The art of Franklin Booth, 1874–1948

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One of the hazards of working for ephemeral media such as magazines is that your work disappears from view once the magazine has left the news-stand, exiled to libraries and other archives. This is a particular problem for illustrators, as I’ve noted in the past with regard to artists such as Virgil Finlay; stories by popular writers will be reprinted but their illustrations tend to remain marooned in the pulp pages where they first appeared. Franklin Booth worked at the opposite end of the scale to Finlay, providing editorial and advertising illustrations for very unpulpy titles such as Harper’s and Scribner’s. He was, and still is, highly-regarded, but his illustrations aren’t as easy to find today as those of his contemporaries who spent more of their time working for book publishers.

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Franklin Booth: Sixty Reproductions from Original Drawings is a collection of the artist’s illustrations published in 1925, the most striking feature of which is the preponderance of fantastic scenes. Some of these are evidently story illustrations but the book lacks any notes about the origins of the drawings so we’re left to guess whether the same goes for the others, or whether these are examples of the artist indulging his imagination. Whatever the answer, Booth had a nice line in fantasy architecture, all soaring towers topped by cupolas and finials, which may explain the Booth influence in some of François Schuiten’s drawings. The building style is reminiscent of the Beaux-Arts confections that proliferated at international expositions in the years before the Deco idiom swept away superfluous decoration, something you also find in Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland where the dream palaces could easily have been built to showcase the latest engineering marvels.

Note: All these images have been processed to remove the sepia tone of the paper.

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Continue reading “The art of Franklin Booth, 1874–1948”

20 Sites n Years: the documentary

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This isn’t the first time I’ve written about Tom Phillips’ indefinite art project but I thought I’d give Jake Auerbach’s documentary some belated promotion after watching it again. The usual form here would be to link to a viewable copy somewhere. There is a copy online, as it happens, but it’s not in any of the obvious places so rather than link to it I’d encourage the interested to invest in one of Auerbach’s DVDs or watch the streaming version.

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As before, the project details are as follows:

Every year on or around the same day (24th May–2nd June) at the same time of day and from the same position a photograph is taken at each of the twenty locations on this map (above) which is based on a circle of half a mile radius drawn around the place (Site 1: 102 Grove Park SE15) where the project was devised. It is hoped that this process will be carried on into the future and beyond the deviser’s death for as long as the possibility of continuing and the will to undertake the task persist.

The intention is that photographs (35 mm transparencies) be taken at twenty locations each year between May 24 and June 2. The locations are situated on what is (in 1973) the nearest walkable route to a perfect circle a half a mile in radius from the point in the home of Artist 1 (102 Grove Park, London SE5) where the project was devised and where these instructions were written. The circuit is divided into sixteen equal sections in each of which there is a site selected by Artist 1. Four other locations mark the route from the centre to the circumference: these are the former studio of Artist 1, his current home and studio, and the art school where he studied. The project book notes the times of the original photographs of 1973 and these should be adhered to as closely as possible (though all photos need not necessarily be taken on the same day) Artist 1 intends that the pictures should be taken by his family and their descendants, if they are willing, and that the work should thus go on indefinitely: the services of their friends may be enrolled or even from time to time that of professional photographers. Continuity is the most important factor.

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One of the pages from the project manual showing the location of Site 2, the hour of day at which the photo should be taken, where to stand when taking it, and a diagram of the preferred framing.

Auerbach’s 45-minute film begins with a brief description of the piece, after which we follow Phillips in 2012 on his annual excursion around the streets of Camberwell and Peckham in South London. Auerbach juxtaposes the arrival of artist and camera crew at each prescribed location with Phillips’ own description of the changes he’s observed since first commencing the project in 1973. During the narration we get to see many of the photographs, more than the few examples shown in Works and Texts. The film also includes extracts from a couple of earlier documentaries about Phillips, including his appearance on the BBC’s Late Show in 1989 which featured a shorter 20 Sites project report.

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A local street that isn’t part of the project but which does feature street lights and a mural designed by Tom Phillips.

Auerbach’s trailing of the artist shows us aspects of the project that you don’t get in the big Thames & Hudson book or on the Tom Phillips website (where you can see slide-shows of all the views to date), the most prominent being a sense of the space in which each photograph is taken. London south of the river is a vast suburban sprawl that lacks the layered history of the northern quarters of the city. This might seem unpromising material for an art project but Phillips’ photographs remind us that “promise” is a quality dependent on the artist’s point of view, literally in this case with the dogged and very specific attention given to these twenty sites. In place of grand history we have the incremental advance of those changes which often go unnoticed or unremarked in city life: a tree grows, cars (and people) update their styling, a building is repurposed or demolished, street furniture appears then disappears, shops change their appearance and operation, public areas are subject to seemingly arbitrary alterations at the hands of council workers.

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Auerbach shows us further details that we wouldn’t otherwise see, such as the aerosol marks made on the pavement each year showing where the photographer has to stand in order to take a shot that matches the earlier ones. We also get to see Phillips choosing the best shots after they’ve been processed. One of the impromptu conventions of the project has required people to appear at some of the quieter sites, random strangers (or animals) at Site 2, while Site 3 incorporates friends or relatives of the artist. John L. Walters, the editor of Eye magazine, occupies the latter role on the day that Auerbach is present.

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The project becomes self-aware. “Obart” was the name of a mysterious business or organisation that vanished soon after being chosen as Site 15. The name has since been an informal title for the project as a whole. The hashtag is in the window of one of the houses situated next to the original Obart sign.

Now that “Artist 1” is no longer with us, the project moves into a new phase with “Artist 2” (Phillips’ son, Leo) taking charge. Leo Phillips was already on board in 1989 so the annual excursion must be a familiar routine by now. Next year the project will have been running for 50 years which must make it the longest continually-running art project to date unless there’s a more extended one out there. Michael Heizer’s City recently attained completion after 50 years buts it’s debatable whether a work that was a construction site for most of those years should be considered as operating in the same sense as 20 Sites, a project which was functioning as intended from its first year. Meanwhile, I’ve yet to hear about the existence of an “Artist 3” ready to take up the camera after Leo Phillips, but whoever that individual might be they could conceivably take 20 Sites through to its centenary in 2073. Time will tell.

Previously on { feuilleton }
20 Sites n Years revisited
20 Sites n Years by Tom Phillips

Weekend links 646

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It’s that lethal book again. A sample of wallpaper impregnated with arsenic, one of many such pages in Shadows from the Walls of Death: Facts and Inferences Prefacing a Book of Specimens of Arsenical Wall Papers (1874) by RC Kedzie.

• “I like to spend time in the now because there I can create something new but in the past I cannot.” Damo Suzuki, former vocalist in Can, on creativity and his resilience in the face of long-term illness. Related: a trailer for Energy: A Documentary about Damo Suzuki.

• “I enjoy Carnival of Souls, but it is a dark form of enjoyment, with high stakes, because the enjoyment is predicated on me being able to shake myself free of the film after it is over, and that can be a struggle.” Colin Fleming on fear as entertainment.

• “Some people like fantasy epics or Regency romance or Sudoku or science-fiction world-building or the gentle challenge of cozy mysteries; I like the undead.” Sadie Stein on encounters with ghosts.

• “You’re now standing on the blocks of the Great Pyramid at Giza. For the first time ever you can explore the entire pyramid interior.” The Giza Project.

• “What do we think about when we watch films set in vanished decades that many of us experienced at first hand?” asks Anne Billson.

• At Bandcamp: Touch celebrates forty years of not being a record label.

• “Why scientists are sending radio signals to the Moon and Jupiter.”

• At DJ Food’s: Retinal Circus gig posters 1966–68.

• Steven Heller’s font of the month is Feneon.

The Pyramid Spell (1978) by Nik Turner | I Am Damo Suzuki (1985) by The Fall | Carnival Of Souls Goes To Rio (2001) by Pram

Weekend links 641

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For mysterious and eldritch reasons the Republic of Palau has minted a Cthulhu-themed 20 dollar coin. Via.

• “Pre-gap tracks are a CD-specific phenomenon, paralleled only by DVD Easter Eggs, or hidden levels in a computer game. On the one hand, they’re only possible digitally, on the other, they seem to be an attempt to add some mystique to a circle of plastic.” Daryl Worthington on the 40th anniversary of the Digital Audio Compact Disc. Regular readers will know that CD has been, and remains, my favourite musical format for reasons I won’t bother arguing here. Related: Wikipedia’s list of albums with tracks hidden in the pregap. Also: “There’s endless choice, but you’re not listening”: fans quitting Spotify to save their love of music.

• “Meek’s use of sound effects and swathes of ghostly reverb, woven into seemingly innocuous pop songs and rock and roll instrumentals—as if the BBC Radiophonic Workshop was directed by Phil Spector—created a sense of the sublime and hinted at strange realities beyond our own.” Mark Pilkington explores the strange world of Joe Meek.

• “Structured as a ‘dream within a dream’, the narrative weaves together mythological, biblical, and occult references to construct a universe filled with ruinous landscapes and orgiastic celebrations.” Demetra Vogiatzaki on the enigmas, architectural and otherwise, presented by Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499).

The man who made this absurd noir was answerable neither to studio nor Shakespeare, but only his own monumental whims. Thus, Mr. Arkadin sends Citizen Kane (1941) through the looking glass—the action transposed to post–World War II Spain and given a spin somewhere between metaphysics and megalomania…

If Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus recast myth as pulp, Mr. Arkadin elevates pulp to myth. It is the most Borgesian of Welles’s movies. Writing in Cahiers du cinéma, the young Eric Rohmer compared Mr. Arkadin to Jules Verne and Fantômas: It creates something that is ­nearly impossible today: a romantic fiction that involves neither the future nor any removal from one’s usual surroundings…

J. Hoberman writing in 2006 about Orson Welles’ Mr. Arkadin (1955). I was rewatching the film earlier this week in its guise as Confidential Report, the version re-edited by its producer to try and create something with greater commercial appeal. I’ve yet to see the recent restoration but even in its butchered form it’s a fascinating piece of work

Early Cormac McCarthy interviews rediscovered: “Between 1968 and 1980, he gave at least 10 interviews to small local papers in Lexington, Kentucky and east Tennessee, a region where he lived and had friends.”

• New music: Perceptions by Model Alpha (Jonathan Fitoussi & Julie Freyri), and Epektasis by Nicklas Barker.

Dreams of Space: Books and Ephemera; “Non-fiction children’s space flight stuff 1945–1975”.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Roget Malot presents…Spirit Photography Day.

• Mix of the week: A mix for The Wire by FOQL.

Spirit (1978) by Frédéric Mercier | Spirit (1990) by Jah Wobble’s Invaders Of The Heart | Spirit Level (Lost In Space) (1992) by Horizon 222

Weekend links 637

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A Risograph print by Raimund Wong for a forthcoming London concert by Suzanne Ciani. Via.

• “What makes him such an exemplary film composer is the adroitness with which he used style as a catalyst, conspiring with directors to illuminate crucial elements of character, tone, and plot through the expressive resources at his disposal.” Nate Chinen on Henry Mancini, a timely piece since I’ve been watching a lot of film noir recently, including two of the features mentioned there, Touch of Evil and Experiment in Terror. The latter is an uncharacteristic thriller from Blake Edwards with a marvellous, brooding score by Mancini. Here’s the main theme.

• “Infinitesimal as they are, phytoplankton produce more oxygen than all the world’s rainforests combined and roughly half of the oxygen on the planet—in other words, roughly half of the air we humans breathe.” David Greer on the importance of plankton.

• “Someday I’ll come into a place and someone’s playing my music and I’ll leave immediately because I don’t want to go through the editorial process again!” Diamanda Galás talking to Kevin Mccaighy about her new album, Broken Gargoyles.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: 25 experimental horror films. Not sure I’d class Night of the Lepus as “experimental”—”rubbish” would be more accurate—but you may disagree.

• Coming soon from Strange Attractor: 69 Exhibition Road: Twelve True-Life Tales from the Fag End of Punk, Porn & Performance by Dorothy Max Prior.

• At Spoon & Tamago: Gunkanjima (aka Battleship Island) from above: exploring what was once the world’s most-densely populated city.

• Previews of pages from A Tiger in the Land of Dreams by Tiger Tateishi, newly reprinted by 50 Watts Books.

• Mix of the week: A mix for The Wire by Ali Safi of the Marionette label.

• New music: Verde Pino by Beautify Junkyards.

Mark Pawson & Disinfotainment

Tiger Rag (1929) by Duke Ellington And His Orchestra | Night Of The Tiger (1959) by The Markko Polo Adventurers | Tiger (1967) by Brian Auger & The Trinity