Svankmajer’s Decalogue

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Natural History (1973) by Jan Svankmajer.

A Jan Svankmajer interview I was reading recently contained two references to something he called his “Decalogue” but no detail as to what this might be. The mystery was explained in a footnote: “Decalogue” is a collection of ten artistic principles that Svankmajer wrote for a film magazine, Vertigo, in 2006. Given the low circulation of these kinds of journals I expected the piece to be unavailable but the magazine has a website which reproduces the full text here.

Despite the title, these aren’t really Ten Commandments, they’re more statements of Svankmajer’s artistic philosophy, and as such won’t be suitable for everyone, or for every purpose when they’re so heavily oriented towards animated film. All the same, I like to see things like this even if I don’t agree with them; sometimes finding a principle you disagree with is a way of confirming or reinforcing the value of its opposite. In other cases you may find a condensation of a vague impulse which becomes easier to recall when set into words. A good example of the latter is the well-known instruction from Eno & Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies (which also has a quasi-religious tone:) “Honour your error as a hidden intention”. I seldom follow this one but I keep it in mind. As Svankmajer says at the end of his piece, rules like these are also made to be broken.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Magic Art of Jan Svankmajer
Svankmajer’s cats
Jan Svankmajer: The Animator of Prague
Jan Svankmajer, Director
Don Juan, a film by Jan Svankmajer
The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope
Two sides of Liska

The Green Sheaf

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Pamela Colman Smith, artist, is more of a familiar figure today than she used to be thanks to the increased attention given to women artists of the past. Less familiar is Pamela Colman Smith, magazine editor, a role she briefly occupied in 1903 when she launched The Green Sheaf, an arts magazine published in London. This was a slight publication—the first number is a mere 8 pages—but the contents included heavyweight contributors such as John Masefield together with Smith’s mystically-oriented Irish friends, WB Yeats and “AE” (George Russell). Smith provided many of the illustrations, as did Cecil French and William Horton, the latter an artist whose work I hadn’t seen in colour before. All the colouring in The Green Sheaf was done by hand, presumably by Smith herself, which must have limited the circulation. Smith’s intention was to publish 13 issues a year, and 13 issues were all the magazine eventually managed. The number 13 was evidently an important one for the artist/editor, although we’re left to guess why. In addition to 13 issues, the subscriptions sold for 13 shillings, with individual issues costing 13 pence each. All the issues may be browsed or downloaded here.

See also: “A Paper of Her Own”: Pamela Colman Smith’s The Green Sheaf (1903–1904)

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Continue reading “The Green Sheaf”

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”

Fresh BUTT

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Yoni by Kuba Ryniewicz.

My favourite gay mag, BUTT, resurrected itself in September by publishing a new issue, something I only discovered by accident and might easily have missed altogether. I ordered a copy as soon as I saw the news. The BUTT brand (for want of a better term) has been continually active via the magazine’s website but with ten years having elapsed since the appearance of the 29th issue I really didn’t expect to see another one. The new issue of the self-styled “Fantastic Magazine for Homosexuals” is no. 31 which leaves us to ponder the question of the missing 30th issue.

Whatever the reason for the numbering it’s good to see BUTT continuing as before, as though it hadn’t been dormant for such a long time. The new issue is almost exactly the same as previous numbers: slightly taller, slightly longer (100 pages) and with its first glossy cover. Under the covers the formula remains the same, all pink paper (with a familiar fresh-paint aroma), minimal design, sporadic nudity and informative interviews. The egalitarian nature of the latter has always been one of the attractions of the magazine, which in this issue features those with public profiles—Hilton Als, Arca, Durk Dehner of the Tom of Finland Foundation—and those without, like cover star Yoni (an Ethiopian currently living in Newcastle) and Stas, a Ukrainian DJ.

• Distribution: UK | EU | US/World

Previously on { feuilleton }
BUTT covered

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