Weekend links 650

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A detail from Tom Phillips’ cover design for Starless And Bible Black (1974) by King Crimson.

• RIP Tom Phillips. The term “polymath” is often used by monomaths to describe people who are proficient in two areas instead of just one. Tom Phillips was a model polymath, an artist whose work ranged wherever his curiosity took him, from conventionally realist portraiture to abstract painting and computer art, from collage, sculpture and stage design to 20 Sites n Years, a long-term photographic work. When Phillips decided to illustrate Dante’s Inferno he first translated the book himself; the Dante project subsequently evolved into a TV/film production made in collaboration with Peter Greenaway and Raúl Ruiz. As for A Humument, this is the artist’s book by which all others should be judged, a unique reworking of a Victorian novel which now exists in multiple editions and sub-works. Humument extracts became a kind of Phillips signature (you can see one at the top of this post), a series of often cryptic fragments and pronouncements that appeared in prints and paintings while also supplying the libretto for Phillips’ first opera, Irma, one of his many musical compositions. Some years ago I posted a quote by Brian Eno about his former art teacher; those words (from A Year With Swollen Appendices) are worth repeating:

It’s a sign of the awfulness of the English art world that he isn’t better known. Tom has committed the worst of all crimes in England. He’s risen above his station. You can sell chemical weapons to doubtful regimes and still get a knighthood, but don’t be too clever, don’t go rising above your station.

The smart thing in the art world is to have one good idea and never have another. It’s the same in pop—once you’ve got your brand identity, carry on doing that for the rest of your days and you’ll make a lot of money. Because Tom’s lifetime project ranges over books, music and painting, it looks diffuse, but he is a most coherent artist. I like his work more and more.

• “The most radical thing about Ever So Lonely is the instrumental when it breaks down and for eight glorious bars you’re dancing to a classical raga and loving it, whoever you are.” Sheila Chandra again on the fleeting pop career of Monsoon.

• Something to look forward to for next summer: Worlds Beyond Time: Sci-Fi Art of the 1970s, a book by Adam Rowe, curator of 70s Sci-fi Art at Tumblr.

• Mix of the week: Groove Orient: South Asian Elements in Psychedelic Jazz at Aquarium Drunkard.

• “Physicists create a wormhole using a quantum computer.” Natalie Wolchover explains.

Pattern Collider is a tool for generating and exploring quasiperiodic tiling patterns.

• “Infernal Affairs is still Hong Kong’s greatest crime saga,” says James Balmont.

Secret Satan, 2022, the essential end-of-year book list from Strange Flowers.

• Also no longer with us as of this week, comic artist Aline Kominsky–Crumb.

• New music: Violet Echoes by Subtle Energy.

Il Trio Infernale (1974) by Ennio Morricone | Firebird Suite: Infernal Dance Of King Kastchei (Stravinsky) (1975) by Tomita | Infernal Devices (2011) by Moon Wiring Club

Marabout Fantastique book covers

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A post for Halloween featuring a selection of covers from the “Fantastique” imprint of Belgian publisher Bibliothèque Marabout. The imprint, which was only labelled “Fantastique” on later editions, was launched around 1969 and ran through the 1970s before petering out in the early 1980s. The uniform cover design—almost always black with titles set in Roberta—is an attraction for paperback collectors even when the titles are very familiar ones, and when the cover art, most of which was the work of Henri Lievens (1920–2000), is sketchy and vague.

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Among the Belgian writers rubbing shoulders with their more famous foreign counterparts are Jean Ray, author of the cult novel Malpertuis, playwright Michel de Ghelderode, and Thomas Owen (the pen-name of Gérald Bertot). Not all of the artwork is credited but most of the examples here are the work of the prolific Lievens, an artist whose cobwebbed eccentricities sometimes exceed the bounds of their brief; that flapping creature on the cover of The White People by Arthur Machen has no analogue in any of Machen’s stories. Later covers in the series saw contributions from Jean Alessandrini, with collages that were the subject of an earlier post. Marabout is still publishing today, albeit in a reduced fashion, having relocated to France where the company is now a tiny part of the Hachette empire.

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Sticks

1: Illustrations by Lee Brown Coye

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One recurring feature in Coye’s work is the motif of wooden sticks, often in latticework-like patterns. This was inspired by a 1938 discovery in an abandoned farmhouse.

Coye had returned to the North Pitcher, New York, area where he spent much of his childhood. While wandering deep in the woods, Coye discovered an abandoned farmhouse. Boards and pieces of wood which had been set perpendicular to one another surrounded the site. Neither inside nor out could Coye find an explanation for the presence of these crossed sticks. In the years following, Coye remained interested in the significance of his discovery.

When Coye returned to the site in 1963, there was nothing left of the building or the sticks (the area had suffered severe flooding), and he never found out why the sticks were there or who it was that had arranged them in such a manner. Because of the strangeness of the entire experience, these forms never left Coye, and they appear in many of his paintings and illustrations. [Via]

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2: A short story by Karl Edward Wagner

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Whispers #3, March 1974. Cover art by Lee Brown Coye.

The story [Sticks] is really Lee Brown Coye’s and is about Lee Brown Coye, as the Afterword [in Whispers #3] explains. Coye had described the events upon which Sticks was based to me, and when Stuart David Schiff decided to bring out a special Lee Brown Coye issue of Whispers, I stole time from my final few months of medical school to write a story inspired by Coye’s experiences. Sticks is shot through with in-jokes and references which the serious fantasy/horror fan will recognize. I wrote the story as a favour and tribute to Lee, and I never expected it to be read by anyone beyond the thousand or so fans who read Whispers. To my surprise, Sticks became one of my best known and best liked stories. It won the British Fantasy Award and was a runner-up in the World Fantasy Award for best short fiction. The story has been anthologized numerous times and translated into several languages. It was broadcast on National Public Radio on Hallowe’en 1982 and was to have been produced for the short lived television series, Darkroom. Not bad for an in-joke. [Via]


3: Season one of True Detective

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4: An invented soundtrack album by Kish Kollectiv

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Produced for UK television in 1982 by ATV, the undeservedly obscure Dwellers in the Earth is a loose adaptation of the late Karl Edward Wagner’s short story Sticks (itself an inspiration for The Blair Witch Project). The film—thought lost for many years until a somewhat degraded can of film reel turned up in a private collection in Hong Kong in 2009—has been routinely described as one of the scariest made-for-television horror movies of all time. It was directed by the late Freddie Francis and starred Robert Powell and Jenny Agutter with Michael Ironside, Ian McCulloch and Linda Hayden in supporting roles.

With the kind permission of the composer’s widow, Nadezhda Mastandrea, Kish Kollektiv has painstakingly recreated Staszek Korolenko’s long lost soundtrack score for the mysterious film. The UK-based Kollektiv gratefully acknowledges Mr. Korolenko’s huge influence on its own work. The Anglo-Belarusian composer died at the age of only 43, while the master recordings of many of his scores were later destroyed when the cellar of his family home flooded in 1989. [Via]

Previously on { feuilleton }
Owls and flowers
In the Key of Yellow

Edmund Dulac’s illustrated Poe

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The Haunted Palace.

There’s always more Poe. Which means, in the context of these pages, there’s always another illustrated edition to be found. It’s good to finally discover a complete edition of The Bells, and Other Poems; I’d seen a few of these paintings before—Alone was used on the cover of a biography of Poe by Wolf Mankowitz—but the collection tends to be overshadowed by Dulac’s other books. The Internet Archive has had a scan available for several years but most of the colour plates are missing, picture theft being a common hazard for library books. These copies are from a more recent addition to Project Gutenberg.

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The Bells.

The Bells was published 12 years after W. Heath Robinson had produced his own illustrated edition of Poe poems in 1900. The two books complement each other more than you might expect; all of Robinson’s illustrations are line drawings with an Art Nouveau quality that soon vanished from his work, and was long gone by the time he found a popular audience for his drawings of whimsical inventions. Dulac’s edition includes a few monochrome drawings but these are little more than spot illustrations scattered among the watercolour plates. Several of the paintings, especially the one for Israfel, are Symbolist art as much as they’re illustration. This might seem inevitable given the Symbolist tendencies of Poe’s verse but not all illustrators manage to reflect these qualities.

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The Bells.

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The Bells.

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Annabel Lee.

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Painted devils

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Alright, these devils are inked rather than painted, but the phrase is a memorable one from Macbeth which was also used by Robert Aickman as a title for one of his story collections.

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The devils in question are the work of Thomas Bewick (1753–1858), an English engraver referred to twice in Casting the Runes by MR James. I was reminded of this recently after I’d watched the excellent film adaptation, Night of the Demon, and decided to reacquaint myself with its origin. In James’ story, Karswell, a vengeful occultist with a vague resemblance to Aleister Crowley, torments a man he’s cursed by reminding him of the escalating supernatural threat and its potentially fatal outcome. One of the warnings is as follows:

…two things came for him by post during those weeks, both with a London postmark, and addressed in a commercial hand. One was a woodcut of Bewick’s, roughly torn out of the page: one which shows a moonlit road and a man walking along it, followed by an awful demon creature. Under it were written the lines out of the “Ancient Mariner” (which I suppose the cut illustrates) about one who, having once looked round—
walks on,

And turns no more his head,
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

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The Coleridge quote makes it into the film but there’s no mention of the woodcut, although we do see some other engravings of medieval devils. (Likewise, the ITV Playhouse adaptation from 1979 includes the quote but omits the woodcut.) Since the quote is a genuine one I was curious to know whether the Bewick picture also existed. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case. I’m equivocating, as usual, because I’m not entirely certain, but in an article from 2006 Tom Lubbock had this to say about Bewick and James:

Like Borges, James delights in the fictional but plausible work of literature. In Casting the Runes, he also contrives a fictional work of art. Though a contemporary of Coleridge, the engraver Thomas Bewick never made any woodcuts illustrating The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, nor do any of his works quite correspond to the one described in this passage. Still, it’s a good fake. Many of Bewick’s woodcuts have travellers. Some of them have moonlight and demons, too. You can see what James had in mind.

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