Nightmares calendar

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Presenting the latest Coulthart calendar. Last year’s Lovecraft-themed collection was well-received (and is on sale again this year) so I thought I’d try a similar accumulation of horror imagery. Much of the artwork this time is from my intensive painting period circa 1996–1998, and includes one piece—the red painting below—that hasn’t been made public before. Further traces of Lovecraft may be found in the tentacles of the Lord Horror canvas—HPL by way of Frank Frazetta—and the two panels of the Red Night Rites diptych. The latter was a large picture of Reverbstorm-level grotesquery done as a wraparound cover for The Unspeakable Oath, a Lovecraftian gaming journal. While working on it I had William Burroughs in mind as much as Lovecraft, and Burroughs happened to die while work was still in progress so the picture is dedicated to him. Also Lovecraftian is In Spaces Between, one of the pages from my Kabbalistic collaboration with Alan Moore, The Great Old Ones. Howl from Beyond is a title that some people may recognise from Magic: The Gathering. I painted over 20 pictures for the card game but most of them were done in haste, and not to my satisfaction. Howl from Beyond is one of the few I felt worked as intended.

As before, this calendar is available at Zazzle, and comes with black pages and a minimal layout for the dates. Larger images of the artwork may be seen here. I said last year that I’d move some of the other calendar designs to Zazzle (CafePress having discontinued the vertical format I’d been using for years) but I still haven’t done this. One day… And speaking of nightmares, earlier this year I was designing the interiors for another excellent collection of horror stories edited by Ellen Datlow which happens to bear this title. When I get some of that elusive spare time I’ll add the book to the website.

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January: Steps of Descent (digital, 2008).

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February: Untitled (acrylics on board, 1997).

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March: Waltzes and Whispers (acrylics on board, 1998).

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The fantastic and apocalyptic art of Bruce Pennington

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The Pastel City (1971), the first in M. John Harrison’s peerless series of Viriconium books.

Today’s post is another guest entry over at Tor.com. I’d been intending on writing something about Bruce Pennington‘s art for some time, having already covered the work of Ian Miller, my other favourite genre cover artist of the 1970s. (By coincidence both artists have illustrated the work of M. John Harrison and HP Lovecraft.) My hand was forced this month by the news of the first ever exhibition of Pennington’s paintings which is being held at Britain’s foremost occult book emporium, the Atlantis Bookshop in Museum Street, London. There’s a catalogue of the works on display here, many of which will be for sale. If I had the cash I’d consider buying one, Pennington’s work made a big impression on my imagination when I was reading many of the titles he’d illustrated for the first time. His art was unique for me in its occasionally Surrealist overtones, and as a cover artist he was unusual in working across a range of genres. Like Frank Frazetta his imagination and technique were able to suggest a great deal with a minimum of brush strokes.

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The Mask of Cthulhu (1976).

This post can be taken as an appendix to the Tor one which I didn’t want to overburden with pictures. The Derleth cover is purloined from Jovike’s excellent Flickr collection which includes several Pennington covers. Below are some pages from Pennington’s first book, Eschatus, a large-format collection of paintings interpreting the prophecies of Nostradamus as an apocalyptic science fiction narrative taking place in the 24th century.

Pennington has many examples of his work on his website, and there’s also a feature about his paintings in this month’s Fortean Times. The Atlantis exhibition runs to August 27th.

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Eschatus (1976).

Continue reading “The fantastic and apocalyptic art of Bruce Pennington”

Jeffrey Catherine Jones, 1944–2011

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Yesterday’s Lily (1980), a collection of painting and illustration work published by Dragon’s Dream.

Artist Jeffrey Jones, whose death was announced this week, transitioned to Jeffrey Catherine Jones in the late 1990s so we’ll honour that here and won’t insist on referring to her as “he” as I’ve been seeing on some other websites. Jones’ work was significant for me mainly as a result of her participation in The Studio collective from 1975 to 1979, an affiliation of four artists—Jones, Barry Windsor-Smith, Mike Kaluta and Berni Wrightson—who shared a loft studio in New York City. The fruits of that relationship were recorded in one of my favourite art books, The Studio, in 1979. Of the four it was Barry Smith’s Pre-Raphaelite-inspired work which made the greatest impression at the time (especially Pandora), followed by Berni Wrightson’s Frankenstein illustrations. But Jones was the best painter in the group, with a style that blended influences from (among others) JM Whistler, Gustav Klimt and Frank Frazetta. There are galleries of paintings and drawings at the official website. Still to come is Better Things: Life & Choices of Jeffrey Jones, a documentary film by Maria Cabardo. Clips and trailers can be seen here.

A selection of paintings at Golden Age Comic Book Stories
The Studio Pt.1: Jeff Jones

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Roger Dean: artist and designer
Berni Wrightson’s Frankenstein

Weekend links 50

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Invisible Light by Margo Selski.

The Glass Garage Fine Art Gallery has an online collection of paintings by Margo Selski, many of which feature her cross-dressing son, Theo. Coilhouse profiled artist and model earlier in the week. Some of these paintings mix oil with beeswax which is something I’ve not come across before.

• The Periwinkle Journal‘s first issue will be available online, free, from March 22nd until mid-June, featuring work by filmmaker and artist Hans Scheirl (Dandy Dust), artwork and collages by Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, a 7-page colour comic by Mavado Charon, artwork by Timothy Cummings, artwork and installations by Cody Chritcheloe/SSION, photos by Megan Mantia, Science-Heroes by Peter Max Lawrence, an illustration portfolio by Diego Gómez, selections from the queer photography pool on Flickr, reviews and other stuff. More later.

• The Quietus wanted to remind us that this year is the 25th anniversary of the NME‘s C86 compilation tape, a collection that sought to capture a moment of ferment but which inadvertently inspired too much dreary sub-Velvet Underground pop. I’d rather celebrate the 30th anniversary of the NME‘s C81 compilation, a far more diverse collection and musically superior. If you want to judge for yourself, both tapes can be downloaded here.

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Machine in the Garden — Our Island Shall Know Abundance Without End by Margo Selski.

• Rick Poynor continues his exploration of Ballardian graphics with a piece about the paintings of Peter Klasen. Related: Where Will It End? JG Ballard interviewed by V. Vale & introduced by Michael Moorcock (Arthur No. 15/March 2005).

In his autobiography, Miracles of Life, JG Ballard suggested that illustrated versions of The Arabian Nights helped prepare him for surrealism.

Robert Irwin, author of The Arabian Nightmare, on the illustrators of The Arabian Nights.

• Another Coulthart cult movie surfaces, Jerzy Skolimowski’s Deep End (1970), out of circulation for many years but newly restored by the BFI. A re-release is scheduled for May so I’m hoping now that a DVD release will follow soon after.

Thom Ayres’ photostream at Flickr, and more long-exposure photos.

Fuck You, A Magazine of the Arts, number 5, volume 8.

Nicolas Roeg: “I don’t want to be ahead of my time.”

• MetaFilter looks at the films of René Laloux.

• The Eerie covers of Frank Frazetta.

Indie Squid Kid.

Requiem (for String Orchestra) by Toru Takemitsu.

Frank Frazetta, 1928–2010

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Conan the Adventurer aka The Barbarian (1965).

How to appraise Frank Frazetta? In November last year I wrote about this Conan portrait for an SF Signal Mind Meld feature on favourite book covers:

The covers that launched a thousand imitators. Lancer’s series of Conan books in the 1960s were the first appearance of Howard’s barbarian in paperback and came sporting cover art by Frank Frazetta. A great example of artist and subject being perfectly matched, these are the standard by which all subsequent barbarian art must be judged. Frazetta’s painting of a brooding warrior lord (which he reworked slightly for its poster edition) is for me the definitive portrait of Howard’s hero, battle scarred and proudly malevolent, with a chauvinistic blur of trophy female clinging at his feet. Other artists can do the muscles and monsters but none capture the physical presence and brute animality of Howard’s characters the way Frazetta does.

I found Frazetta’s work through the great series of fantasy art books which Pan/Ballantine published in the 1970s. I hadn’t read any Robert E Howard at the time, I only knew the diluted version of the Conan character in the Marvel comics series but Frazetta’s work was so powerful it was a spur to search out Howard, especially when I read that the writer had been a pen-pal of HP Lovecraft. I was never as interested in Frazetta’s other staple inspiration, Edgar Rice Burroughs, probably because Tarzan was too familiar from films and TV.

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The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta (1975).

Both Howard and Frazetta defined a milieu which combined an intensity of vision with a projection of their own personalities into the worlds they created. (Many of Frazetta’s protagonists resemble their creator.) Both suffered from having that intensity of vision watered-down by ham-fisted imitators or the vulgarisations of films and comics. Howard’s Conan stories at their best are a blend of heavyweight adventure story with supernatural horror; many of them were first published in Weird Tales magazine alongside other masters of the weird like Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. What impressed me about Frazetta’s paintings was the way he managed to capture a sense of eldritch weirdness as well as the more obvious barbaric adventure in a manner which eluded so many of the sword and sorcery illustrators who followed. What’s even more remarkable when you read interviews is that he seemed to do all this instinctively. He’d learned from looking at earlier artists such as J Allen St John, Howard Pyle, Frank Schoonover and Roy Krenkel, and found the means to apply their painting style to his own internal aesthetics and sense of drama.

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Swords of Mars (1974).

Aesthetics is one of the things I always come back to with Frazetta. I used to pore over these paintings wondering how it was that all the details of weapons and decor seemed absolutely right. Nothing was ever over-worked or too elaborate. Where did this invention come from? The other obvious feature is a raw sexiness which pervades everything. I’ve had people tell me that Frazetta must have been bisexual because of the equal care he lavished on his male and female figures. I’ve always disagreed with this. The point about Frazetta’s world is that everything is sexy: the people, the decor, the architecture, the animals, even the monsters; so naturally the men are going to be as sexy as the women. In addition, he wasn’t afraid of giving his men real balls (so to speak) unlike the endless parade of costumed eunuchs filling the comic books. These figures may be dealing death but they’re filled with vigour and life when they’re doing it.

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Bran Mak Morn (1969).

I said everything is sexy; I’ll make an exception for the extraordinary painting of Bran Mak Morn and his tribal horde, a picture of feral nightmarishness that goes beyond mere illustration and makes you feel the artist has shown you an atavistic glimpse of ages past. Robert E Howard would have been thrilled to see his characters brought to life with this kind of visceral intensity. For years Howard’s fiction was dismissed as pulp, now he’s a Penguin Modern Classic. And it’s as a modern classic that I’ll continue to think of Frank Frazetta.

Unofficial gallery site

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Frazetta: Painting with Fire
The monstrous tome
Men with snakes
My pastiches
Fantastic art from Pan Books