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


 

Weekend links 511

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Design by Romek Marber, 1963.

• The death of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki prompted so many “Shining composer” headlines you have to wonder what kind of notices he might have received if his early work hadn’t been purloined by Hollywood. György Ligeti always seemed ambivalent about having his music used as cinematic illustration (Kubrick annoyed him by altering some of it without permission) but Penderecki worked as a composer for Polish films in the 1960s, not only providing a score for The Saragossa Manuscript (1965) but also (surprisingly) writing music for a number of short animations. I’ve been listening to his music for almost 40 years, after a chance discovery of the stunning Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima led me to seek out more. I have to admit that the appeal of his recordings lay in their ability to thrill and terrify—qualities that musicologists seldom address—and I’ve never paid any attention to Penderecki’s later work which was less of an assault on the senses. At The Quietus James Martin argues for listening to the entire oeuvre, not just the early works. For more about the composer’s life and work, Culture.pl has a number of good articles, eg: Mazes, Notes & Dali: The Extraordinary Life of Krzysztof Penderecki, and Music Is Not for Everyone: An Interview with Krzysztof Penderecki.

• The late Romek Marber (1925–2020) was a designer/illustrator whose name is familiar to collectors of Penguin books via the Marber Grid, the template he created in the early 1960s for the Penguin Crime series, and which was later extended across the entire paperback range. Marber talked about this period of his work in Penguin by Illustrators in 2009. Elsewhere: Rick Poyner on Marber’s design, and a suggestion for how the Marber Grid was designed.

• “…you’ll see Lego and children’s toys, but also Rawlplugs, tile spacers, Monopoly houses, cigarillo tips, curtain hooks, biofilters, Smarties tube lids, fishing beads, broken security seals, razor parts, bits of toothbrushes, roofing screw caps, medical lancets, golf tees, false teeth, plastic soldiers, posties’ rubber bands, bungs and stoppers.” Beachcomber Tracey Williams talks to Andrew Male about the undying ubiquity of plastic waste.

• “Thanks to Bookshop, there is no reason to buy books on Amazon anymore,” says Alex Lauer. The caveat is that the service is limited to the USA. I order books direct from publishers or from eBay and Abe; the latter may be Amazon-owned but you’re still paying most of the money to the individual sellers.

• Mixes of the week: Radio Belbury 19: Family Fun Time, and Through A Landscape Of Mirrors Vol. VII – France IV by David Colohan.

• “[Amanda Sewell's] Wendy Carlos: A Biography is a great work of scholarship,” says Geeta Dayal.

• “Part of me expects to go on forever.” David Barnett on Michael Moorcock at 80.

• “What is the point of a critic if not to tell the truth?” asks Rachel Cooke.

John Boardley on medieval road-trips and the invention of print.

Anna Bogutskaya on where to begin with the Weird West.

• Inside Tove Jansson’s private universe by Sheila Heti.

• Memory Of Hiroshima (1973) by Stomu Yamash’ta’s Red Buddha Theatre | Hiroshima Mon Amour (1977) by Ultravox! | Hiroshima (1982) by Borsig

 


Hazardous design

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Cover design by Elizabeth Story.

Our present viral moment reminded me that I hadn’t written anything about Peter Watts is an Angry Sentient Tumor, a collection of essays by Canadian science-fiction writer Peter Watts whose interiors I designed for Tachyon last autumn. Watts has a special interest in biology, and several of the pieces in the collection are partly or wholly concerned with pandemics; needless to say, when I was adding a biohazard symbol to one of these pages six months ago I didn’t expect such a situation to be the event that defined the coming year, although for anyone who’s read enough SF (or horror, for that matter), potentialities like this tend to lurk in the back of your mind. Watts’ essays are mostly blog entries—much more substantial ones than the brief things I usually file here—together with a few articles from print sources. The contents range from polemics about police violence and the creeping surveillance state to personal entries covering his late brother, his father’s closeted sexuality, his beloved cats, and a near-fatal experience with a flesh-eating virus. There are also film reviews, scientific speculations and musings/warnings about global calamities, especially the climate variety. His writing is consistently witty, engaging and thought-provoking. The book was a pleasure to read as well as work on.

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As with other interiors I’ve designed for Tachyon, I took the design cues from the cover, which in this case was the work of Elizabeth Story. The internal graphics are a combination of writhing tentacles and hazard/warning signs, the latter being taken unaltered from public information sets or adapted to suit the content of the piece. In a way they’re a sequel to the Tarot symbols I designed in 2006 based on graphics from the international symbols commonly used in public buildings. The bespoke designs were fun to create, and required some ingenuity in places: how do you show global warming in a simple, wordless symbol? My solution was to put a globe in a frying pan. There are 50 essays in all so the examples shown here represent a fifth of the book.

For an idea of Watts’ writing together with his thoughts about the pandemic, his most recent post is here. He’s not the only person who’s been saying we should expect more events like this one in the future.

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Weekend links 510

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• Saul Bass’s cult science-fiction film, Phase IV, has received a very welcome (Region B) blu-ray release from 101 Films. Everything is a metaphor for the unavoidable just now, but a film about a group of scientists besieged by a tiny and insidious biological threat can’t help but have additional resonance. The new release includes the original (and seldom seen) cosmic ending plus another disc containing several of Bass’s short films. Previously: Directed by Saul Bass.

• Music at the Internet Archive: Live at Metro (2007) by Sora, and three rare cassette releases by French synth-rock duo Fondation: Metamorphoses (1980), Sans Etiquette (1980), and Le Vaisseau Blanc (1983).

• Mixes of the week: a Manu Dibango (RIP) mix from Aquarium Drunkard, and Industrial Synth Rave Isolation Mix by Moon Wiring Club.

We must talk about Nightwood. The novel that sits between those early and late phases of her writing life, the tale of Felix Volkbein, Robin Vote, Dr Matthew-Mighty-Grain-of-Salt-Dante-O’Connor and many others, caught between world wars and each other, in the decadent cities of Europe. The novel follows the journey of Robin Vote, who is more “earth-flesh, fungi, which smells of captured dampness” than person. Sleepwalking through life, she nonetheless wakes up her fellow characters Nora, Felix and Jenny, who each try and pin her down, to no avail. It is a novel that defies synopsis. It is unsurprising that this remarkable book has attracted a “burgeoning body of interpretations”, as Tyrus Miller here notes; yet it seems that there are still new ways to approach it. Julie Taylor offers an affective reading, for example; Joanne Winning concentrates on Nightwood’s collaborative origins, exploring the fruitful and often overlooked creative relationship between Barnes and her partner, Thelma Wood. This is not just a case of considering that relationship as source material for the novel, but unpacking what Winning describes as their “lesbian modernist grotesque”. It is particularly welcome that Winning treats Wood as a silver-point artist in her own right.

Jade French reviews Shattered Objects: Djuna Barnes’s Modernism

• Ben Beaumont-Thomas on where to start with Kraftwerk, and Jennifer Lucy Allan on where to start with Alice Coltrane.

• The BBC’s Culture page discovers Tom of Finland but can’t bring itself to show much of his artwork.

• The art of Asterix: illustrator Albert Uderzo (RIP) at work.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins on “a marvel of clockwork ingenuity”.

• The films Wes Anderson is watching during isolation.

Greydogtales on six more strange tales that linger.

Adrian Searle‘s favourite online art galleries.

• The Ghost Box label is now at Bandcamp.

Twin Flames (Edit) by Lustmord.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Flamboyant.

Phase By Phase (1976) by Peter Baumann | Phase 3: Agni Detonating Over The Thar Desert… (1995) by Earth | Phase Draft (2003) by Bill Laswell

 


ER Herman’s Fables

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I: The Persons of the Tale.

The Fables in question are the short pieces by Robert Louis Stevenson that first appeared in a collected edition in 1896. These illustrations by British artist ER Herman are from a 1914 edition that I hadn’t encountered before until I received an email asking if I knew anything about the artist. I didn’t, and neither does anybody else it seems; Herman’s life and other works are a complete mystery, as are his forenames (he does seem to be a he, however, going by a review in The Bookman). I suspect the ominous date of publication may be a clue: Herman could well have died in the First World War without having the opportunity to publish anything else. On the other hand, a couple of biographical entries have 1890–1930 as birth and death dates, although this makes the absence of other artwork even more striking. And given such vagueness, it’s still possible that ER Herman could have been a woman who gave up her art career to raise a family, as my mother did in the 1950s.

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II: The Sinking Ship.

Regarding the drawings, The Bookman review identifies a Beardsley influence which is immediately evident in the use of pictorial space, the masses of black and white, and the parallel shading lines. So too with the treatment of clothing; Herman’s figures, however, are his (or her) own. It makes a change seeing illustrations for a Stevenson book that isn’t Treasure Island or A Child’s Garden of Verses. Fables includes The Persons of the Tale, a surprisingly early piece of metafiction in which Long John Silver and Captain Smollett briefly step out of the pages of Treasure Island to smoke their pipes and discuss the likely outcome of the story. “But there’s the ink-bottle opening. To quarters!”

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III: The Two Matches.

My thanks to Duncan for alerting me to these drawings which may be seen at a larger size here. If anyone has any details about ER Herman’s life or other work, please leave a comment.

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IV: The Sick Man and the Fireman.

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V: The Devil and the Innkeeper.

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Weekend links 509

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The Art of the Occult: A Visual Sourcebook for the Modern Mystic by S. Elizabeth. The book will be published in September by White Lion Publishing, and includes some work of mine.

• “The structure of the film as a memory palace consists of scenes intercutting different movies, depicting similar situations lived by the same actors in similar locations and, yes, similar sexual positions building over the course of its run-time.” Memory Palace: on Ask Any Buddy and the Golden Age of Gay Porn. Caden Mark Gardner writes on a kaleidoscopic, experimental archive piece of gay pornography. • Related: Paul P., the artist making dreamy paintings from vintage gay erotica.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Spotlight on…Terry Southern The Magic Christian (1959), and Bill Hsu presents…High Anxiety: tense, dark films from 2010-2019 (for fans of Robert Aickman and Brian Evenson).

Green (1986) by Hiroshi Yoshimura, a welcome reissue of an album of minimal electronica. More green: The Green Fog by Guy Maddin has been on Vimeo for a while.

• Mixes of the week: Time is on our hands by Beautify Junkyards, and Textural Hominini Cognition by The Ephemeral Man.

• How John Waters and Mink Stole made Pink Flamingos, and Mink Stole on the inside story of John Waters’ greatest films.

Viktor Wynd: “I was offered a mummified arm—but I didn’t have €2,000 on me”.

• At Dangerous Minds: the solitary Surrealism of Gertrude Abercrombie.

Cats and Domino

Webcam in Italia

The Green Chinese Table (1988) by Seigen Ono | Green Water (1996) by Coil | Green Evil (1997) by Paul Schütze

 


 


 

Signed & numbered prints

    Blotter Art prints

 


 

Coulthart Books

    The Haunter of the Dark
    Reverbstorm

 


 

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