeisty that they had a really short sell by date past which they no longer sounded exciting. I imagine that period will enjoy a huge revival in about five years and maybe all those sounds will be re-enchanted.

Julian has said that he's interested in the "clunky" design of library LP covers and British modernism, and you've made similar comments about the music of Denton and Cooke ("A slightly quirky, slightly wrong Britishness, even thought there's clearly a disco sound"). What is it about that kind of awkwardness that appeals?

I think what we're getting at here is a unique Britishness in design and music - the terms clunky and awkward are maybe a little unfair - I guess it has to do with the British love of the amateurish and homespun. We are a culture of DIY enthusiasts, gardeners, garden shed inventors and hobbyists and the results are often beautiful through the very fact of not being slickly produced.

The clunkyness of the kind of design Julian talks about here though is not just a British thing- its a product of its time, and age where design and vision were modernist, and often with an eye to the future but the means of production were still scissors glue and a little bit of craftsmanship.

Ghost Box has been endlessly theorised by music journalists. Was this unexpected?

It was completely unexpected, for a year or so music forums and blogs gave us loads of coverage and there was endless (sometimes very heated) debate about what we were doing and what it meant. Its a very strange feeling having your motivations dissected like this, kind of annoying and flattering in equal measure. I think the debate carries on but now its just about hauntology and hopefully and we're not really such a hot topic. I've still no idea what hauntology is though and couldn't give a hoot about Derrida or Baudrillard.

Would it be fair to say that Ghost Box are systematically exploring aspects of the past that are largely missing from our present culture?

I think that's fair but its also to do with reassembling elements of the past to create a kind of parallel world where all this stuff happens all at once, if that makes sense?

It wasn't really deliberate but looking back when we started Ghost Box 7 years ago it was just at the time that everything was starting to get uploaded, it was just pre-You Tube and Flickr so the stuff we were referencing was still rare and largely forgotten. It's all very exciting and wonderful that you can now see any old ladybird book or public information film within a few seconds - but I think in a way that increases the poignancy of it all , because those old things for us were about the mystery of half remembered TV or the thrill of finding a mysterious old record in a charity shop. Now it looks like that magic and those thrills will be gone for ever as the entirety of human culture is uploaded. So maybe now rather than being purely about nostalgia we are partly about nostalgia for nostalgia.

Do you think it will be important in coming years to develop new ways of combining audio and visuals, or are the current formats satisfactory? Is vinyl preferable to digital?

There is more pressure for artists to produce their own video content now and it's daunting because I don't believe anyone could ever do justice to both music and visuals - unless they're producing very rapidly sample based, drone or noise music and cut and paste video art. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with this, its partly what we do, but of course with all of these tools instantly available to everyone the lack of quality control is a problem, and there now seems to me to a be a virtue only in ideas and concepts in a lot of highly acclaimed new music (especially electronics) I think a lot of artists are just throwing a colossal amount of shit at the digital wall in the hope that some of it sticks, which inevitably it does. I hope though people will still learn about filmaking or music production or composition. I for one can't keep up, I find social media stressful enough, and I don't really ever get time to respond to messages and mails. It worries me to see people unable to get through a conversation of a meal without fannying around with a smartphone. I don't mean to sound like a grumpy old man but I think its the duty of anyone who grew up in the pre digital age to be on their guard against the alarming rate at which technology enslaves us. I strongly believe it really really does and I think we all know it deep down. This is nothing to do with your question though, sorry!

Vinyl is certainly popular with our audience and it looks more and more like it will now be around for longer than the CD. All sorts of main stream releases now get vinyl versions and I know from our manufacturers that demand is going up and up.

Download music is great and its nice to be able to grab stuff quickly and cheaply on demand, but popular music divorced from its physical and visual context is somehow a pale shadow of a download. Especially I think for electronic and instrumental music or pretentious high concept rubbish like ours. The fidelity arguments about CD versus vinyl are well worn and I think it depends on the kind of music you're listening to. I think classical and acoustic music are far far better on CD and electric and electronic music are much nicer with all the warmth and artifacts of vinyl. Most of all its nice to be able to put music on without having to jab about on a glowing screen like a lab monkey trying to get peanuts.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Edward Wadsworth

Yorkshire-born artist, graphic designer and camofleur. Edward Wadsworth is probably best known for his for camoflage designs for allied "dazzle ships" during World War I, which applied his early Vorticist style on a vast scale in order to confuse U-boats as to the size, speed and direction of a vessel. There's plenty of info on Wadsworth at Wikipedia and elsewhere so no point reiterating... I'd always assumed he was a member of the Surrealist movement, but in fact he never joined the group or associated with them. The images above are from Edward Wadsworth: Complete Paintings and Drawings by Jonathan Black, and there are many more here and here.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Welt aus Schrift

Ludwig Sütterlin, 1901

Ivan Jacovlevič Bilibin, 1904

Henry van de Velde, 1898

Koloman Moser, 1902

Peter Behrens, 1907

Julius Maria Luthmann, 1925; Hendrikus Theodorus Wijdeveld, 1925

Enrico Prampolini, 1922

Roman Cieślewicz, 1978

Ott + Stein, 1990

Karel Mišek, 1999

A few favourites from the (German language) catalogue of a wonderful exhibition at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, World as Words: The 20th Century in Europe and the USA. Unfortunately my German is rusty to say the least, and there wasn't much in the way of information in the exhibition itself so I can't tell you a great deal more, but many of the names will be familiar to anyone with more than a passing interest in design.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Ryszard Kaja

The second of my Polish poster purchases was a recent one by Ryszard Kaja for the Polish Aviation Museum. Again you can find more of his work on the Pigasus website as well as the Polish Posters Shop, and there's some information on his set designs here.