Foss, Jodorowsky and low-flying spacecraft

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Discovered last week in a local charity shop (and for a fraction of the usual asking price), 21st Century Foss, the Dragon’s Dream collection of Chris Foss paintings from 1978. Foss’s book covers were impossible to avoid in the Britain of the 1970s, often to a ridiculous degree when publishers would stick a spacecraft by the artist or one of his imitators on a book containing no spaceships at all. His ubiquity made him the first cover artist who registered with me as exactly that, an identifiable name whose work suggested that this kind of artistic activity might be something worth pursuing.

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I bought a few of the books published by Dragon’s Dream/Paper Tiger in the late 70s/early 80s but many of them weren’t interesting enough to warrant the exhausting of my meagre finances. Ian Miller, yes; Chris Foss, no. Architecture, whether real or invented, was generally more interesting than spaceships, even when the latter were unique designs like the typical Foss behemoth. (There is architecture in many of Foss’s paintings but I preferred Roger Dean’s aesthetics, the fluid and organic buildings, the vehicles modelled on birds, fish and insects.) Foss also suffered from that process of mental evolution whereby you reject an early enthusiasm when you find something that has a more obsessive hold. In musical terms, his paintings were like glam pop, the first music that made a deep impression but which was swiftly displaced by progressive rock and electronic music. Despite the repudiation I still get a weird charge when I see one of his paintings, an instant jolt back to an adolescent mental space. His cover for Midsummer Century by James Blish does this to an excessive degree, being one of a handful of Foss pictures that caused me to attempt some imitative drawings of my own circa 1975. Those drawings, which went astray years ago, caused a minor stir of appreciation among schoolfriends, a reaction that made me realise I was doing something right, however amateurish the attempt.

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Ballard’s Low-Flying Aircraft collection is labelled on the rear as “Fiction”, and is spaceship-free, whatever the cover may suggest.

21st Century Foss belies its title by being more than a simple parade of spacecraft designs. There are Foss covers that you never see in internet galleries—pictures of submarines, ships and aircraft from the Second World War—together with a few pieces used on the covers of crank titles. Ballard aficionados may like to know that the cover for the Panther paperback of Crash is reproduced here on a full page. The latter is a good example of the thinking in paperback publishing at the time: “Ballard is science fiction so we need an SF artist for this one!” Foss had earlier illustrated two volumes of The Joy of Sex so must have seemed an ideal match. According to Rick Poynor, the artist hated the novel while the author disliked the cover.

Foss’s book opens with a section about his designs for three feature films: Jodorowsky’s Dune, Superman and Alien. None of his concepts ended up on the screen but it’s good to see the Dune designs in print. This section is also prefaced by two pages of hyperactive hyperbole for Foss and his art from Alejandro Jodorowsky. The same text may be found at Duneinfo but it bears repeating here as a further example of the manic director in full flight. Incidentally, the “English magazine” that’s referred to is most likely Science Fiction Monthly for February 1974, an issue which contained a collection of Foss paintings plus an interview with the artist.

Continue reading “Foss, Jodorowsky and low-flying spacecraft”

Weekend links 604

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Poster by Chris Ware for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010).

• “He is a proponent of “slow cinema,” which is to say, movies that inspire reflection because they are unhurried but fluid, clear but framed by mystery.” Hilton Als on the metaphysical world of Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

• “You could take off your clothes and lay in the sun, nude, with other guys looking for sex, right in Manhattan. And the police didn’t care. It was safe…” Stanley Stellar on his photographs of New York’s “Gay Piers”.

• At Wormwoodiana: An interview with RB Russell who talks about his new book, Robert Aickman: An Attempted Biography.

• New music: Mysterium by Held By Trees; A Journey by Hinako Omori; Waves by The Soundcarriers.

• Get some cosmic perspective with an updated version of Charles & Ray Eames’ Powers of Ten.

• You Cut Your Hair and Made a Friend: Richard Conway on Ladytron’s 604 and Light & Magic.

• At Unquiet Things: The Tawdry Technicolor Horrors of Vicente B. Ballestar.

• Alexis Petridis compiles a list of the late James Mtume’s greatest recordings.

• Steven Heller’s Font of the Month is Valvolina.

Slow Motion (1978) by Ultravox | Slow And Low (1995) by Tetsu Inoue | Slow Burning Ghosts (1996) by Paul Schütze

The art of Pinckney Marcius-Simons, 1867–1909

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Vision of the Demon.

The Symbolist movement in painting never really took hold in America the way it did in Europe so it’s a surprise to find a new name to add to the very small list of American Symbolists. Pinckney Marcius-Simons painted his share of 19th-century genre pictures but these give way in his later career to canvases that show a distinct Gustave Moreau influence, or perhaps Turner in those nebulous volumes of illuminated vapour. Marcius-Simons was born in New York but lived in Europe for most of his life; he studied in Paris so he would have been able to see Moreau’s work first-hand. A few of his later pictures are rather vague fantasies but his real obsession was with Wagner’s operas, and he spent the last few years of his life working as a set designer at Bayreuth while also creating a series of paintings intended to illustrate the entire run of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. His most remarkable creation isn’t a canvas, however, but a French edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which he painted over entirely, even decorating the binding. I’m surprised again that such a unique work isn’t more widely known. Happily the entire book is available online at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

All the usual caveats apply here with regard to the accuracy of titles and dates. There’s even some dispute about the artist’s birth year which is occasionally given as 1865. Most of these pictures have been found on auction sites where larger reproductions may be seen.

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Port City.

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Sunrise.

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The City of Dreams.

Continue reading “The art of Pinckney Marcius-Simons, 1867–1909”

Weekend links 603

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Weird Tales (Canada), May 1942. Cover art by Edmond Good.

• “…in 1968, seven years after the MOMA retrospective, Orson Welles appreciatively got in touch and suggested that Bogdanovich do a book-length set of interviews with him like the one that Bogdanovich had just done with Ford. The resulting book, This Is Orson Welles (which took a winding path to publication, in 1992, seven years after Welles’s death), is a classic of the literature of movies.” Richard Brody on the late Peter Bogdanovich. The book of Welles interviews is one of my favourite film books, as good in its way as Hitchcock/Truffaut, and like Truffaut’s book you wish it was twice as long.

• At Public Domain Review: Paloma Ruiz and Hunter Dukes on Johann Caspar Lavater’s frog-to-human physiognomies. If you reverse the sequence, as I did for one of the illustrations in Lovecraft’s Monsters, you approach The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

• The week in virtual exploration (via MetaFilter): Mini Tokyo 3D and Explore the Soane Museum, London.

• Submissions are open for the 16th issue of Dada journal Maintenant which will have the theme “Nyet Zero”.

• At Spoon & Tamago: Artists and artisans collaborate on exhibition of 144 maekake aprons.

• DJ Food unearths flyers and posters for the Million Volt Light & Sound Rave, 1967.

• Mix of the week: Isolatedmix 116 by Chris SSG.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Stephen Dwoskin Day.

The Little Blue Frog (1970) by Miles Davis | Jail-House Frog (1972) by Amon Düül II | Tree Frog (1995) by Facil

Weekend links 602

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High Times, May 1980. Cover art by Frank Frazetta.

• Desperately Seeking Mothman: “The Scythian Lamb, after all, was equal parts Venus flytrap and baby lamb, a mysterious woolly gourd,” says Tara Isabella Burton, on the trail of cryptids old and new.

• “In my youth of course I indulged in such stunts as bringing forth a Boramez, or a so-called vegetable lamb.” It’s that lamb again, in a translation of pages from The Voynich Manuscript.

• “2022: Be willing to be dazzled,” says S. Elizabeth. Also, follow her blog because she’s always turning up strange and wonderful things.

• “Why do we count down to the New Year?” Alexis McCrossen explores the history of countdowns, from Fritz Lang to the present day.

• “Snow coats reality in a fresh layer of strangeness,” says Charlie Fox.

• Spending the War Without You: Laurie Anderson’s Norton Lectures.

• New music: Our Hands Against The Dusk by Rachika Nayar.

• Mix of the week: Fact Mix 840 by Time Is Away.

• Galerie Dennis Cooper presents…Piet Zwart.

Does It Matter Irene? (1979) by The Mothmen | Tardis (Sweep Is Dead, Long Live Sweep) (1981) by The Mothmen | Mothman (1981) by The Mothmen