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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

Sculptured Melodies by Mera Sett

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Another week, another link to the Internet Archive. It’s hard to resist reporting these discoveries when so many are either surprising, much-needed, or—as in this case—fantastically rare and obscure. Sculptured Melodies (1922) was a book of short stories published privately in Britain in an edition of 500 copies. The possibly pseudonymous author and illustrator, Mera Sett, is so off the map that almost all the available information seems to derive from a series of posts about the book by John Hirschhorn Smith of Side Real Press. (The Internet Archive scan is also from Smith’s own copy of the book.) Each story is inspired by a piece of music, and written “in a decadent style reminiscent of Pierre Louÿs”; Orientalist or Ancient World exotica is the predominant tone.

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Whoever the author was, he (it does at least seem to be a he) illustrated his stories in the post-Beardsley idiom that continued to a feature of publishing in the 1920s. The drawings are very much the work of an enthusiastic amateur, although the same might be said of Sett’s better-known contemporary, Alastair (Hans Henning Voigt), another follower in Beardsley’s wake who compensated for his uneven figure drawing with copious decoration and outrageous costumes. Sett also uses decoration to disguise his shortcomings, borrowing some of Aubrey’s Japonisme peacocks along with other motifs from Persian and Indian art. The latter details suggest an unexplored artistic avenue that blends Beardsley’s black-and-white style with the tableaux of Persian miniatures.

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Weekend links 504

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Eric Burdon and the Animals, Mother Earth, Hour Glass; Fillmore Auditorium, October 19-21, 1967 by Bonnie MacLean.

• RIP Bonnie MacLean, another of the original San Francisco poster artists, and the only woman of note in the US psychedelic poster scene. (Not the only woman, however; in Europe we had Marijke Koger.) Related: Bonnie MacLean’s posters at Wolfgang’s. And RIP to illustrator Tom Adams, an artist whose exceptional covers for novels by Agatha Christie are only one part of a long and varied career.

The Litanies Of Satan (1982), the short but uncompromising debut album by Diamanda Galás, is reissued on Galás’s own label later this month. Further albums from her remarkable back catalogue will follow. Related: video of Galás performing The Litanies Of Satan in 1985.

• “Scorsese is amazed that United Artists didn’t touch one frame of Raging Bull, since it’s the first time in his life as a feature director that this has apparently occurred.” In 1981 Derek Malcolm talked to Martin Scorsese about his reasons for making a boxing picture.

“…in a post-AIDS world, its scenes of mass male-on-male decadence evoke a sense of the spiritual: Not to put so blunt a phrase on it, but the majority of the men we see in Cruising‘s bars would likely die within the next decade, victims of a very heterosexual genocide of neglect. These are blurred, melancholic memories locked forever within Cruising‘s celluloid; a phantasmagoria of men whose liberation was not legislatively delivered, but recovered in the privacy of leather bars and cruising joints. The film’s overt sexuality makes it hard to escape a sense of catastrophic loss.”

Jack King on William Friedkin’s Cruising

• The Pet Shop Boys’ eccentric feature film, It Couldn’t Happen Here (1988), is released on blu-ray and DVD in June. The video for You Were Always On My Mind gives an idea of the contents.

• “Orion being one of the brightest constellations makes it a lot of people’s favourites, and he was my favourite as a kid.” Ben Chasny on his history of stargazing.

• “You think the Holy Grail is lost? No. I have it on my piano.” John Boorman talks to Xan Brooks.

• Laura Cumming on the dark and haunting paintings of Belgian Symbolist Léon Spilliaert.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 631 by Ondness.

Alistair Ryder chooses 10 great killer plant films.

Howl by John Foxx And The Maths.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Gleam.

The Litanies Of Satan (1969) by Ruth White | Grail (1971) by Grail | Plants’ Music (1981) by Ippu-Do

 


Haeckel’s Radiolaria

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I’ve been admiring (and plundering) Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur (Artforms in Nature, 1904) for many years, but until this week I hadn’t thought to look for other books by the German biologist. The plates in Haeckel’s Kunstformen fascinate for the way their drawings emphasise the aesthetic qualities of the animals being studied, without taking the wild liberties one finds in early zoological books or being photographically faithful to the specimens.

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Of particular fascination are the many plates devoted to Radiolaria, tiny marine protozoa whose mineral skeletons look less like the product of living creatures than abstract decorations, crystalline growths or even pieces of alien architecture. These unusual forms were the ones that captured the imagination of René Binet, a French designer and architect who collaborated with Gustave Geffroy on a whole book of architectural and household designs derived from Haeckel’s plates. So too with Salvador Dalí who wasn’t above borrowing (or “quoting”) from Haeckel’s Radiolaria.

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Haeckel was evidently just as fascinated with the protozoa, enough to write and illustrate a substantial monograph. Die Radiolarien (Rhizopoda radiaria): Eine Monographie (1862) is available at the Biodiversity Heritage Library and the Internet Archive in a mammoth four-volume set, a large portion of which is explanatory text. There’s also a separate volume with a selection of the plates alone which is easier to browse. These drawings show much more variety than the Kunstformen plates which represent the examples that Haeckel considered most visually appealing; they also show us how much Haeckel tailored his renderings for Kunstformen, favouring symmetry and harmony over natural imperfections. Oscar Wilde would have approved of Haeckel’s adjustments, as he writes in The Decay of Lying: “My own experience is that the more we study Art, the less we care for Nature. What Art really reveals to us is Nature’s lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition. Nature has good intentions, of course, but, as Aristotle once said, she cannot carry them out.”

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Weekend links 503

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Rabbit Man with Skull Lady (1998) by Allan Kausch.

• “They were the first generation that said, ‘Fuck it, we’re not going to be intimidated.’ They weren’t going to make specifically pro-gay statements, but they were the first generation to really live that out. If you look at the Alternative Miss World, it’s a kind of gender-fuck, it’s almost like the English version of the Cockettes.” Jon Savage speaking in a piece by Alex Petridis about “Them” (Kevin Whitney, Luciana Martinez de la Rosa, Duggie Fields, Derek Jarman, Zandra Rhodes, Andrew Logan et al). Related: Andrew Logan in Andrew’s Adventures in Loganland.

• Sex, Satanism, Manson, Murder, and LSD: Kenneth Anger tells his tale. “Anger rarely if ever veers from the script as he is a man who has carefully controlled his myth and reputation for decades,” says Paul Gallagher.

• “Don’t even think about operating heavy machinery while listening to this mix.” The latest Dave Maier collection of recent ambient drift, drone-works and beatless atmospherics.

It is by no means easy to track or trace relationships between women, past or present. Women’s relationships with other women are often disguised: by well-documented marriages to men, by a cultural refusal to see what is in full view or even to believe such relationships exist. In a world built by and for men and their pursuits, a woman who loves women does not register—and is not registered, i.e., written down. Reasons for this layer one upon the other: A lesbian purposely hides her identity and remains closeted. A lesbian refuses to call herself a lesbian, disidentifying from the term and its associations for reasons personal or political. A woman does not know she is a lesbian—because she does not ever have a relationship with another woman, or because she is not aware that the relationships she engages in could be called lesbian. I didn’t call myself one for several years. Or, as in Carson’s case, her own self-understanding and identification are difficult to determine because of the efforts of those who outlived her and pushed her into the closet.

Jenn Shapland on the closeting of Carson McCullers

• At The Paris Review: The Collages of Max Ernst. Related: Kolaj: A directory of collage books.

Adam Scovell on the deathly hinterlands of Georges Franju’s Eyes without a Face.

• When Dorothy Parker got fired from Vanity Fair, by Jonathan Goldman.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: The Proto-Psychedelic Art of CG Jung’s Red Book.

• The abstract, single-stroke paintings of Daigoro Yonekura.

Adam Gopnik on the seriousness of George Steiner.

Caligula MMXX

The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker (1987) by Prince | Lotus Collage (1979) by Laraaji | Death Collage (1992) by Snakefinger & The Residents

 


Édifices Anciens: Fragments et Détails, Anvers

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Édifices Anciens: Fragments et Détails, Anvers is a surprise for being an example of early book by the Belgian artist and author, Jean de Bosschère, which is devoid of the idiosyncratic features of the artist’s later style, a style whose curious figures, human or otherwise, make de Bosschère a Belgian equivalent of Sidney Sime. Édifices Anciens was published in 1907, and if the illustrations lack the artist’s invention the architectural details that the drawings depict are inventive in their own way, being examples of the baroque style common to the old buildings of Belgium and the Netherlands.

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Anvers is the French name for Antwerp, a city with many facades that peak into those wonderful ogee flourishes, corner finials and crow-step gables that look (to English eyes) typically Belgian and very un-English. One of the few places you’ll see facades like these in England is the city of Hull whose status as a port meant traffic with the Low Countries in architectural styles as well as in goods. (Crow-step gables are a common feature of buildings in Scotland, however, a nation whose architectural idioms are the first signal to a visitor from the south that you’re in a different country.)

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Édifices Anciens may be browsed here or downloaded here. For more typical examples of Jean de Bosschère’s drawing style see the links below.

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Signed & numbered prints

    Blotter Art prints

 


 

Coulthart Books

    The Haunter of the Dark
    Reverbstorm

 


 

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