Weekend links 359

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An urban scene from Yotsuba&! by manga artist Kiyohiko Azuma.

• The resurgence of interest in Alice Coltrane’s music is very welcome even if she joins for the moment the list of those artists (usually women: see Leonora Carrington) tagged by editors as “lost”, “forgotten”, “unrecognised”, etc. Alice Coltrane was only ever lost if you weren’t paying attention, and was notable enough fifteen years ago to be given the cover of The Wire magazine. Articles appearing this week have been prompted by a compilation of the devotional music that Coltrane recorded for a series of self-released cassettes in the 1980s. Geeta Dayal writes about the creation of the ashram recordings, while Stewart Smith suggests starting points for new listeners.

• Mentioned here before, but there’s now a page for the book: a new edition of Hashish (1902) by Oscar Schmitz will be published by Wakefield Press in November. “A collection of decadent, interweaving tales of Satanism, eroticism, sadism, cannibalism, necrophilia, and death”, illustrated by Alfred Kubin.

• Mixes of the week: A Dark Entries mix for the 400th issue of The Wire, Procedure, LA, April 25, 2017 by Pinkcourtesyphone, and Secret Thirteen Mix 220, a 4-hour epic by Ricardo Gomez Y De Buck.

• More off-the-beaten-path film lists: Sarah Lyons for Dirge Magazine on three occult documentaries, and Terry Ratchett for Dennis Cooper on 18 needlessly obscured avant-garde films.

• An Island of Peace: James Conway on Amanda DeMarco’s new translation of Walking in Berlin: A Flâneur in the Capital by Franz Hessel.

Ryuichi Sakamoto talks to Aaron Coultate about overcoming cancer, The Revenant and his new album, async.

Ingrid D. Rowland on Caravaggio: The Virtuoso of Compassion.

• “I think I am weirdly politically correct,” says John Waters.

Mnemonic Generator

• Berliner Nächte Part 1 (1990) by Seigen Ono | Berlinerstrasse (1995) by Coco, Steel & Lovebomb | Berlin (1998) by Pole

The Dream Machine

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This is a 35-minute anthology film from 1986 with a very painterly, poetic (for want of a better term) quality of a kind I’ve not seen for some time in queer cinema. The reasons for this can be debated at greater length than I care to attempt, but it’s notable that a feature of the work of Derek Jarman—one of the featured directors—was an approach that was always happy to dispense with naturalism and the aping of familiar film and television narratives. In place of Jarman’s visionary approach we now have the “ordinary gay lives” of Weekend and Looking. This may satisfy those eager to see their own lives reflected on the screen but I’m usually expecting more from my cinema than another mirror held up to mundane reality. (And a very circumscribed reality, at that.)

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The theme of The Dream Machine is Bryon Gysin’s hallucination-inducing artwork of the same name. Brief clips by Tim Burke of Gysin sat with eyes closed in front of his flickering cylinder form the connective tissue between sections by directors Jarman, Michael Kostiff, Cerith Wyn Evans, and John Maybury. We can take these as either the dreams of those behind the camera or perhaps the visions seen by Gysin behind his eyelids. Needless to say there’s a fair amount of naked male flesh on offer, presented in a matter-of-fact manner or as the embodiments of some personal symbolism. The film can be seen here in not very flattering quality. Both Cerith Wyn Evans and John Maybury started out as assistants on Jarman’s films. Wyn Evans appears briefly in Caravaggio (1986) but is now better known as an artist, while Maybury went on to direct another excellent artist biopic, Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon (1998).

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Jarman (all this maddening beauty)
Sebastiane by Derek Jarman
A Journey to Avebury by Derek Jarman
Derek Jarman’s music videos
Derek Jarman’s Neutron
Mister Jarman, Mister Moore and Doctor Dee
The Tempest illustrated
In the Shadow of the Sun by Derek Jarman
Derek Jarman at the Serpentine
The Angelic Conversation
The life and work of Derek Jarman

Decapitations

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Judith with the Head of Holofernes (1520–1540) by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

It doesn’t take much effort to refute the jeremiads of those who complain that popular culture is exclusively violent, all that’s usually required is to direct attention to Titus Andronicus or The Revenger’s Tragedy. Compared to the stage, the art world seems at first to be more circumspect, especially in the 19th century when the battles scenes of history painters sprawled across acres of canvas, all of them devoid of the physical trauma of warfare.

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The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist (1455–60) by Giovanni di Paolo.

There are exceptions, however, and the nearer you move to Shakespeare’s time the more examples you’ll find. Paintings produced in an age when violent street executions were still a common sight would have seemed less surprising to their intended audience than they do to our eyes. Several of the paintings here provide a useful contrast with the many sanitised depictions of John the Baptist’s severed head in the Salomé archive.

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Medusa (c. 1590) by Caravaggio.

Of all the paintings of Medusa’s head the one by Caravaggio is the sole example with a gout of spurting blood. It’s also unusual for being painted on a convex panel intended to resemble the reflecting shield of the Gorgon’s killer, Perseus. Given the violent life of the artist the gore isn’t so surprising although the jet of red in his painting of Judith beheading Holofernes still seems shocking if you’ve never seen it before.

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Judith Beheading Holofernes (1598–99) by Caravaggio.

The Biblical story of Judith and Holofernes may be the poor cousin to the more popular story of Salomé but depictions of the crucial event make an impression by being consistently gruesome. I suspect the reason is less to do with the story itself than with the success of Caravaggio’s paintings among cultured Europeans. The copying or imitation of celebrated works became a thriving industry in the days of the Grand Tour with the result that 17th- and 18th-century art is overburdened with variations on earlier paintings.

Continue reading “Decapitations”

The art of Guido Reni, 1575–1642

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Atalanta and Hippomenes (c. 1612).

More golden apples appear in this painting by Guido Reni, not the most famous ones in art history—those would be all the Apples of Discord seen in the various Judgements of Paris—these are the fruit of the sacred tree in the Garden of the Hesperides which Hippomenes drops to prevent Atalanta from beating him in a race. The object of interest here isn’t the apples but the near-naked male, a favourite subject for Baroque artist Guido Reni whose work strikes viewers today as significantly homoerotic. This interpretation is by no means a recent one: Oscar Wilde was famously smitten with Reni’s depiction of Saint Sebastian (below) when he saw the painting in Genoa; in the 20th century the same painting (or one of Reni’s other Sebastians) excited the 12-year-old protagonist in Yukio Mishima’s novel Confessions of a Mask. Here’s what GLBTQ has to say about Reni:

Given the fierce homophobia prevailing in Europe during the Baroque era, historians seeking to reconstruct the lifestyles and works of queer artists often have to depend upon undocumented anecdotes and innuendoes.

Utilizing this type of evidence (including rumors about his supposed disdain of women, his possible romantic involvement with his long-time assistant, his interest in cross-dressing, and his “delicate” mannerisms), recent scholars interpret Guido Reni (1575–1642) as a gay artist.

The disdain of women is referred to in an earlier account, as are other pertinent details:

He was accustomed to paint with his mantle about him, gathered gracefully over his left arm. His pupils, of whom he had a great number—at one period no less than eighty, drawn from nearly every nation of Europe—vied with each other to serve him, esteeming themselves fortunate to have opportunities to clean his brushes or to prepare his palette. He had no dearth of models in the multitude of youths and disciples which surrounded him; but all that Guido cared of them was to refresh his memory by viewing their limbs and torsos, and after that he could adjust them and correct their imperfections.

In the same way any head sufficed him for a model. Being once besought by Count Aldovrandi to confide in him who the lady was of whom he availed himself in drawing his beautiful Madonnas and Magdalens, he made his color-grinder, a fellow of scoundrelly visage, sit down, and commanding him to look upward, drew from him such a marvelous head of a saint that it seemed as if it had been done by magic. Better than any other artist he understood how to portray upturned faces, and boasted that he knew a hundred ways of making heads with their eyes lifted to heaven. He often declared that his favorite, models were the ‘Venus of Medici’ and the wonderful heads in the Niobe group.

He was always in great fear of sorcery and poisoning, and for that reason could not endure women in his house, abhorring to have any dealings with them, and, when such were unavoidable, hurrying them through as rapidly as possible. Old women were his especial detestation, and he always fled from them, and lamented grievously if one of them should appear when he was about beginning or closing some commission.

From Guido Reni (1903)

That’s one way of either justifying your misogyny or explaining to the neighbours why your house is full of young men with no women.

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Saint Sebastian (1615).

Speculation about the sexuality of artists from past centuries seldom leads anywhere but it can be a fun parlour game, provided you take accounts like the one above with a pinch of salt. In Reni’s case you’d have to point to the many paintings where a religious subject is used as the merest pretext for some shirtless male pulchritude. This was a common ploy in other areas of art: landscape painting evolved as a genre in its own right when post-Renaissance artists began to shrink the religious figures who were the ostensible subject of their commissions into the corner of a field or the shadows of a valley; the imagination could be given free rein by the expedient of painting an apocalypse or a Temptation of St Anthony.

Reni lets loose his temperament by returning to a range of religious subjects that happen to feature attractive youths. Even his picture of Sacred Love defeating Profane Love (below) shows a divine figure who seems to represent more of the libido than the subject should require. Elsewhere he follows Caravaggio with a youthful John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness in an almost total state of nature. Reni’s angels are some of the most androgynous figures you’ll find in Baroque painting; the model for his very girlish Archangel Gabriel also appears as Jesus in another painting, raising a somewhat scandalous implication as to the real paternity of Christ.

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David with the Head of Goliath (1605).

The following selection of paintings is a prejudiced choice, of course. Some of these can be seen at a much larger size at the Google Art Project. Frivolous speculation aside, at his best Reni could be very good indeed as in this superb portrait of Saint Matthew with another androgynous angel. It’s no surprise to read that his work was in great demand throughout his life.

Continue reading “The art of Guido Reni, 1575–1642”

Weekend links 104

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Prettiest Star (2004) by Timothy Cummings.

I Want Your Love, a feature film directed by Travis Mathews catches my attention for having been described as “the gay Shortbus” even though (as the director notes) Shortbus was pretty gay to begin with.

• I’ve always found Hans Christian Andersen’s story of The Tinderbox—a tale of spectral dogs with enormous eyes—to be rather weird. But these illustrations by Heinrich Strub for a 1956 edition beat everything.

• “From an early age, however, I became in secret the slave of certain appetites.” The line that Robert Louis Stevenson deleted from The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Scientific American: Homophobes might be hidden homosexuals. Not exactly fresh news but always worth bearing in mind when someone starts ranting about those evil gays.

Minimal Wave: The 80s synth-pop underground. The Minimal Wave label releases a vinyl compilation by Hard Corps this month.

• “Blame the Victorians for making menswear boring.” Alex Jung on the endless tyranny of the suit-and-tie combination.

• Women, Vaginas and Blood: Breaking menstrual taboos with artist Sarah Maple.

London’s lost rivers (again): the hidden history of the city’s buried waterways.

Vincenzo Pacelli says the Knights of Malta murdered Caravaggio.

Street style 1906: Edward Linley Sambourne’s fashion blog.

Architectural Stationery Vignettes at BibliOdyssey.

Hans Bellmer & Unica Zürn at Ubu Gallery, NYC.

Pam Grossman admits to being a “candle hooch”.

Dirty (1986) by Hard Corps | Lost Rivers Of London (1996) by Coil | The Tinderbox (2009) by Patrick Wolf.