Ernst Fuchs, 1977

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I try to avoid buying even more big art books when I already have shelves groaning under the weight of the things but this one was unavoidable. I’d been after Draeger’s Ernst Fuchs (1977) for some time but whenever I went searching for a copy all the available ones were prohibitively expensive. The news of Fuchs’ death earlier this month prompted a new search which revealed a copy that was astonishingly cheap: £17.50 (!) for a large, heavy and very lavish art book that’s been out of print for years. Even with the postage this was still a remarkable bargain.

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After taking delivery of it today I’m even more surprised since the book is better than expected, with heavy paper throughout and numerous colour plates. The text is in German, of course, but that’s not a problem when there are so many beautiful reproductions of favourite pictures. An exceptional production with a dust jacket of deep metallic gold beneath which you find a Fuchs design blocked onto the boards, front and back.

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Something I realised looking through the pages is that this is yet another of the art books that provided pictures for the early issues of Omni magazine. Mati Klarwein’s God Jokes was published in 1976; Giger’s Necronomicon had its first English edition in 1977, the same year as the Fuchs book; Bob Venosa‘s Manas Manna appeared in 1978; Omni showcased work by all these artists and others like them, and was the first place where I and many other readers would have seen their paintings. One of the pictures in this Fuchs collection appeared on the cover of Omni #6 in March, 1979. The 1970s was, among other things, a great period for this type of fantastic art.

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Keiichi Tanaami record covers

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After Bathing At Baxter’s (1968) by Jefferson Airplane (front).

More psychedelia, although Ernst Fuchs could be considered psychedelic to some degree, and I did give him a mention in the piece I wrote for Communication Arts earlier this year. Keiichi Tanaami is less well-known in the west than Tadanori Yokoo despite the pair being contemporaries. This is only a partial discography, there may be more to find as Tanaami’s cover work isn’t always credited properly on Discogs. The Jefferson Airplane and Monkees covers were done specially for the Japanese releases. In the case of the Airplane one I much prefer the cover to Ron Cobb’s literal drawing of an aircraft.

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After Bathing At Baxter’s (1968) by Jefferson Airplane (back).

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Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. (1968) by The Monkees.

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Psychedelic Sounds In Japan (1968) by The Mops.

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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 Aleksandr Kosteckij

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This is the kind of fantastic art I like a great deal: nebulous landscapes whose vast forms may be some kind of hybrid architecture; implications of the alien and mystical that retain some ambiguity; dreamlike without slipping into post-Surrealist cliché. Monsieur Thombeau at Full Fathom Five (whose excellent eye I have to thank once again) describes the paintings of Aleksandr Kosteckij/Kostetsky (1954–2010) as being “like Gustave Moreau, Salvador Dalí, and Max Ernst put in a blender and left out in the rain.” I’d place them somewhere between Ernst Fuchs and Bruce Pennington but Moreau’s chimeras are certainly present. You’d think an artist of this calibre with a large body of work would be better known, most of the attention at the moment seems to be on Russian websites. Let’s hope that changes soon.

Update: Thanks to Joe for pointing the way to this dedicated website, something I missed in my haste.

Examples chosen from these sites:
http://vk.com/album-32941665_175452413 (139 images)
http://www.2photo.ru/en/post/18614

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Art that transcends

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Late last year, US design magazine Communication Arts asked me to write a piece about psychedelic art, past and present. The resulting feature has been out for a couple of weeks in the May/June issue (no. 56) but I hadn’t seen it in print until a copy turned up today. Attempting to wrangle discussion of a very wide-ranging and amorphous field into 1500 words isn’t an easy task but I managed to sketch a history of psychedelic art beginning with Aldous Huxley and Humphrey Osmond’s mescaline experiments in the 1950s. Art that can be considered psychedelic goes back into prehistory but Huxley’s The Doors of Perception (1954) is the first book that considered art in general from a psychedelic viewpoint. That book, and the later Heaven and Hell (1956), are still valuable for their aesthetic meditations however much Huxley’s optimism may have been tainted by the ferment of the 1960s.

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Primitive And Deadly (2014) by Earth. Art by Samantha Muljat.

The psychedelic art of the 60s isn’t exactly overlooked so I paid more attention to tracing the influence of the psychedelic style, and also mentioning painters such as Ernst Fuchs, Alex Grey, Martina Hoffmann and Mati Klarwein. Among the more recent artists, I was pleased that Samantha Muljat‘s album cover for Earth was featured. I’ve been listening to this album a great deal over the past few months, and loved that cover as soon as I saw it. One of the other contemporary names, Brazilian artist Duda Lanna, works in a very different style: bold, vivid, and often abstract. There seems to be a lot of this kind of work around at the moment, so much so that I kept spotting new examples after the article had been delivered. It’s difficult to say whether this is a developing trend or simply a case of there being more of everything around these days. I’ll play safe and suggest it’s probably a bit of both although, as I say at the end of the article, if the movement to legalise drugs gains momentum we can expect to see a lot more psychedelic art.

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Garden of Psychedelic Delights by Duda Lanna.