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


 

In Homage to Priapus

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I’ve written a few things in the past about the covers of the gay pulps but decent source material—never mind the books themselves—has often been difficult to find. So it’s been good to stumble across the huge trove of covers at LibraryThing where diligent collectors have tagged and archived some very scarce publications. These are the books that flourished briefly in the US between the first flowering of gay liberation in the mid-60s to the advent of easily available hardcore porn in the mid-70s which must have made the text-only pleasures of a few years earlier seem very quaint and rather superfluous. Looking back today many of the covers of these books have a provocative silliness which is wholly absent from current titles for a gay audience. They may be crude and camp (sometimes simultaneously), and the design is often rudimentary, but they also give an insight into how gay men perceived themselves when they were starting to be more public about their desires.

Despite its cover, In Homage to Priapus looks like a fairly serious sampler of a kind you still see today. By contrast, many of the authors of the titles below were pseudonymous, some ridiculously so: “Billy Farout”. This time I’ve avoided the pulpy art styles featured at sites like Gay on the Range and Strange Sisters in favour of photo covers, odd titles or the more provocative illustrations, of which there are many examples. By coincidence, the latest post at Lambda Literary concerns the publishing of lost gay classics. One of the titles mentioned there, The Leather Boys by Gillian Freeman, can be found in the LibraryThing collection.

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Don’t mention Jerry Lewis, please. I’ll think instead of this song by Heaven 17.

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Whoever chose that typeface could also do with a thrashing.

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Don Cherry, 1967

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Poème, scénario, interprétation, musique: Don Cherry
Poème dit par Antony Braxton
Deuxième flûte jouée par Karl Berger
Réalisation: Jean-Noël Delamarre, Natalie Perrey, Philippe Gras, Horace
Image: Jean-Noël Delamarre, Horace
Montage: Natalie Perrey
Photographies: Philippe Gras

In which jazz trumpeter Don Cherry materialises in Paris to prowl the streets, joust with the gargoyles of Notre Dame, and encounter some ancient Egyptian statuary. This is listed all over the web as being from 1973 but more authoritative French sites say it’s from 1967, as does IMDB. Cherry’s music also sounds close to the improvised Mu sessions he’d record in Paris two years later. Watch Don Cherry at Ubuweb.

 


The Disappearance, a film by Stuart Cooper

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If you’re an obsessive cineaste there’s a good chance you maintain a mental list of the films you’d like to see, the films you’d like to see again, and the films you’d like to see reissued on DVD. The vagaries of distribution and ownership often conspire to make older films fall out of sight even when they’ve been produced and promoted by major studios, have had TV screenings and so on. This was famously the case with five of Alfred Hitchcock’s features—Vertigo and Rear Window among them—which managed to remain out of circulation for two decades; more notoriously there was Stanley Kubrick’s neurotic embargo on any screening of A Clockwork Orange in the UK which meant that my generation of Kubrick-watchers had to make do with a variety of pirate VHS recordings.

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Penguin edition, 1973. Photo by Van Pariser.

DVD reissues have chipped away at my “must see again” list with the result that Stuart Cooper’s The Disappearance (1977) recently found itself at the top of the catalogue. This film has never been as inaccessible as some: it received at least two TV screenings in the UK, and was available on VHS cassette for a time. There was also a DVD release although by the time I started looking for it the only available copies were secondhand ones commanding high prices. A year or so ago I read Derek Marlowe’s Echoes of Celandine (1970), the novel on which the screenplay is based, and as a result became more eager than ever to see the film again. Having finally watched a very poor-quality transfer of a VHS copy on YouTube I now feel sated, even if the experience was unsatisfying.

The Disappearance is one of those odd productions that ought to have all the ingredients to make a very memorable film but which never works as well as you might hope. The screenplay was by Paul Mayersberg, written between his two films with Nicolas Roeg, The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) and Eureka (1983); there’s a great cast: Donald Sutherland, David Warner, Peter Bowles, David Hemmings (who also produced), John Hurt, Virginia McKenna, Christopher Plummer; Kubrick’s cameraman of the 1970s, John Alcott, photographed the film shortly after winning an Oscar for his work on Barry Lyndon; the source material is very good: Marlowe’s novel is described as “a romantic thriller” but when the quality of the writing easily matches any literary novels of the period such a description makes it sound more generic and pot-boiling than it is.

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The Use and Abuse of Books

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Savoy • Savoy • Savoy: The first wave of book covers pinned to the Beardsley wallpaper of the Deansgate office.

I often feel I’m in a minority in never having been desperate to see my work in a gallery. We are, after all, living in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (thanks, Walter), and the idea of having to visit a physical location in order to see a work of art can seem like a rather antiquated affair. (Plenty of arguments counter this, of course, but I don’t create anything that needs to be experienced in situ, and I’m also not enmeshed in the art market.) So it’s been surprising this month to realise that examples of my work are currently on display in Monterey, California (the Tentacles exhibition), London (Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK at the British Library which ends today) and in Manchester (The Exhibition Centre for the Use and Abuse of Books at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation). If all goes according to plan, some of my steampunk book covers will also be exhibited in Beijing next month; more about that later.

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Britton & Butterworth by Kris Guidio (1986).

The Use and Abuse of Books is a necessarily brief overview of the 40-year history of Savoy Books, a notable moment in the life of the company since this is the first time any Manchester institution has acknowledged the existence of a local publisher with such a long, varied and often controversial history. In part this is a result of the cultural histories of Manchester concentrating almost exclusively on the music scene. Many of the books and features written about Manchester arts have been produced by DJs or ex-musicians who appear tone-deaf to literary culture despite the existence of Carcanet Press (established 1969), Savoy Books, and other more recent publishers who are happy to operate outside London. (The venerable Jon Savage gets a pass here.) Carping aside, The Use and Abuse of Books describes itself thus:

Featuring text, images and rare promotional content from Savoy’s infamous 1989 publication Lord Horror, the exhibition tackles the question of whether the depiction and description of horrific acts is justified in satire. In 1992 Lord Horror was declared by Judge Gerrard Humphries as ‘a glorification of racism and violence’ whereas writer Michael Moorcock believed the book to belong to ‘a tradition of lampoon, of exaggeration. Its purpose is to show up social evils, and the evils within ourselves.’ Displaying artwork from Sinister Legends and Meng and Ecker alongside other panels from rare comics and graphic novels (including Reverbstorm), The Use and Abuse of Books also examines the relationship between text and imagery within Savoy’s publications, revealing how artwork from John Coulthart, Kris Guidio and James Cawthorn supplements and enhances the storytelling through visual references to architecture, cultural figures or specific works of art. The exhibition will be open 10am–4pm weekdays and in the evenings during events from Friday 15th August until Friday 5th September. (more)

Some of my pages from Lord Horror: Reverbstorm have been printed large-size for the walls, and there’s also a life-size cardboard figure of my Beardsley-style Lord Horror. Savoy publications past and present are on display, including some of my book designs. It’s fitting that this should be taking place under the aegis of the Anthony Burgess Foundation; Burgess was a great Joycean and a champion of two Savoy favourites: William Burroughs and JG Ballard. I can’t imagine him getting too enthusiastic about many of Savoy’s publications but I’d hope he might have appreciated the spirit of Mancunian bloody-mindedness in which they were produced.

 


El Lissitzky record covers

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Your Generation (1977) by Generation X. Design by Barney Bubbles.

Continuing an occasional series about the work of particular artists or designers being used on record sleeves. El Lissitzky (1890–1941) is an interesting candidate in this area since his pioneering abstractions have greatly influenced subsequent generations of graphic designers. As a result of this you’re just as likely to find his Suprematist style being pastiched on an album cover as find one of his paintings decorating the sleeve. Pastiches are difficult to locate unless you already know they exist—or unless the album credits acknowledge the style they’re imitating—so this list will no doubt be incomplete.

Barney Bubbles’ design for the debut single by Generation X is the earliest example I’m aware of that makes use of the El Lissitzky style. It was also one of Bubbles’ first sleeves for a punk band, and a significant break with his often florid hippy designs.

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Die Mensch Maschine (1978) by Kraftwerk. Design by Karl Klefisch, “inspired by El Lissitzky”.

Kraftwerk’s seventh album uses Lissitzkian typography and graphics on its front and back covers. A very popular album with the post-punk crowd that would have been the first introduction for many people to El Lissitzky’s name. Kraftwerk still use that vibrant arrangement of black, red and white in their stage shows.

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B-2 Unit (1980) by Riuichi Sakamoto. Design by Tsuguya Inoue.

More pastiche, this time borrowing from El Lissitzky’s Suprematist book for children: About Two Squares: In 6 Constructions: A Suprematist Tale (1922). The book’s two characters of a red square and a black square appear on the vinyl labels. This is a great album, incidentally, still my favourite by Sakamoto.

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Books

    The Haunter of the Dark
    Reverbstorm

 


 

Previously on { feuilleton }

    dkd15-07.jpg   jakovenko1.jpg

 


 

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Cosmic Machine--A Voyage Across French Cosmic & Electronic Avantgarde (1970-1980)

 

Why Do The Heathen Rage? by The Soft Pink Truth

 

School Daze by Patrick Cowley

 

Somnium by Steve Moore

 

Strange Attractor Journal Four

 

Clive Hicks-Jenkins

 

A Humument by Tom Phillips

 

Schalcken the Painter

 

Berberian Sound Studio

 

Quatermass and the Pit

 

The Stone Tape by Nigel Kneale

 

Beasts by Nigel Kneale

 

A Field In England

 

Blood on Satan's Claw

 

Enter the Void

 

David Lynch Collection

 

Children of the Stones--The Complete Series

 

BBC Ghost Stories for Christmas (Box Set)

 

The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome

 

L'Ange by Patrick Bokanowski

 

Piotr Kamler--A La Recherche du Temps

 


 




 

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The Crackdown by Cabaret Voltaire