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.

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Weekend links 596

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Jam III (2021) by Kotaro Hoshiyama.

• “Powell and Pressburger are peerless in realizing what Orson Welles would term plotless scenes—extra bits that ostensibly do not advance the story, but are a story unto themselves, and aggregate such that they’re vital to how we understand the characters who are living the story.” Colin Fleming says thanks for the Archers.

• A short promo for The Incal: The Movie. Hmm, okay. A film that adapted all 300 pages of the original story without changing anything or trying to explain away the weirdness would be worth seeing. But I doubt that’s what this will be. Read the book.

• “If a single word distills the New Wave aesthetic, it’s plastic…ironically flaunted artificiality became a leitmotif of the era.” Simon Reynolds reviews Reversing Into the Future: New Wave Graphics 1977–1990 by Andrew Krivine.

• Mixes of the week: a mix by Princess Diana Of Wales (not that one) for The Wire, and At The Outer Marker Part I, a Grateful Dead Twilight Zone mix by David Colohan.

The Bloomingdale Story: read the never-before published Patricia Highsmith draft that would become Carol (aka The Price of Salt).

• At Spoon & Tamago: Multiple panels form collaged portraits painted by Kotaro Hoshiyama.

• New music: Pyroclasts F (excerpt) by Sunn O))), and Loop return with Halo.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: William E. Jones Day.

Plastic Bamboo (1978) by Ryuichi Sakamoto | Barock-Plastik (2000) by Stereolab | Black Plastic (2002) by Ladytron

Weekend links 595

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Dig the eldritch letterforms, man. Dean Stockwell as Wilbur Whateley making the High Sign on the cover of Les Baxter’s soundtrack album, 1970. That gesture, incidentally, goes back a long way.

• If you have an abundance of interstellar credits burning a hole in your stillsuit then you may be interested in bidding for the original of the book commonly known as The Dune Bible, the complete set of storyboards by Jean “Moebius” Giraud, together with designs by other artists for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s abandoned feature film. I keep hoping someone might turn this into an animated feature, something like René Laloux’s Time Masters but on a grander scale and with better animation (hello, Japan). 46 pages of scans from a limited printing of the book may be seen here.

• RIP Dean Stockwell. His 1995 interview in Psychotronic Video magazine is much better value than any potted biography.

• Bed-hopping, martinis and self-loathing: Emma Brockes on Patricia Highsmith’s unpublished diaries.

• At Spoon & Tamago: Tracing the footsteps of travelling Ukiyoe artist Kawase Hasui.

• Culture.pl examines the theoretical revolution of Nicolaus Copernicus.

Killian Fox on the cover designs for Penguin’s Modern Classics.

Nick Mamatas on his favourite genre-breaking mysteries.

• New music: HYbr:ID oval p-dance by Alva Noto.

• Mix of the week: Isolatedmix 114 by R.A.D.E.

Justin Robertson’s favourite music.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Clock.

Jay Babcock at Substack.

The Clock (1968) by Ruth White | Clock Factory (1993) by The Sabres Of Paradise | Internal Clock (2009) by Monolake

Weekend links 564

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Fantastical Tree (c. 1830) by Carl Wilhelm Kolbe.

• “It’s just a square and a semi-circle at the end of the day.” Pete Adlington navigates the rapids of high-profile cover design for the UK edition of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and The Sun. I’m not always keen on the minimal approach but the Faber edition is a better design than the equally minimal US cover whose circle in a hand makes it look like a reprint of Logan’s Run. Faber also produced a limited edition with the sun circle wrapped onto sprayed page edges.

• “‘With a mysterious smile on her lips,’ writes the Chilean film director Alejandro Jodorowsky, ‘the painter whispered to me, “What you just dictated to me is the secret. As each Arcana is a mirror and not a truth in itself, become what you see in it. That tarot is a chameleon.”‘” The painter referred to is the now-ubiquitous Leonora Carrington whose own Tarot deck is investigated by Rhian Sasseen.

• “‘Horror is an emotion,’ Douglas E. Winter tells us. I would respectfully like to amend that assertion. Horror is a range of emotions. And each of these moods, if they are to be successful, must be cultivated differently.” Brian J. Showers offers his thoughts on horror fiction.

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• Gay cruising and its geography in cinema and documentary, a list of films by Mike Kennedy. Related: Shiv Kotecha on O Fantasma (2000), a film by João Pedro Rodrigues.

• Coming from Strange Attractor in June: Coil: Camera Light Oblivion, a photographic record by Ruth Beyer of the first live performances by Coil from 2000–2002.

• At Wormwoodiana: Mark Valentine on The Star Called Wormwood (1941), a strange novel by Morchard Bishop.

• At Unquiet Things: Ephemeral and Irresistible: The Spectacular Still-life Botanical Drama of Gatya Kelly.

• “Fevers of Curiosity”: Charles Baudelaire and the convalescent flâneur by Matthew Beaumont.

• 1066 and all that: Explore the Bayeux Tapestry online.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 311 by Arigto.

• New music: Terrain by Portico Quartet.

Fever (1956) by Little Willie John | Fever (1972) by Junior Byles | Fever (1980) The Cramps

Weekend links 551

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Bystander #16 (2016) by Mari Katayama.

• “In her prickly, misanthropic stories, her obsession with obsession is on display, big feelings and bad habits redirected to gruesome ends.” Carmen Maria Machado on the brilliance, difficulty and eccentricities of Patricia Highsmith who was born on 19th January, 1921. This reminds me that I have an unread copy of Highsmith’s The Two Faces of January that I ought to move to the reading pile.

Saint Laurent—Summer of ’21: Gaspar Noé’s new promo for the fashion house features Charlotte Rampling and a group of models in a vaguely Argento-like scenario that’s all crimson light, sumptuous decor and a creditable cover of I Feel Love by SebastiAn.

• I’ve been listening to a lot of Magma recently so this is timely: all three of the live Retrospektïw albums from 1980 gathered together for the first time in a single package and with a bonus recording.

• At Spine: Vyki Hendy collects some recent book covers that use optical illusions (or negative space) to catch the attention. Tangentially related: William Hogarth’s Satire on False Perspective (1754).

• RIP David Larkin, art director at Granada and Pan who also edited one of my favourite series of art books.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Crop Encircled Boy presents…Alejandro Jodorowsky Day.

• Mix of the week: Subterraneans 1, a Bowie mix by The Ephemeral Man.

• At Wormwoodiana: A Secret Book of Ghost Stories.

• “Reality is plasticine,” says Eloghosa Osunde.

Cats On Synthesizers In Space

Subterraneans (1993) by Philip Glass | The Subterranean (1994) by Soma | Subterranean Lakes (2018) by Pye Corner Audio