Robot Artists and Black Swans

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Four years ago I designed and illustrated a book for Tachyon written by Bruce Sterling, Pirate Utopia. Robot Artists and Black Swans is a kind of sequel, being the work of the same author for the same publisher, and with a similar geographical focus on southern Europe. The new book differs from the earlier one by being a collection of stories rather than a single piece, many of which are set in or near the city of Turin where Sterling and his wife, Jasmina Tesanovic, spend much of their time. Sterling has been living in Europe for many years, long enough to have cultivated an alter-ego, Bruno Argento, an Italian science-fiction writer who is offered as the real author of the stories in Robot Artists and Black Swans.

Pirate Utopia was an easy book to design because of the Futurist theme which I illustrated by adapting graphics by artist and designer Fortunato Depero. For the cover of the new volume I considered trying something similar with another Italian artist/designer, Franco Grignani (1980–1999). In addition to having studied in Turin, Grignani was commissioned by David Pelham to create cover art for a handful of Penguin science fiction titles in the late 1960s. Much of Grignani’s artwork is heavily indebted to the Op Art style popularised by Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely, especially the early Riley formula of dazzling arrangements of parallel lines, a formula he made his own after Riley’s work evolved in other directions. Despite these favourable qualities, Grignani’s art proved too abstract for my purposes, and for Tachyon’s who wanted something more illustrative, so I ended up co-opting a very different Italian artist/designer, Leonardo da Vinci. The figure of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man has been parodied and pastiched many times so this isn’t remotely original (I’ve also used the original drawing on a pastiche book cover I designed for the Lambshead Disease Guide), but making the figure a robot was a convenient way of combining the title with Italian history. One of the stories in the collection, Pilgrims of the Round World, concerns the inhabitants of Turin during the Renaissance years, and mentions Leonardo (or “the Vinci boy”) several times, so the figure does have some actual relevance beyond being recognisably Italian. The background is, of course, the city of Turin given a slightly futuristic tweak, although it’s more Turinesque than a match for the place itself.

As usual, I’ll save discussion of the book’s interior until after publication which will be in March, 2021. Watch this spacetime.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling
Futurismo!

Weekend links 315

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The Deluge (1920) by Winifred Knights.

Dennis Cooper‘s favourite fiction, poetry, nonfiction, film, music, art & internet of 2016 so far. (Thanks again for the nod to this blog!)

• At Literary Hub: Jonathan Russell Clark on Jorge Luis Borges, and Jon Sealy on why indie presses [in the US] are opening bookstores.

• “It’s not just about the music.” A conversation on the occult practices in the arts between poet Janaka Stucky and Peter Bebergal.

• Daisy Woodward talks to Andreas Horvath about Helmut Berger, Actor, a documentary about Visconti’s muse and lover.

• More Fritz Leiber: Brian J. Showers on his decision to republish Leiber’s horror novel, The Pale Brown Thing.

• Mixes of the week: Sextape 4 by Drixxxe, and Radio Oscillations #96 (Richard Pinhas/Heldon) by Iron Blu.

• The 5th Young One: Pay No Attention to the Girl Behind the Sofa; John Reppion on a television mystery.

• More reading suggestions: Cheerless beach reads for gloomsters and saddies by S. Elizabeth.

• Never the same film twice: Seances by Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson.

• How painter Winifred Knights became Britain’s “unknown genius”.

• The Journey & The Destination: An interview with Hawthonn.

Robert Latona goes in search of the grave of Constance Wilde.

• Invisible by Day: photos by Mikko Lagerstedt.

• A Queer Lit Q&A with Evan J. Peterson.

• RIP Michael Herr and Bernie Worrell.

Bridget Riley: The Curve Paintings.

• The typography of Blade Runner.

Japanese matchbox labels

SOS by Portishead

A Rainbow In Curved Air (1969) by Terry Riley | The Great Curve (1980) by Talking Heads | Dangerous Curves (2003) by King Crimson

Weekend links 184

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Gevatter Tod (Godfather Death, 1905) by Heinrich Lefler. Via Beautiful Century.

An inevitable hangover from Halloween this week. At 50 Watts: A Modern Dance of Death (c. 1894) by Joseph Sattler, Harry Clarke Revisited, and more Ex Libris Mr Reaper | At Design Observer: Keith Eggener on When Buildings Kill: Sentient Houses in Fiction and Film | At Dangerous Minds: An interview with horror soundtrack composer Fabio Frizzi | Clive Hicks-Jenkins on illustrating the ghost stories of MR James.

Punk 45: The Singles Cover Art of Punk 1976–80, a book by Jon Savage & Stuart Baker with an accompanying compilation album on Soul Jazz Records. Savage & Baker selected a handful of favourite covers here.

De humani corporis fabrica by Vesalius is back in print as a beautiful two-volume hardback edition. See sample pages here.

…the business of the writer is to find something out for yourself and to stick by it. To forge a new mythology out of materials pertinent to the moment. Otherwise you’re at the mercy of their mythology, which is a destruction of language, above everything else. This non-language, this bureaucratic-speak of the global corporate entities, is a horror in the world. So that strange language we started with – that piece of Kerouac – I think is more valuable than ever.

Iain Sinclair (yes, him again) talking to James Campbell about his new book, American Smoke.

Bob Mizer & Tom of Finland, an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

• From 2010: The Bridget Riley Look, The Bridget Riley Sound, Bridget Riley’s Rolling Papers.

The Strange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board. Related: Ouija Boards at Pinterest.

Highway 62 posted some close-ups of my adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu.

• “This is not a coincidence”: Max Dax talks to Andrey A. Tarkovsky.

Anthony Lane‘s Foreword to The Big New Yorker Book of Cats.

• At AnOther: Nicolas Roeg on Mirrors and Memory.

Toys and Techniques: a blog.

Death And The Lady (1970) by Shirley & Dolly Collins | Clang Of The Yankee Reaper (1975) Van Dyke Parks | All And Everyone (2011) by PJ Harvey

Escher and Schrofer

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Design by Jurriaan Schrofer.

That’s Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898–1972), the Dutch artist, and Jurriaan Schrofer (1926–90), the Dutch typographer and graphic designer. Aside from a shared nationality the pair had a similar interest in periodicity and incremental metamorphosis, something that’s strikingly apparent when you compare their works. I don’t know much about Schrofer so I can’t say whether he was consciously following Escher’s example or whether this is coincidence. Some of the gradations and distortions also bear comparison with the Op Art paintings of Bridget Riley, Victor Vasarely and others.

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MC Escher signed most of his works with three square “MCE” letters which are remarkably similar to Schrofer’s type designs.

There’s an opportunity to find out more about Schrofer’s distinctive approach to graphic design in a forthcoming book from Unit Editions (currently available at a reduced pre-order price). More of his work can be seen at But Does It Float and scattered around Tumblr. MC Escher is well-represented on the web; I’d suggest starting at WikiPaintings.

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Circle Limit I (1958) by MC Escher.

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Design by Jurriaan Schrofer.

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Square Limit (colour, 1964) by MC Escher.

Continue reading “Escher and Schrofer”

Petulia film posters

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Illustration by Bob Peak.

Further examples of those things you find when you’re searching for something else, these posters for Richard Lester’s Petulia (1968) are a good example of just how differently the same film can be presented by its advertising materials. Petulia (“the uncommon movie”) is a fascinating, unjustly neglected gem, a serious adult drama quite unlike the comedies (or comic dramas) Lester was making before and after. Nicolas Roeg photographed Petulia shortly before embarking on his own directing career, capturing San Francisco just after the Summer of Love in a more documentary fashion than the exploitation films of the period. There are nods to the psychedelic scene with party appearances by Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the Grateful Dead, but the narrative concerns the flipside of hippiedom with a group of middle-class professionals ensnared in adultery and marital failure.

A commonly remarked feature of Petulia is Antony Gibbs’ fragmented editing style which flashes backwards and forwards throughout, even showing events that never happen. The technique is usually taken to be derived from Alain Resnais although Gibbs had earlier edited The Knack…and How to Get It for Lester which is often as fragmented, albeit for a more comic effect. What’s notable about the technique is that Gibbs went on to edit Nicolas Roeg’s first two features, Performance (co-directed with Donald Cammell) and Walkabout, both of which take the fragmentation even further, creating the style which Roeg made his own.

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The poster that caught my attention was the marvellous one by Bob Peak who manages to depict the awkward relationship between the two leads—holding hands yet facing away from each other—whilst alluding to the psychedelic backdrop in the details. It’s difficult to tell at a small size but the sheet music design above shows that Peak’s drawing is a complex arrangement of blended faces, the reflected figure of a woman and a pattern of Bridget Riley swirls. If I was still collecting film posters I’d be sorely tempted to buy one of these.

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Illustration by Jean Fourastié.

Compared to which this pair of French designs veer off in opposite and unsatisfying directions. Jean Fourastié seems to have been under the impression that the story concerned a San Francisco flower child not a bored housewife, while Jean Mascii’s painting isn’t inaccurate but is more suited to a romance paperback. Big heads were apparently Mascii’s métier even if there were no people in the film.

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Illustration by Jean Mascii.

Petulia has been available on DVD for a while now, it’s well worth seeking out. Watch the trailer here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Lucifer Rising posters
Wild Salomés
Druillet’s vampires
Bob Peak revisited
Alice in Acidland
Salomé posters
Polish posters: Freedom on the Fence
Kaleidoscope: the switched-on thriller
The Robing of The Birds
Franciszek Starowieyski, 1930–2009
Dallamano’s Dorian Gray
Czech film posters
The poster art of Richard Amsel
Bollywood posters
Lussuria, Invidia, Superbia
The poster art of Bob Peak
A premonition of Premonition
Metropolis posters
Film noir posters