The art of Julien Champagne, 1877–1932

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An obscure occult artist even among catalogues of obscure occult artists, Julien Champagne (also listed as Jean-Julian) is known principally for his associations with the persistently elusive 20th century alchemist Fulcanelli. Champagne provided a frontispiece (below) for Fulcanelli’s examination of architectural symbolism, Le Mystère des Cathédrales (1926), and is continually rumoured to have been Fulcanelli himself. Whatever the solution to that mystery, the alchemist’s book is rather more visible than the artist’s distinctly Symbolist paintings. There’s a French blog devoted to his life and works here but little else around. I wouldn’t mind seeing a decent online gallery of his pictures at some point.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Digital alchemy
The art of Pamela Colman Smith, 1878–1951
The art of Andrey Avinoff, 1884–1949
The art of Cameron, 1922–1995
Austin Osman Spare

Digital alchemy

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Methodus scientiarum by Girolamo Brisiani (1588).

A work-related search for lettering designs by calligrapher Johann Neudörffer led me to the Munich Digitisation Centre, a site dealing with the digitisation and online publication of the holdings of the Bavarian State Library. The catalogue there holds a wealth of very old books and manuscripts which you can either view online or download as PDFs. Most of the works are in German or Latin but I still like to see the page designs even if I can’t read the text. Among their collection they have a large number of the classic works of alchemy. The texts of those are freely available on various alchemy websites but you rarely have the opportunity to examine in detail copies of the original publications. Lots of tasty wood engravings, vignettes and decorated borders.

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Coelum Philosophorum Seu De Secretis naturae Liber by Philipp Ulsted (1528).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving archive

Andy Paiko’s glass art

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The Glass Chair.

Today’s glass artists continue to astonish. Andy Paiko‘s one-off creation above is a chair whose vitrines contain a rhesus monkey skull, a piece of octopus coral, a murex spiny trumpet shell, the skeleton of a rat, and a mountain lion skull. The piece below contains a 24 carat gold-plated coyote skull with the work as a whole being described by the artist as representing various stages of the alchemical process. Go and feast your eyes on the rest of his creations. Thanks again to Thom for the tip!

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Canis Auribus Tenere.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The art of Josiah McElheny
The art of Angelo Filomeno
IKO stained glass
Cristalophonics: searching for the Cocteau sound
Glass engines and marble machines
Wesley Fleming’s glass insects
The art of Lucio Bubacco
The glass menagerie

Layered Orders: Crowley’s Thoth Deck and the Tarot

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left: The Magus from the Thoth Tarot by Frieda Harris and Aleister Crowley (1938–1940?); right: The Magus from The Major Arcana by John Coulthart (2006).

Phantasmaphile presents another magickal art event in NYC next week. Layered Orders: Crowley’s Thoth Deck and the Tarot is described as “a personal narrative by Jesse Bransford”, an artist with a very distinctive approach to traditional occult symbolism. Bransford’s talk will focus on the peerless Thoth Tarot deck which Frieda Harris painted over several years under the careful direction of Aleister Crowley. The Thoth deck for me is still the ultimate Tarot deck. Crowley and Harris sought to create a Tarot for the 20th century, throwing out much of its tired and degraded iconography. This they replaced with dramatic interpretations which brought new layers of symbolism to the cards—including references to contemporary science—and also acknowledged the developments of Cubism and Futurism in the visual sphere. Tarot decks have proliferated since the 1960s but the Thoth deck has few (if any) rivals. I made use of Crowley’s controversial reordering and renaming of the cards in 2006 when I produced my set of Major Arcana designs based on international symbol signs.

The Tarot in general and Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot in particular represent a miasmic confluence of image and thought into a single structure that is both liberating and overwhelming in its scope. In creating the deck, Crowley (in collaboration with painter Lady Frieda Harris) sought to integrate the mythological structures of the major mystical systems of both Western and Eastern occult traditions and to bring them into line with contemporary scientific thinking. The symbolism of the cards blends Kabbalah, Alchemy, Astrology, Egyptian mythology, quantum physics and even the I-Ching in ways that are at the same time clear and utterly confounding.

In an image-soaked personal narration Bransford, whose research-based artwork has delved into many of the territories Crowley sought to unify, will discuss some of the basic concepts of Tarot symbolism, returning to Crowley’s deck as among the most total example of the cards’ syncretism and as the most controversial.

Layered Orders: Crowley’s Thoth Deck and the Tarot takes place at Observatory, 543 Union Street, Brooklyn, NYC on Friday, July 17 at 7:30pm. Admission is free and there are further details at the Observatory website and Phantasmaphile.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Fata Morgana: The New Female Fantasists
Aleister Crowley on vinyl
The Man We Want to Hang by Kenneth Anger
The art of Cameron, 1922–1995

Norman McLaren

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Pas de Deux (1968).

News of a theatre piece celebrating the creativity of Norman McLaren, the pioneering Scots (and gay) animator and film-maker, had me searching YouTube again for his work. His short film Neighbours (1952) is very well-known, oft-cited and imitated for its pixillated character movement. No surprise to see it there, then, along with other works such as Boogie Doodle (1941), Fiddle Dee Dee (1947), A Phantasy (1952), Blinkety Blank (1955) and several others.

Less well-known is a favourite film of mine which hadn’t been YouTubed last time I looked but which is now there in two parts, Pas de Deux (1968). This is a black and white film of a simple ballet performance transformed by its presentation to yield something that could only exist on film. Careful lighting, an atmospheric score, judicious use of slow motion and the stunning application of optical printing to multiply and mirror the figures makes one of the best ballet films I’ve ever seen; it was also one of McLaren’s personal favourites among his many films. He used slow motion again for two more dance works, Ballet Adagio (1972) and Narcissus (1983), one of his final films which impresses for its overt homoerotics but is less striking than its predecessor. The only version of the latter on YouTube is this scratch version with the visuals set to more recent music.

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Narcissus (1983).

The best way to see McLaren’s incredible films is at a decent resolution, of course, and the National Film Board of Canada have made them available on a seven-DVD box set.

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The theatre work mentioned above is Norman by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon which is at Macrobert, Stirling, from 17–19 April, 2008 then the Theatre Royal, Brighton from 6–10 May, 2008.

In an improbable act of theatrical alchemy, dancer/choreographer Peter Trosztmer literally inhabits McLaren’s cinematic universe. He dances, weaves, converses and interacts with the animator’s pulsing images and leaping figures, set loose in a riotous ballet of line, light and movement.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Reflections of Narcissus