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


 

The art of Karel Thole, 1914–2000

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The Disciples of Cthulhu (1976).

A disagreement I have with the burgeoning world of Lovecraft art is the relentless focus on monsters—and I say this in a week when I’ve been working on a new commission of exactly this: six pictures of Lovecraftian creatures. Lovecraft famously emphasised atmosphere as the paramount ingredient in a weird story, and atmosphere in his fiction is often generated by his descriptions of landscape and architecture; Angela Carter’s insightful essay in the George Hay Necronomicon (1978) was entitled Lovecraft and Landscape. Architecture often receives considerable attention in the stories: The Call of Cthulhu, The Dreams in the Witch House, The Haunter of the Dark, and At the Mountains of Madness all concern invented (or reimagined) architectural settings. Given this, you’d expect architecture to be more represented in Lovecraft art but this is seldom the case. When it comes to Cthulhu, a creature whose myriad representations must be reaching some kind of critical mass, artists will lavish great attention on tentacles, claws and flourished wings but the Cyclopean stones of R’lyeh are invariably reduced to a tentative backdrop.

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I mostri all’angolo della strada (The Monsters on the Street Corner, 1966).

Hence the attraction of the wraparound cover by Karel Thole for I mostri all’angolo della strada, a Lovecraft story collection with one of the few cover designs I’ve seen that attempts to communicate anything of the writer’s preoccupations with angled space. Thole was a very prolific Dutch artist, producing many covers for Italian publisher Mondadori, and painting covers for Mondadori’s SF magazine, Urania, for over 20 years. The first paintings of Cthulhu I saw were those by Thole (above) and Bruce Pennington in Franz Rottensteiner’s The Fantasy Book (1978); Thole’s monster doesn’t have the required scale (and Pennington’s cover is a favourite) but for me it still carries a Proustian charge. The art for I mostri all’angolo della strada was featured in The Cosmical Horror of HP Lovecraft (1991), one of the first attempts to anthologise Lovecraft-related illustration past and present. The book contains many excellent reprints together with dubious material from European comics. Thole’s street scene—a curious combination of Escher, De Chirico and Art Nouveau—stood out among page after page of slavering abominations. I’d like to see more art that follows this direction; less of the monsters, more of the monstrous architecture.

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Colui che sussurrava nel buio (The Whisperer in Darkness, 1963).

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The Gable Window

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The Gable Window (1984) by John Coulthart.

Presenting some of my first Lovecraftian illustrations, neither of which have been made public before. This drawing, and the one below, are as much Derlethian as they are Lovecraftian, depicting scenes from a short story and a short novel written by August Derleth from fragments and notes found in Lovecraft’s papers. The Gable Window was collected in The Survivor and Others (1957) which happens to be the only Lovecraft-related title I own in its original Arkham House printing. Derleth’s posthumous collaborations are often more Derleth than Lovecraft but I liked the central idea of The Gable Window which, like The Music of Erich Zann, concerns a window that also serves as a portal to other dimensions.

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The Lurker at the Threshold (1982) by John Coulthart.

Before I began adapting The Haunter of the Dark in 1986 I hadn’t made much of an attempt to illustrate Lovecraft seriously. These drawings and a handful of other pieces were more like experimental sketches, although The Gable Window is obviously a very polished piece of work. Rather than depict anything overtly monstrous, each piece began as an arrangement of ink splotches and washes applied to cartridge paper soaked with water. The Lurker at the Threshold is one of several small pictures made with this technique in 1982, none of which are very successful. This one doesn’t look too bad but the best one, depicting the climax of The Dunwich Horror, I sent to the late Roger Dobson for possible use in an issue of Aklo, and haven’t seen it since. The Gable Window refined the technique by using fewer splotches and a more detailed drawing applied afterwards. I’ve never been happy with the figure, and the books on the left are lazily done, but it’s one of the better things I was doing in 1984. The biggest surprise looking at the drawing again was noticing the crest over the window which features a triangle/crescent motif that’s very similar to the one I designed a year later for Hawkwind’s Chronicle of the Black Sword album. This wasnt intentional.

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Today The Gable Window seems like an indicator of where my head was at during this time. I was tired of doing Hawkwind-related things, and eager to immerse myself in something different; a series of Ballard illustrations was one potential way forward, Lovecraft was another. A year later I’d made a decision and, as it were, stepped through the window.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Yuggoth details
A Mountain Walked
Lovecraft’s Monsters unleashed
Lovecraft’s Monsters
JK Potter and HP Lovecraft
Cthulhu Labyrinth
Tentacles #4: Cthulhu in Poland
Cthulhu Calendar
S. Latitude 47°9, W. Longitude 126°43
Resurgam variations
De Profundis
H.P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction
Heavy Metal, October 1979: the Lovecraft special
Cthulhoid and Artflakes
Cthulhu for sale
Cthulhu God
Cthulhu under glass
CthulhuPress
The monstrous tome
Cubist Cthulhu

 


Occult gestures

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Dean Stockwell freaks out: The Dunwich Horror (1970).

I’m off to the NecronomiCon later this month so HP Lovecraft and all his works will be a predominant theme for the next couple of weeks. I’m also extremely busy right now so posts may tend to be brief.

One of the films showing in Providence for the convention is Daniel Haller’s 1970 production of The Dunwich Horror. I have a low tolerance for bad horror films, and this is a bad one despite being closer to its source than other AIP quickies. Dean Stockwell plays Wilbur Whateley whose goatish qualities are here reduced to a gesture which even the filmmakers may not have known as “the Horns of Pan”, a borrowing from the famous photo of Aleister Crowley in his magician’s robes. I noted an earlier borrowing of this gesture some time ago after stumbling upon an obscure silent film serial, The Mysteries of Myra. The use in The Dunwich Horror provides another odd link between Lovecraft and Crowley, and makes me wonder whether any other films have nodded to Crowley in this way.

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Aleister Crowley in 1912.

Another stray connection worth noting: Dean Stockwell was good friends with Dennis Hopper, and the pair are described in a number of sources as living for a while in a house run by Marjorie Cameron, an artist with a direct connection to Crowley via her husband, Jack Parsons. This may be rumour but Hopper and Cameron did appear together in Curtis Harrington’s beguiling Night Tide in 1961.

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Finally, the gesture appears again on the cover of the soundtrack album which AIP smartly titled Music of the Devil God Cult: Strange Sounds from Dunwich. The title was too much for easy-listening maestro Les Baxter to live up to but he does have the distinction of being the first composer to record a piece of music entitled Necronomicon.

Previously on { feuilleton }
NecronomiCon Providence 2015
The horror
Die Farbe and The Colour Out of Space
The Mysteries of Myra

 


Weekend links 270

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Cover design for UFOs and Extra-Terrestrials in History (four vols, 1978) by Yves Naud.

Come To The Sabbath, “a festival of dark arts delving into the influence of Black Magick, Witchcraft, Demonology and Satanism in pop culture”, takes place at Apiary Studios, 458 Hackney Road, London, from Tues 18th–Sun 23rd August.

• “Visitors, if there had ever been any, would have said that the little town of Mansfield was haunted.” Showdown is a previously unpublished short story by Shirley Jackson.

• “A sandbox stealthy immersive sim in a surreal, horror-y world inspired by writers like Burroughs and Ballard…” Alice O’Connor previews the forthcoming computer game, Tangiers.

Sometime in the late 1960s, the artist Robert Smithson took a trip to southwestern Ohio. He saw the Great Serpent Mound there and decided that he would make a great spiral too. [...] Because the Great Salt Lake’s levels vary several feet from year to year, and also from season to season, Spiral Jetty is not always visible even if you make the trip to Utah. You could go out to Spiral Jetty and find that the entire earthwork is invisible underwater. When Robert Smithson created this earthwork in 1970, he did not care if it could be easily seen or who owned it. And so, even today, no one knows to whom Spiral Jetty really belongs. To view it requires a pilgrimage.

Stefany Anne Goldberg on earthworks, new and ancient, and the art of disappearance

• “Commercial book cover design is a minor portion of Gorey’s award-winning legacy, but not a lesser art.” Steven Heller on Edward Gorey: cover designer.

• “You are accepted,” he says, “by the genre that can accept you.” Samuel R. Delany talked to Peter Bebergal about being an outsider in the world of science fiction.

A battle of Witts: A brief look at ‘Taboos’ and the work of The Passage. Mark Griffiths on a great, if seldom-remembered, Manchester band.

• “Hispanic photomonteur Josep Renau aimed Technicolor jets of scorn at the mirage of US consumerist culture,” says Rick Poynor.

• Because the internet is really big… Kelli Anderson reworks the Eames’ The Powers of Ten using imagery found via Google searches.

Against Nature is a forthcoming musical adaptation of Huysmans’ À Rebours by Marc Almond, Jeremy Reed and Othon.

“What makes a film noir?” Adam Frost & Melanie Patrick have an infographic for you.

• Mixes of the week: Gizehcast #20 by LCC, and Jenny Hval‘s WEIRD Quietus mix.

• Mysterium Tremendum: Russell Cuzner on The Strange World of Lustmord.

• The charming march of the Penguin Books logo.

Cosey Fanni Tutti: Agent Provocateur

Dark Times (Peel Session) (1980) by The Passage | XOYO (1982) by The Passage | Revelation (1982) by The Passage

 


The Living Grave by David Rudkin

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Having recently discovered two episodes from the BBC’s long-running Leap in the Dark series (In the Mind’s Eye, and Alan Garner’s To Kill a King), I was hoping the episode written by David Rudkin might turn up eventually. And here it is, posted to YouTube last month. Leap in the Dark, which ran from 1973 to 1980, was unusual for series dealing with the paranormal in the way it combined documentary episodes with fictional ones. The Living Grave (1980) is a skillful blend of both fact and fiction; Rudkin’s website describes it thus:

Based on documentary transcripts: the hypnotist Joe Keaton “regresses” Pauline, a Merseyside nurse, back beyond her birth to an earlier life – she starts to speak as Kitty, a maidservant on 18th century Dartmoor, who is made pregnant and hangs herself. To this day, on Kitty’s unconsecrated grave at a lonely forkroads, flowers are still left by an unknown hand.

I intercut the hypnosis scenes with glimpses of the life and death of Kitty herself as “her” voice was describing them – but with the camera as Kitty’s point of view, and so never seeing her, and using the locations as they are now. This was to avoid the inertia of mere illustration, creating instead a simultaneity of the two time-frames, and a sense of Kitty’s experience still present in the landscape today.

In May this year I wrote a lengthy essay about Rudkin’s dramas (more about that later) so The Living Grave has additional relevance beyond its cult interest. For a half-hour film it’s a more impressive piece than White Lady, a longer original drama that Rudkin wrote and also directed in 1987. Where White Lady is surprisingly inert, The Living Grave features familiar Rudkin touches, especially the voice of the unseen “haunted man” whose words are the closest thing to the speech in the stage plays. After spending some time tracing Rudkin’s recurrent use of sacred monuments, whether churches or stone circles, the shots of Dartmoor megaliths were especially notable. In the essay I sketched a comparison between Rudkin and Alan Garner, two writers who share concerns with the way the deep past of the British Isles impresses itself on the present, especially in a rural context. As noted above, Garner wrote an episode of Leap in the Dark, and there’s a further connection here in Lesley Dunlop who plays the hypnotised nurse, Pauline; two years before, Dunlop was Jan in Garner’s excellent TV adaptation of his novel, Red Shift. The hypnotist in The Living Grave is played by Ian Hogg, a friend of Rudkin’s who played Arne in Penda’s Fen, and has appeared in a number of the writer’s other dramas for stage and radio.

Previously on { feuilleton }
In the Mind’s Eye
To Kill a King by Alan Garner
Afore Night Come by David Rudkin
White Lady by David Rudkin
Red Shift by Alan Garner
Penda’s Fen by David Rudkin
David Rudkin on Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr

 


 


 

Coulthart Books

    The Haunter of the Dark
    Reverbstorm

 


 

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Penda's Fen by David Rudkin