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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

René Magritte album covers

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Beck-Ola (1969) by The Jeff Beck Group. Painting: The Listening Room (second version, 1958).

An inevitable post considering the shape of the week, and also a continuation of an occasional series about paintings used as album cover art. Given Magritte’s continuing popularity I’m sure these can’t be the only examples, especially when his work had such an effect on the cover designs of the 1970s. In addition to the Magritte-like covers created by Hipgnosis for Pink Floyd and others you can find the artist’s influence in the cover by Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse for The Grand Illusion (1977) by Styx, a hugely successful album whose painting is derived from Magritte’s The Blank Cheque (1965). There are many more examples.

Magritte died in 1967 so he missed out on this explosion of interest which also spread into the advertising world. When it comes to influence, Magritte has probably had more of an effect on the general culture than any of the other Surrealists, Dalí included.

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See (1969) by The Rascals. Painting: The Big Family (1963).

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Pipedream (1973) by Alan Hull. Painting: Philosopher’s Lamp (1936).

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Vienne La Pluie (1975) by Daniel Balavoine. Painting: Hegel’s Holiday (1958).

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Monsieur René Magritte, a film by Adrian Maben

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Until the end of his life, [Magritte] preferred to take the tram.

Now there’s an attitude I approve of. George Melly in his BBC film about Surrealism mentions visiting Magritte at his home in Brussels, and we see Magritte’s house at the beginning of Adrian Maben’s 50-minute film about the artist’s life and work. Maben’s film was made in 1978 as an Franco-German TV production but the narration, by Maben himself, is in English. Surrealism seemed to be back in vogue in 1978: as mentioned yesterday, the Hayward Gallery in London staged an exhibition of Surrealist art that year, the BBC commissioned George Melly’s film as a result of this, while over on rival network ITV there was the marvellous documentary about Surrealist patron Edward James who modelled for one of Magritte’s most famous paintings, La reproduction interdite (1937).

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Adrian Maben’s name will be familiar to Pink Floyd obsessives as the director of Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (1972), and if you’re familiar with that film you can recognise the same shooting style in his Magritte film which deploys similar slow zooms, tracking shots and images sliding in and out of the frame. The music is credited to a surprising combination of Béla Bartók (mostly piano) and Roger Waters, although some of the pieces from the latter are actually by Pink Floyd, there’s even some of the opening of Obscured By Clouds. In style and content the film is as good as anything the BBC were producing at the time, with extracts from a TV interview with the artist, and also some of Magritte’s high-spirited home movies made with his wife and friends.

Magritte and Pink Floyd are a fitting match, some of the Floyd’s album covers could be Magritte paintings rendered photographically: two men shaking hands, one of whom is on fire; a giant pig adrift over a power station. Storm Thorgerson always acknowledged the debt that Hipgnosis owed Magritte’s example, it’s there in the title of the first Hipgnosis book, Walk Away René, and in this short Tate interview from 2011 where he mentions the Wish You Were Here album as being a very conscious Magritte homage.

Previously on { feuilleton }
George Melly’s Memoirs of a Self-Confessed Surrealist
The Secret Life of Edward James
René Magritte by David Wheatley

 


George Melly’s Memoirs of a Self-Confessed Surrealist

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It’s a short step from Dada to Surrealism, and George Melly provides a brief skate through the philosophies of both in this 25-minute BBC film from 1978. Melly, like JG Ballard, was struck by Surrealism at an impressionable age, and the love affair was a lasting one. Both Melly and Ballard championed Surrealism during periods when it was deeply unfashionable, an oppositional stance that Ballard at least often seemed to relish.

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Melly’s enthusiasm was so well-known that he was often called upon as a token advocate of Surrealism whenever one was required by the TV channels, hence this film whose title implies an admission of something disreputable. A major exhibition of Surrealist art was taking place 1978 at the Hayward Gallery in London, and it’s to this exhibition that Melly journeys, explaining (and demonstrating) what it means to be a Surrealist along the way. I saw this when it was first broadcast, and the absurd phone calls to strangers inspired myself and a few school-friends to similar activities; teenage pranks seemed less frivolous with an artistic justification. There’s a slight connection to yesterday’s post in Melly’s recounting of an anecdote from the 1950s when he was spared a night-time beating by his reciting of Kurt Schwitters’ Ursonate to a group of belligerent youths. Elsewhere you get to see punk band The Stranglers scowling at the camera—Melly suggests that the punks might be inheritors of the Dadaist attitude—and director Alan Yentob standing at a urinal.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Secret Life of Edward James
René Magritte by David Wheatley

 


The original Cabaret Voltaire

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Cabaret Voltaire #1 (1916). Cover by Hans Arp.

Richard H. Kirk’s announcement that he’ll be performing at the Berlin Atonal festival as Cabaret Voltaire caused some raising of eyebrows recently, although if Stephen Mallinder isn’t involved I won’t be getting too excited myself. The last few releases under the Cabaret Voltaire name were credited to Kirk/Mallinder but from Plasticity (1992) on they don’t sound very different to Kirk’s solo releases from the same period. That’s not to say the music suffers but you have to wonder why the group name is being perpetuated if there’s nothing unique attached to it.

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Dune, parole in libertà by Filippo Marinetti.

The group, old or new, will be the first thing that comes to mind for most people when they hear the name Cabaret Voltaire, something that might have surprised Hugo Ball who founded the original Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich almost a century ago. Cabaret Voltaire (the group) named themselves after Ball’s project, their intentions in the mid-1970s being similarly Dadaist. Early Cabs performances were more audience provocations than anything to do with entertainment; the music came later, and only after several years of very uncommercial tape experimentation, some of which can be heard on Methodology ’74–’78: Attic Tapes (2003). Thanks to Switzerland staying out of the war the original Cabaret didn’t get wrecked by bombs or destroyed by the Nazis, and is still active today. Ball also published a Cabaret Voltaire journal, two pages of which can be seen here. If this doesn’t look very dramatic to our eyes it needs to be remembered that everyone who first saw it would have been born in the 19th century so the contents would have seemed a lot more radical. A slim publication but with a formidable list of contributors: Guillaume Apollinaire, Hans Arp, Blaise Cendrars, Wassily Kandinsky, Filippo Marinetti, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Tristan Tzara and others.

Also at Ubuweb (where else?) there are several recordings of Hugo Ball’s Dada poetry including a recital of Karawane by (of all people) Marie Osmond. Who knew there was a connection between the Osmonds and Cabaret Voltaire?

Previously on { feuilleton }
Cabaret Voltaire on La Edad de Oro, 1983
Doublevision Presents Cabaret Voltaire
Just the ticket: Cabaret Voltaire
TV Wipeout
The Crackdown by Cabaret Voltaire

 


The art of Jean Boullet, 1921–1970

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From Antinous (1954).

A few drawings and paintings by Jean Boullet, a prolific French illustrator who was also a writer—passionate about “sexology, conjuring, magic, demonology, and mythology”, says Wikipédia—and a film critic. His illustrations range from books by Raymond Radiguet, Boris Vian and Edgar Allan Poe to unabashed homoerotic collections of his own, one of which, Tapis volant (1945), has an introduction by Jean Cocteau. Boullet’s figures are very Cocteau-like, especially those depicting the sailors which Cocteau also liked to draw and fantasise about. The Au Bonheur du Jour gallery has many pages of Boullet’s drawings and publications, while Bibliothèque Gay has several posts showing complete sets of drawings from some of his books. Many of the artist’s drawings circulating without credit on the web seem to originate there. Don’t miss Metamorphoses (1950).

• See also: The Male Universe of Subversive Genius Jean Boullet by Julien Beyle.

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Portrait of Jean Marais.

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Portrait of Kenneth Anger.

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Penda's Fen by David Rudkin