The Secret Life of Edward James

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From the earliest days of YouTube there were two films about Surrealist art that I’d been hoping would one day be posted somewhere so I could watch them again. One was José Montes-Baquer’s collaboration with Salvador Dalí, Impressions de la Haute Mongolie – Hommage á Raymond Roussel (1976), which eventually turned up at Ubuweb; the other was Patrick Boyle’s The Secret Life of Edward James, a 50-minute documentary about the wealthy poet and Surrealist art patron that was screened once, and once only, on the UK’s ITV network in 1978. Boyle’s film, which was narrated by James’ friend and fellow Surrealism enthusiast, George Melly, was my first introduction to a fascinating figure who was one of the last—if not the last—of the many eccentric aristocrats that these islands have produced. I knew James’ name at the time from Surrealist art books where the Edward James Foundation was credited as the owner of paintings by Magritte and Dalí, but had no idea that James was the model for three of Magritte’s paintings, including La reproduction interdite (1937), that he’d abandoned his huge ancestral home to create a Surrealist house at nearby Monkton, and had also commenced the construction of a concrete fantasia, Las Pozas, in the heart of the Mexican jungle at Xilitla. Boyle’s film explores all of this in the calm and uncondescending manner that used to be a staple of UK TV documentaries. I’ve been telling people about this film for years, hoping that somebody might have taped it (unlikely in 1978) but no one ever seemed to have seen it.

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In 1986, two years after James’ death, Monkton was up for sale so Central TV sent George Melly and director Patrick Boyle to revisit the place. Monkton, A Surrealist Dream, was the result, a 26-minute documentary which relied heavily on the earlier film to fill out the details of James’ life. The original resurfaced for me again, albeit briefly, in Brighton in 1998. A Surreal Life: Edward James (1907–1984) was an exhibition at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery which featured many works from the James art collection, including major pieces by Leonora Carrington (who appears in Boyle’s film), Dalí, Leonor Fini, Magritte, Picasso, Dorothea Tanning, Pavel Tchelitchew and others. A tape of the 1978 documentary was showing on a TV in one part of the exhibition but the people I was with were reluctant to stand around for an hour so all I got to see was a minute or so of Edward in his jungle paradise. Happily we’re all now able to watch this gem of a film since it was uploaded to YouTube earlier this month (my thanks to James at Strange Flowers for finding it!).

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For anyone whose interest is piqued by all of this, two books are worth searching for: Swans Reflecting Elephants, My Early Years (1982) is an autobiography which George Melly compiled from conversations with its subject (and which apparently finished their friendship). James’ propensity for invention means it can’t always be trusted but then that’s the case with many memoirs. A Surreal Life: Edward James (1998) is the 160-page exhibition catalogue which explores James’ life and aesthetic obsessions in a series of copiously-illustrated essays. Both books can be found relatively cheaply via used book dealers.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Las Pozas panoramas
René Magritte by David Wheatley
Soft Self-Portrait of Salvador Dalí
Mongolian impressions
Hello Dali!
Return to Las Pozas
Dirty Dalí
Impressions de la Haute Mongolie revisited
Las Pozas and Edward James

Val Denham album covers

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Funeral In Berlin (1981) by Throbbing Gristle.

British artist and musician Val Denham was mentioned in yesterday’s post so I thought it worthwhile following up with a selection of the painter’s record sleeves. Denham’s art stood out for me when I first saw the cover of Throbbing Gristle’s Funeral In Berlin album. For its visceral immediacy this is still a big favourite. The early 1980s were the perfect time for Denham’s paintings to appear on record sleeves, the diminished area of CD packages providing a poor stage for work that’s this vivid and dramatic. Denham’s associations with Throbbing Gristle extended to work with Marc Almond, a cover for the Some Bizzare compilation If You Can’t Please Yourself You Can’t, Please Your Soul which featured ex-TG members Coil and Psychic TV, and further associations with Coil allies Black Sun Productions. Many of these connections can be explored at Denham’s detailed website which has a great gallery section showing work in a variety of media from the past thirty years. Denham’s art is surreal, intense, often disturbing, and deeply personal in its exploration of shifting gender boundaries. Isn’t it time someone published a Val Denham book?

Some cover samples follow. More can be seen at the artist’s website.

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Untitled (1982) by Marc and The Mambas. Design by Huw Feather.

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Torment And Toreros (front, 1983) by Marc and The Mambas. Design by Huw Feather.

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Torment And Toreros (back, 1983) by Marc and The Mambas. Design by Huw Feather.

Continue reading “Val Denham album covers”

A Moment of Inspiration, 1983

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Marc Almond (1983) by John Coulthart.

This, girls and boys, is how we occupied ourselves in the long nights before the advent of 24-hour television: we sat up drawing portraits of Marc Almond. A conversation on Twitter reminded me of this, a drawing that’s never before appeared in public but which is now added to the web collection. For a quick piece of art it’s actually a lot more successful than many of the more laboured things of mine that were printed far and wide at this time. The portrait was copied from a magazine photo, I forget which one, possibly Flexipop if it was still going, an increasingly wayward title that had a soft spot (so to speak) for Soft Cell. The Spanish hat identifies it as being from the Torment and Toreros period while the lettering was taken from Val Denham and Huw Feather’s cover design for the first Marc and The Mambas album, Untitled (1982). The padded-cell background refers, of course, to Marc’s former group, and was copied from the back of the Bedsitter 12″. Most of the drawing is done in black Biro pen with the hat and shirt in gouache. On the back I happened to make a note of the date, something I seldom bother with.

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The Twitter conversation was prompted by the appearance of Soft Cell’s notorious Sex Dwarf video at Dangerous Minds; Flexipop enjoyed the scurrilous side of Soft Cell so much they printed a still from this Bacchanal as a centre-spread in one of their issues. Meanwhile Marc himself was writing in the Guardian this week about Bowie manqué Jobriath, one of the real-life inspirations for the Brian Slade character in Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine, and the subject of a feature-length documentary, Jobriath A.D., by Kieran Turner, currently showing at the BFI’s London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Derek Jarman’s music videos

Sigils & Signs

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Every Man and Woman is a Star (detail, 2008) by Jesse Bransford.

Observatory in Brooklyn, NYC, hosts another occult-themed group show next month. Signs & Sigils is curated by Phantasmaphile‘s Pam Grossman who says:

The fibers of art and magic are woven so tightly together, it’s often said that they are one and the same.  Images are imaginal pictures.  When we see something, a constellation of synapses fires, associations swirl, and new thoughts are born.  We are altered – and what is magic, if not this?

The participants are  Andreco, Jesse Bransford, Derrick Cruz, Adela Leibowitz, Jason Leinwand, Tamalyn Miller, Deborah Mills, Annie Murphy, Ouroboros Press, Michael Robinson, David Chaim Smith, Fredrik Söderberg and Hilary White. I don’t think I’d seen anything by David Chaim Smith before, an artist whose drawings resemble the diagrams of 18th-century alchemical theorists propelled to new heights of elaboration.

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Pentacle (2011) by Adela Leibowitz.

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Whatever is possible or impossible in the sphere of His great world should be possible or impossible in the sphere of My small world (no date) by Jason Leinwand.

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In Two, The Won (no date) by Hilary White.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Alchemically Yours
Fata Morgana: The New Female Fantasists

Gay octopus sex

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So now that I have your undivided attention… You’d think someone would have tried a male variation on Hokusai’s notorious Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife (1814) before now but if they have I’ve not seen it. Hokusai gives us a father-and-son pair of amorous octopuses but the smaller creature is missing from this picture by Tumblr user Joapa. Nice use of texture to give the feel of an old comic book page, if the online poster manufacturers weren’t so prudish I could imagine this doing brisk business. Those wanting more of the boys-and-tentacles micro-fetish are directed to the art of NoBeast for whom {feuilleton} burns an undying and ever-perverse flame. Joapa tip via Homocomix.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The gay artists archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Le Poulpe Colossal
Abysmal creatures
Fascinating tentacula
Jewelled butterflies and cephalopods
The art of Rune Olsen
Octopulps
The art of NoBeast