Beksinski at Mnémos

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More book covers. Mnémos is a French publisher of horror, fantasy and science fiction some of whose recent titles have their covers filled with paintings by the great Polish artist Zdzislaw Beksinski. The pairings of book and picture aren’t always ideal but I appreciate the impulse to choose art from other sources than genre artists. Omni magazine adopted a similar approach in its early issues, matching stories and science features with paintings by artists who are often grouped together as Fantastic Realists: Mati Klarwein, Ernst Fuchs, HR Giger, Bob Venosa, De Es Schwertberger and others. Beksinski’s work was less visible in the late 1970s than that of his contemporaries but one of his (always untitled) paintings did appear in a 1993 issue of the magazine.

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Of the Mnémos covers the one for the collection of Averoigne stories by Clark Ashton Smith is the most immediately fitting, Averoigne being an invented region of France that suits a painting of a Gothic cathedral turned fibrous and fungal. The painting for Zothique, on the other hand, could easily be used for HP Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, while the dog-like creature on the cover of the Frank Belknap Long collection is nothing like the author’s trans-dimensional hounds. Mnémos have given Lovecraft his own Beksinski covers in a seven-volume collection of translated fiction, Lovecraft, l’intégrale prestige, but there doesn’t seem to be a page anywhere that shows the individual books.

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What the artist would have made of all this attention may be gauged by comments like this one from The Fantastic Art of Beksinski (1998): “Meaning is meaningless to me. I do not care for symbolism, and I paint what I paint without meditating on a story.”

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For more about the anti-symbolist, see The Cursed Paintings of Zdzislaw Beksinski by Marek Kepa. (As before, my apology to Polish readers for the unaccented names. The blog coding only works with a limited range of accents.)

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Cosmic music and cosmic horror

Ernst Fuchs, 1930–2015

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It was a surprise to see the death of Austrian artist Ernst Fuchs mentioned on the BBC website since I’d never seen him mentioned in the British media during his lifetime. Fuchs was one of those artists who would have been a natural Surrealist if he’d been born a few years earlier, and his work does occasionally receive a mention in the more comprehensive guides to Surrealism. The first place I saw any of his paintings was in the pages of Omni magazine when it was launched in the late 1970s. As well as providing a high-profile showcase to science-fiction writers, Omni in its early days avoided generic SF art in favour of the living practitioners of Fantastic Realism: Fuchs, HR Giger, Mati Klarwein, Robert Venosa, Rudolf Hausner, De Es Schwertberger and many others. Fuchs was often seen as the figurehead of this loose movement as a result of founding the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism in the 1940s, but Fantastic Realism as it’s generally applied is an umbrella term used to connect a generation of artists who were using hyper-real techniques to explore their obsessions. Fuchs’ obsessions often concern spirituality of one kind or another but he could be erotic as well, something you can’t always say about his many imitators in the current Visionary Art world. At his best his paintings seem caught midway between the Max Ernst style of the late 40s and Gustave Moreau’s more hieratic moments, with human figures or inhuman creatures emerging from (or melting into) mineral forms.

Official site
Fuchs at Wikiart
Fuchs pages at Fantastic Visions
360-degree panorama of the Apocalypse Chapel, Klagenfurt

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Battle of the Gods that have been Transformed (1952).

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The Spirit of Mercury (1954).

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The art of Robert Venosa, 1936–2011

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A few years back, while experimenting with the hallucinogens, I experienced visions of a dynamic energy in constant high-velocity motion, crystallizing and manifesting in a form which could only be described as angelic. Potential energy, crystallizing energy and structured energy were all visible in the same instant…time and space transcended. These visions, and a new-found awareness of spirit brought about through worship and meditation, were too powerful not to be expressed: a translation had to be attempted.

Robert Venosa, Manas Manna, 1978.

I only discovered a few days ago that American artist Robert Venosa had died last month. As with the late Sibylle Ruppert there’s the inevitable wish for some wider acknowledgement of the passing of these unique talents.

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Millions of people have seen one of Venosa’s creations without being aware of it: in 1970 he designed the logo/title for Santana’s Abraxas album (the one with the amazing Mati Klarwein cover), a design which is still in use today. But it’s as a painter that he ought to be remembered. Manas Manna was the first collection of Venosa’s art published by Peter Ledeboer’s Big O imprint in 1978, and could be found on bookshelves that year with a pair of equally remarkable auto-monographs: Mati Klarwein‘s God Jokes and the first English edition of HR Giger‘s Necronomicon. All three artists were aware of each other (Venosa was friends with the other two), and all had managed the difficult feat of having their work sold in art galleries whilst also being visible to a much larger audience on album covers. All three books were eagerly plundered that year by the art team of OMNI magazine whose early issues made heavy use of paintings by Klarwein, Giger, Venosa, De Es Schwertberger and others. Of this Venosa has said:

OMNI was the first to give the artist equal credit with the author…something that to this day is still not seen in any other newsstand magazine. OMNI also put Fantastic Realism, Surrealism, Visionary, and every other type of ‘Fantasy’ art, square into the public’s eye. I and my colleagues owe OMNI a large measure of gratitude for its uncompromising stance and visionary concepts.

Venosa had been an art director at Columbia Records in the 1960s, a job he abandoned after he met Mati Klarwein and decided he’d rather devote his time to painting. Despite describing Klarwein in his book as his painting master, only a couple of his pictures are reminiscent of Klarwein’s distinctive style. Many of Venosa’s works are more loose and abstract than Klarwein’s tableaux, extending the processes of decalcomania which Max Ernst refined in works such as Europe After the Rain (1942) and The Eye of Silence (1944) to create stunning views of cosmic eruptions and vistas of crystalline beings rendered in a meticulous, hyper-realist manner. Many of his pictures could serve as illustrations for the later chapters of JG Ballard’s The Crystal World.

If the lazy definition of psychedelic art refers merely to shapeless forms and bright, clashing colours, Venosa’s art is psychedelic in the truest sense, an attempt to fix with paint and brush something revealed by a profound interior experience. This was deeply unfashionable by 1978, of course, but he carried on working anyway, and there are further book collections for those interested in his paintings. The Venosa website has a small selection of his extraordinary pictures although they really need to be seen at a larger size.

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Sibylle Ruppert revisited

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Empusae Raptus (1977).

Another post about this astonishing artist (I’ll keep talking about her if no one else does…). The pictures here are taken from the catalogue for the 2010 Sibylle Ruppert exhibition at the HR Giger Museum, Gruyères, Switzerland. Leslie Barany was good enough to send me a copy of this, and the pictures are posted courtesy of the museum. To purchase a copy of the catalogue contact marcowitzig@gigerworkcatalog.com

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Le Chant de Maldoror (1978).

Looking over Sibylle Ruppert’s work this week I’ve been pondering why she wasn’t better known. She was working throughout the 1970s and could easily have been swept up in the vogue for fantastic art when it was being popularised by Omni magazine. Giger, Mati Klarwein, Robert Venosa, De Es Schwertberger and others all benefited from Bob Guccione’s publication, and to a lesser degree from appearances in Heavy Metal magazine. Ruppert’s lack of visibility may have been a result of the usual situation whereby women artists were overlooked or marginalised. But I think it’s far more likely that her work was simply too intense and visceral for the newsstands. Giger could get by with paintings like the semi-abstract NY City series which were attached to science fiction stories without causing a stir. It’s difficult to imagine Ruppert’s work gaining such a popular acceptance, especially in the United States where, lest we forget, Giger’s Penis Landscape did cause a stir in 1985. One of the great benefits of the web is the way so much previously buried culture is surfacing and finding new and enthusiastic audiences. Sibylle Ruppert’s greatest audience has yet to find her but they’re surely out there, you can’t keep work of this quality buried forever.

For a few more Ruppert works see that haven of all things grotesque, Monster Brains.

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Le Spectacle de l’Univers (1977).

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