The Last Ritual

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Starting the new year with a new cover, and another from the plethora I was working on last year. Art Deco occultism is the theme this time, a satisfying combination since the rectilinear Deco style is a good match for the sigils and thaumaturgic diagrams you find in grimoires. The publisher is Aconyte Books, a new imprint launched a year ago to produce novels that complement the games created by parent company, Asmodee UK. Arkham Horror is an Asmodee game with a Lovecraftian theme, and S.A. Sidor’s novel is set in the game’s world:

Aspiring painter Alden Oakes is invited to join a mysterious art commune in Arkham: the New Colony. When celebrated Spanish surrealist Juan Hugo Balthazarr visits the colony, Alden and the other artists quickly fall under his charismatic spell. Balthazarr throws a string of decadent parties for Arkham’s social elite, conjuring arcane illusions which blur the boundaries between nightmare and reality. Only slowly does Alden come to suspect that Balthazarr’s mock rituals are intended to break through those walls and free what lies beyond. Alden must act, but it might already be too late to save himself, let alone Arkham (more).

The design of the cover combines the look of much Art Deco metalwork, especially bronze door and grille designs, with the kind of inlay you see on Deco furniture and the more lavish leatherbound books of the period. Part of the brief was to show a magic ritual taking place but I thought it wouldn’t do to make the figures look too realistic, hence the stylised poses; Georges Barbier rather than Weird Tales. Another request in the brief was to incorporate the Yog-Sothoth sigil from the Simon Necronomicon (the bronze circle under the title). I think I’ve said before that the symbols in the Simon Necronomicon tend to be used a lot today as though they’re the only ones available, even though the book is only one of several unofficial attempts to imagine the contents of Lovecraft’s notorious grimoire. I’ve always favoured the George Hay-edited Necronomicon so the symbol at the top of the cover is the Yog-Sothoth sigil from the Hay volume.

The Last Ritual will be published in August 2020.

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Psychetecture

Weekend links 399

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• “In the mid-Seventies the influential stop-motion animators, Stephen and Timothy Quay, embarked on a series of dark graphite drawings, conceived as imaginary film posters. They kept their first autonomous art project hidden for decades, allowing only a few glimpses to transpire in some of their animation classics such as Noctura Artificialia and Street of Crocodiles. In hindsight, the Black Drawings can be considered as a blueprint for their future work. This book offers a first in-depth exploration of this important graphic series that reveals many of the themes and techniques that would come to life in their celebrated animation films.” Quay Brothers: The Black Drawings 1974—1977 is a book by Edwin Carels and Tommy Simoens.

• The first of the BFI’s forthcoming blu-ray boxes of Derek Jarman films is now available for preorder. In addition to what I presume will be an uncensored presentation of Sebastiane (1976) the set also includes the digital premiere of In the Shadow of the Sun (1980) an “alchemical” blending/transmutation of Jarman’s early Super-8 films with a score by Throbbing Gristle. Related: Adam Scovell on another of the films in the set, Jubilee (1978), and one that Jarman disliked even though it incorporates many of his obsessions, especially in the punk-baiting sequences derived from Shakespeare and Elizabethan metaphysics.

• Mixes of the week: FACT mix 638: Circuit des Yeux, XLR8R Podcast 528 by Huxley Anne, Secret Thirteen Mix 246 by Hiro Kone, and drone works from Abby Drohne. And since the untimely death of composer Jóhann Jóhannsson was announced a few hours ago, a return to his sombre mix for FACT from 2015.

Nabokov’s ambitions weren’t interpretive. He “held nothing but contempt for Freud’s crude oneirology,” Barabtarlo explains, and in tracking his dreams he wasn’t turning his gaze inward. For him, the mystery was outside—far outside. Nabokov had been reading deeply into serialism, a philosophy positing that time is reversible. The theory came from JW Dunne, a British engineer and armchair philosopher who, in 1927, published An Experiment with Time, arguing, in part, that our dreams afforded us rare access to a higher order of time. Was it possible that we were glimpsing snatches of the future in our dreams—that what we wrote off as déjà vu was actually a leap into the metaphysical ether? Dunne himself claimed to have had no fewer than eight precognitive dreams, including one in which he foresaw a headline about a volcanic eruption.

Daniel Piepenbring reviewing Insomniac Dreams by Gennady Barabtarlo

• Gavin Stamp 1948—2017: a eulogy to the late architectural writer by Jonathan Meades. One of Stamp’s more offbeat assignments was providing illustrations for the George Hay Necronomicon in 1978.

Embassy of the Free Mind is the name of the new online library whose digitisation of rare occult volumes was financed by author Dan Brown.

• At Dangerous Minds: Meet Princess Tinymeat, the obscure genderbending trashglam post-punk goth offshoot of Virgin Prunes.

• “Why are film-makers obsessed with the story of doomed British sailor Donald Crowhurst?” asks Jonathan Coe.

• “Asian music influenced Debussy who influenced me—it’s all a huge circle,” says Ryuichi Sakamoto.

• At Spoon & Tamago: The birds of Tokyo beautifully illustrated by Ryo Takemasa.

Mark Pilkington is In Wild Air

Professor Yaffle

The Sun’s Gone Dim And The Sky’s Turned Black (2006) by Jóhann Jóhannsson | The Great God Pan is Dead (2008) by Jóhann Jóhannsson | A Pile of Dust (2016) by Jóhann Jóhannsson

Providential

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As should be evident by now, I’m off to Providence for NecronomiCon 2015 so the blog will be taking a break for a few days. The archive feature will be in operation during this time to pull up random posts from the past.

In a previous post about NecronomiCon I mentioned having designed a cover for the convention booklet so here it is. If all goes to plan, the gold lattice should be printed as a metallic ink overlay. The pentagonal labyrinth is a borrowing from the George Hay Necronomicon (see this post) but the sigils are my own invention; each one relates to a specific Lovecraftian deity but I’ll let people guess the assignations. The Providence postcard is a genuine one that I doctored slightly. This was a fortuitous find since some of the locations have connections with the convention. Anyone curious about the convention’s progress is advised to check the Facebook page.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Psychetecture
NecronomiCon Providence 2015

Psychetecture

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And speaking of architecture… I wouldn’t usually punish the spine of a scarce paperback by subjecting it to trial by flatbed scanner but not all of these drawings have found their way to the web. The artist is Gavin Stamp, here masquerading as “GM Sinclair” for illustrations used in the appendices of the aforementioned Necronomicon (1978), edited by George Hay. The book was published in hardback by occult specialists Neville Spearman, with a paperback following two years later from Corgi Books.

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For a purportedly real Necronomicon this one always struck me as more plausible than the US equivalent by Simon; Hay and his collaborators, Robert Turner and David Langford, go to some lengths to describe the sourcing of rare manuscripts from the British Museum, and the process of cryptographic decoding that follows. But the part of the book that made the greatest impression was the essay contributions by Christopher Frayling and Angela Carter, and Gavin Stamp’s accompanying illustrations. In 1980 unless you knew an older book collector (which I didn’t) serious writing about Lovecraft’s work was hard to find. Hay’s book and Stamp’s illustrations were one of several discoveries that pushed me towards illustrating Lovecraft myself.

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The pictures above are taken from the paperback while the ones below are lifted from David Langford’s site. I borrowed the pentagonal labyrinth from the title page for the cover of the NecronomiCon convention booklet: two Necronomicons joined, and a nod to a group of writers who helped me along the way.

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The art of Karel Thole, 1914–2000

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The Disciples of Cthulhu (1976).

A disagreement I have with the burgeoning world of Lovecraft art is the relentless focus on monsters—and I say this in a week when I’ve been working on a new commission of exactly this: six pictures of Lovecraftian creatures. Lovecraft famously emphasised atmosphere as the paramount ingredient in a weird story, and atmosphere in his fiction is often generated by his descriptions of landscape and architecture; Angela Carter’s insightful essay in the George Hay Necronomicon (1978) was entitled Lovecraft and Landscape. Architecture often receives considerable attention in the stories: The Call of Cthulhu, The Dreams in the Witch House, The Haunter of the Dark, and At the Mountains of Madness all concern invented (or reimagined) architectural settings. Given this, you’d expect architecture to be more represented in Lovecraft art but this is seldom the case. When it comes to Cthulhu, a creature whose myriad representations must be reaching some kind of critical mass, artists will lavish great attention on tentacles, claws and flourished wings but the Cyclopean stones of R’lyeh are invariably reduced to a tentative backdrop.

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I mostri all’angolo della strada (The Monsters on the Street Corner, 1966).

Hence the attraction of the wraparound cover by Karel Thole for I mostri all’angolo della strada, a Lovecraft story collection with one of the few cover designs I’ve seen that attempts to communicate anything of the writer’s preoccupations with angled space. Thole was a very prolific Dutch artist, producing many covers for Italian publisher Mondadori, and painting covers for Mondadori’s SF magazine, Urania, for over 20 years. The first paintings of Cthulhu I saw were those by Thole (above) and Bruce Pennington in Franz Rottensteiner’s The Fantasy Book (1978); Thole’s monster doesn’t have the required scale (and Pennington’s cover is a favourite) but for me it still carries a Proustian charge. The art for I mostri all’angolo della strada was featured in The Cosmical Horror of HP Lovecraft (1991), one of the first attempts to anthologise Lovecraft-related illustration past and present. The book contains many excellent reprints together with dubious material from European comics. Thole’s street scene—a curious combination of Escher, De Chirico and Art Nouveau—stood out among page after page of slavering abominations. I’d like to see more art that follows this direction; less of the monsters, more of the monstrous architecture.

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Colui che sussurrava nel buio (The Whisperer in Darkness, 1963).

Continue reading “The art of Karel Thole, 1914–2000”