The art of Alexander Cañedo, 1902–1978

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September, 1947.

Harry Harrison used to enjoy referring to the “sexual dimorphism” of the cover art on pulp science-fiction magazines, by which he meant that male astronauts would usually be depicted wearing sturdy spacesuits or functional attire while their female counterparts would be given spray-on outfits with plunging necklines, if they were given any clothes at all. Sexism was still thriving in the future, in other words, with visible male flesh in short supply. This makes the handful of cover paintings produced by Alexander Cañedo for Astounding Science Fiction uncommon enough to be almost unique.

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February, 1948.

Cañedo was a Mexican-American, born Alejandro de Cañedo, whose covers for Astounding were simply credited to “Alejandro”. The editorial policy at the magazine favoured hard-headed, technology-oriented science fiction, with cover art that avoided the scantily-clad women (and, to be fair, shirtless men…) seen each month on the covers of swashbuckling rival, Planet Stories. Robots and rocket ships were still required at Astounding, however, and half the covers produced by Cañedo feature more predictable imagery. The first of the cosmic nudes appeared after editor John W. Campbell spotted an unsold painting during a visit to Cañedo’s studio. Campbell and his readership regarded the naked males as purely symbolic, which they are up to a point, and Cañedo was praised for his art in the magazine’s letters section. When seen in the context of his overtly homoerotic work the pictures evidently reflect more personal proclivities.

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October, 1949.

Cañedo is described today as a gay artist, a claim that can’t easily be verified when the available biographical details repeat the same few facts. But his art away from Astounding returned continually to the human body, a subject where his mastery was sufficient to warrant the publication in 1954 of a short guide for artists, How Cañedo Draws the Human Figure. Most of his drawings and paintings listed on auction sites are nude (or semi-nude) studies, with lovingly rendered male figures predominating. Several of his later paintings could easily have served as additional magazine covers. The manipulation of light and colour in these pictures is outstanding, unlike any treatment of male nudes that I’ve seen before, and by an artist worthy of greater attention.

(Note: Most of these pictures are untitled and undated. I’m also not an art dealer so please don’t ask for valuations.)

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July, 1954. “Inappropriate” is the title of the picture which doesn’t relate to anything inside the magazine.

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Esoterica 49

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“What is especially needed is great sensitivity: to look upon everything in the world as enigma….To live in the world as in an immense museum of strange things.” —Giorgio de Chirico

A few weeks ago I made a list of feature films that might be regarded as having the characteristics of a Thomas Pynchon novel without being based on any of Pynchon’s books. The post prompted several suggestions for other candidates, including recommendations to watch Jim Gavin’s TV series, Lodge 49, an American production that ran for two seasons from 2018 to 2019 before being cancelled due to low ratings. Having now watched the series I can say that I enjoyed it very much, and it is very Pynchonian, unsurprisingly when it not only gestures to the title of Pynchon’s second novel, The Crying of Lot 49, but also borrows from its storyline.

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Ernie (Brent Jennings) has just been contemplating a print from the Ars Magna Lucis (1665) by Athanasius Kircher. Near the end of the second series he leaps through an image from the same book.

Lodge 49 presents a unique mélange of alchemy, surfing, secret societies, aerospace engineering, pool cleaning and cryptocurrency, with the added bonus of songs by the much-missed Broadcast being woven into the narrative. The series is consistently funny, humour being another essential Pynchonian ingredient, while the episodes are littered with references to (or correspondences with) Pynchon’s oeuvre: two of the main characters are an ex-surfer and an ex-sailor; the defunct aerospace company, Orbis, is modelled on Pynchon’s Yoyodyne from V. and Lot 49; there’s a trip to Mexico, a visit to an auction, and mention of a Remedios Varo exhibition (Lot 49 again); there are even references to Antarctic mysteries (V.), the Hollow Earth (Mason and Dixon) and the V-2 rocket (Gravity’s Rainbow). And those are only a few of the things I happened to catch as a first-time viewer. This is unusual territory for a small-scale television series, even if American TV has loosened up in recent years to allow a more eclectic range of material.

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Larry (Kenneth Welsh) in the Sanctum Sanctorum with a plate from the Splendor Solis on the wall.

The Lodge 49 of the title is part of a global network of lodges that form the Ancient & Benevolent Order of the Lynx, a cross between a Masonic order and an occult cabal, founded by one Harwood Fritz Merrill, a Scottish alchemist, writer and explorer. (Merrill’s biography and the history of the Order of the Lynx is detailed here [PDF].) Alchemy is a persistent theme in the series but remains in the background for the most part, literally so inside Lodge 49 (Long Beach, California) and Lodge 1 (London) where the walls are decorated with prints of alchemical engravings. It would have been tempting to identify all of these pictures but most of them can be found in Taschen’s excellent Alchemy and Mysticism picture book so it’s easier to direct the curious to the Taschen volume. The prints also seemed to be there more to provide suitable set decoration rather than be significant in themselves, with one notable exception (see below).

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Connie (Linda Edmond) going deeper into the mysteries of Lodge 1. The print is from Cabala, Spiegel der Kunst und Natur: in Alchymia (1615) by Stephan Michelspacher.

More intriguing was the appearance of several paintings which did seem significant although they might equally have been there to generate audience speculation. Film and TV drama is made today in the full awareness that every detail is liable to be screen-grabbed and scrutinised by obsessive viewers, a situation that offers the potential for directors and designers to incorporate details that may have no special significance but are simply there to fuel online chatter. It’s difficult to tell if this is what Gavin and co. were doing, especially when the prematurely truncated series contains so many loose ends and unexplained moments. But paranoia is in part the search for a significance that may not exist outside the mind of the paranoiac so a small degree of concern about being gamed by the creators of Lodge 49 seems warranted here, as well as adding to the general Pynchon factor. Despite all the Pynchoniana mentioned above the series is light on the paranoia that’s a constant in Pynchon’s novels so why not cultivate a little paranoia in the audience itself?

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Weekend links 583

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Faun (1897) by Karel Hlavacek.

A teaser trailer for Mad God, a stop-motion animated feature by Phil Tippett. 30 years in the making and not the usual saccharine fare. The director talks about his film here.

• For those who missed Johnny Trunk’s book about Sainsbury’s Design Studio several years ago (or would like more of the same), packaging design at the Sainsbury Archive.

• Mixes of the week: Ces Gens-Là – Avec Bart De Paepe by David Colohan, and Phased Induction Phototaxis by The Ephemeral Man.

• Smoking dope and comparing bad reviews: Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine discuss the early days of their collaboration.

• At the cat-loving Spoon & Tamago: This cat table gives your feline a seat in the table.

John Lurie‘s tales of Bohemian living with The Lounge Lizards in 1979 New York.

• Luxury assortment: the British artists behind Cadbury’s chocolate boxes.

Kevin Richard Martin’s favourite albums.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Skeletons 2.

Hymn To Pan (2008) by Blood Ceremony | The Great God Pan (2011) by Blood Ceremony | Faunus (2013) by Blood Ceremony

The art of Jens Lund, 1871–1924

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Sakuntala, 1900.

Jens Lund was a Danish artist and illustrator with an idiosyncratic drawing style that not only sets him apart from many of his contemporaries but looks forward to the stylisations of younger artists like Beresford Egan. Several of the examples here are illustrations and sketches for an unpublished edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and poems. Lund also illustrated Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, and Bruges-la-Morte by Georges Rodenbach (which he translated into Danish with his wife, Bolette) but copies of these aren’t as easy to find.

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Anraabelse, 1906.

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Scent that sings… Flames that laugh, 1903–04.

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Fantasy Landscape with Palms, 1899.

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Fireball, 1899.

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Gene Szafran album covers

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Sibelius: 4 Legends From “The Kalevala”, Op. 22 (1968); Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Lukas Foss.

Gene Szafran (1941–2011) was an American artist who painted illustrations for magazines and provided cover art for many science-fiction paperbacks throughout the 1970s. He shared with fellow paperback artist Bob Pepper a parallel career producing album cover art for Elektra Records and Elektra’s subsidiary for classical recordings and contemporary composition, Nonesuch, the latter contributing to William S. Harvey’s policy of making classical albums look as vibrant and contemporary as their neighbours in the rock sphere. Bob Pepper’s album covers, however, tend to resemble his book covers whereas Szafran’s book covers are simpler in style than his album art which fills out the larger space in a post-psychedelic style that’s often very detailed and done in a variety of media. It took me a while to realise that I’d known Szafran’s name for a long time via his cover for Pictures At An Exhibition by Tomita, the art for which isn’t a painting but a relief sculpture of the head of Tomita-san. A similar use of three-dimensional elements occurs on other album covers, and extends to a form of collage in which painted backgrounds are overlaid with physical objects, a technique which became a common sight in the 1980s but which wasn’t common at all in the 1960s. There might have been more work like this but Szafran’s career was cut short by multiple sclerosis in the late 1970s. Glimmer Graphics has several pages dedicated to his life and art.

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The Ages Of Rock (1968) by Cy Coleman.

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John Cage: Concerto For Prepared Piano & Orchestra / Lukas Foss: Baroque Variations (1968).

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The Nonesuch Guide To Electronic Music (1968) by Paul Beaver & Bernard L. Krause.

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The Moray Eels Eat The Holy Modal Rounders (1968) by The Holy Modal Rounders.

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