Moravagine book covers

moravagine01.jpg

First publication, Grasset, 1926.

I should have liked to open all cages, all zoos, all prisons, all lunatic asylums, see the great wild ones liberated and study the development of an unheard-of kind of human life…

Recent reading was Moravagine (1926) by Blaise Cendrars, a novel that resists easy summary. It’s a Modernist work to some extent although the prose (a good translation from the French by Alan Brown) is never unorthodox in style; it’s also scabrous, amoral, misogynist and deeply misanthropic. The narrative is a picaresque affair narrated by a young doctor who frees the mysterious Moravagine from an asylum where he’s been imprisoned for many years. “Moravagine” is an adopted name whose origin and meaning is never addressed, although a French reader would find a rather unavoidable pun on “death by vagina”. Moravagine himself is an otherwise unnamed member of the Hungarian royal family, a dwarfish intellectual psychopath with a bad leg who goes on the run with the doctor, first to pre-revolutionary Russia, then to the United States and South America.

Reviewers have compared the book to Beckett, Céline and Burroughs although it’s much lighter reading than the first two, and the prose is more coherent than Burroughs in cut-up mode. Since we’ve been hearing a lot about the First World War this year it’s tempting to read the book as a kind of Dadaist reaction to Cendrars’ own experiences in the war, even though the entirety of the conflict is dispensed with in two pages. Cendrars appears as a character in the later chapters; he lost an arm in the war so he has his narrator lose a leg while Moravagine loses his reason altogether. At the end of the book he’s found imprisoned in another asylum where he believes he’s an inhabitant of the planet Mars, and where he spends his last months writing a huge, apocalyptic account of how the world will be in the year 2013.

All this, of course, presents a challenge for a cover designer. I have two Penguin editions, both with very different covers, neither of them unsuitable. Curiosity impelled me to see how the book has been treated since 1926. There aren’t many editions but their difference shows the difficulty of trying to encapsulate the contents of this strange novel in a graphic form. The selection here has avoided text-only treatments in favours of those using some form of illustration.

moravagine05.jpg

Le Livre de Poche, 1957.

In an early chapter Moravagine describes fleeing the imperial household by strapping himself to a horse. Without knowing this narrative detail the painting here seems bizarrely arbitrary.

moravagine02.jpg

Editora Ulisseia, Portugal, 1966.

The horses again, with Moravagine strapped underneath one of them. I’d guess the illustrators of these two books didn’t read very far.

moravagine03.jpg

First UK edition, Peter Owen, 1968.

Peter Owen commissioned the first English translation which is still in use today.

Continue reading “Moravagine book covers”

Jacques Brissot’s Hay Wain

brissot1.jpg

The Hay Wain (1973) by Jacques Brissot.

Another post intended to encourage further investigation. Searching for Jacques Brissot’s art is a problem since the French artist (born 1929) gets confused with the French writer Jacques Pierre Brissot (1754–1793). Details about Brissot the artist are also scant:

Jacques Brissot lives and works in Paris. He began his career as a film maker (his movie Egypt O Egypt was selected as the official French entry for the Cannes Film Festival). Later, his unique form of artistic expression, a reinvention of the most dramatic masterpieces of the past through collage, relief, over-painting etc., led to his immense success as a visual artist. (more)

brissot2.jpg

Anyone familiar with art history will recognise Brissot’s Hay Wain triptych as being a Surrealist updating of the Hieronymus Bosch triptych of the same name: a side-by-side comparison shows that many of the details are carefully matched. (In Brissot’s version Christ in the clouds appear to have been replaced by Sigmund Freud.) The copies here come from Temptation (1975) edited by David Larkin. In the same book there’s also a panel from Brissot’s Garden of Earthly Delights (1973). Judging by the works visible on auction sites Brissot has continued his meticulous collage work to the present day but there’s a surprising lack of attention outside the marketplace. Works such as this deserve to be seen in greater detail.

brissot3.jpg

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The fantastic art archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The art of Jindrich Styrsky, 1899–1942
Initiations in the Abyss: A Surrealist Apocalypse
Vultures Await
Wilfried Sätty: Artist of the occult
Illustrating Poe #4: Wilfried Sätty
Metamorphosis Victorianus
Max (The Birdman) Ernst
Gandharva by Beaver & Krause
Fantastic art from Pan Books
The art of Stephen Aldrich

Visions and the art of Nick Hyde

visions.jpg

Cover painting: Holy Grove by Gage Taylor (1975).

Book purchase of the week was this American collection of what we have to call “hippy art” (or “California Visionary Art”, as its creators preferred) published by Pomegranate Publications in 1977. I’d seen this circa 1979 and many of the pictures inside were used by Omni Magazine to decorate the science fiction stories in their early issues. After that it vanished from view completely which leads me to believe that UK distributors Big O didn’t sell as many as they would have liked. The white cover design made me remember it for a long time as being part of the David Larkin series which I discussed in May but it isn’t, although the Larkin books were quite probably the model for the book’s presentation.

Finally acquiring a copy was something of a disappointment since it transpires I remembered the decent painters and forgot the terrible ones who comprise at least half the book. Cliff McReynolds is one of the better artists (Omni thought so too) and by coincidence I posted one of his Visions paintings, Landscape with Grenade, almost a year ago to the day.

hyde.jpg

BethAnn (1970).

Best of the bunch for me is Nick Hyde whose fantastically detailed works blend the fractal filigree of psychedelic art with the kind of dreamscapes and tableaux one sees in Surrealism. The print reproductions do little justice to his detail and the web degrades his work even further (see Abraxas for a good example). Happily there are posters available.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The fantastic art archive