Beksinski at Mnémos

mnemos2.jpg

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.

mnemos1.jpg

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.

mnemos4.jpg

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.”

mnemos3.jpg

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.)

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive
The fantastic art archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Cosmic music and cosmic horror

Giger’s first alien: Swissmade: 2069

swissmade1.jpg

You wait decades for an obscure HR Giger-related film then two copies turn up at once. Swissmade: 2069 (1968) was the last of the short films from Giger’s pre-Alien career that I’d been waiting to see, and is of note for being a 40-minute work of science fiction rather than a documentary about the artist and his art. All the other Giger films have come and gone on YouTube over the past few years although none seem to have had any recent official release apart from Passagen, Fredi M. Murer’s Giger documentary from 1972 which is now available for rent with English subtitles. Swissmade: 2069 was directed by Murer prior to Passagen and is also available for rent at the same site. Alternatively, there’s a fuzzy VHS copy at YouTube with no subtitles. Murer’s film is more properly titled 2069, Swissmade being the umbrella title for a compilation feature that comprised three films by Swiss directors. 1980 (Der Neinsager) by Yves Yersin and Alarm by Fritz E. Maeder were the first two films; 2069 provided the conclusion:

The theme of Fredi M. Murer’s contribution to the episode film Swissmade is “Switzerland after us”. Murer’s episode takes place in the year 2069. An “integrated citizen with a latent tendency to become an unintegrated citizen” is commissioned by the “Brain Center” to produce a film report about the unknown mission of a foreign being. The alien being is an extraterrestrial designed by HR Giger long before Alien with a built-in camera and tape, which travels across the earth in the year 2069 to explore current conditions. The film reporter is Murer himself. Without exception, the performers in real life were authentic 1968 activists, some of whom later made political or artistic careers.

swissmade2.jpg

As science fiction this is typical of the period, with the world of the future represented by the most “futuristic” features of 1968 which means Brutalist architecture, Space Age fashion and institutes filled with advanced technology. The most surprising thing about the direction is how casually Murer treats Giger’s alien visitor. The being (played by Tina Gwerder) has a camera in its head and a working tape recorder in its chest but we only see the tape reels turning when the film is halfway through. Another director would have made much more of this, and of the carapace that Giger made for a dog to wear which is only seen in a single shot at the very end. Giger himself has a wordless role, appearing with some of his drawings, as does his partner, Li Tobler. It’s unlikely that many people would be interested in 2069 today without the Giger connection but it’s a well-made curio that points the way to another extraterrestrial with an elongated cranium. (Thanks to Jason for the tip!)

swissmade3.jpg

Stills from HR Giger’s Film Design (1996).

swissmade4.jpg

swissmade5.jpg

Previously on { feuilleton }
HR Giger’s Passagen
Heimkiller and High
The Man Who Paints Monsters In The Night
Hans by Sibylle
Giger’s Tarot
HR Giger album covers
Giger’s Necronomicon
Dan O’Bannon, 1946–2009
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune
The monstrous tome

Thomas Bodkin on Harry Clarke

studio01.jpg

Harry Clarke’s work appeared in the pages of The Studio magazine on several occasions, either in review or as here, a subject of a special feature. I linked to a later piece a few years ago but until this week I hadn’t seen this earlier entry from November 1919. (I keep intending to download all the issues at the University of Heidelberg and go through them properly. One day…)

studio02.jpg

Thomas Bodkin was a barrister and director of Ireland’s National Gallery who became a great champion of Harry Clarke’s work. Like many of the artist’s Irish enthusiasts, Bodkin was familiar with Clarke’s stained-glass designs which he highlights here. Clarke’s stained-glass art is as important a part of his career as his illustration—it was the family business, for which he created over 160 windows and panel designs—but the fruits of this work were seldom seen in print. The Studio was in the vanguard of print reproduction at the time, especially where colour was concerned, so the reproductions of the glass designs are especially good, much better than some of the colour plates in Clarke’s illustrated books. The ever-popular illustration for Poe’s Morella also benefits from reproduction on a large page where the minuscule faces hiding in the decoration become more apparent.

studio03.jpg

A few pages before the Clarke feature there are two works by John Hancock that I hadn’t seen before. Hancock and Clarke were both featured in The Golden Hind, the arts magazine edited by Clifford Bax and Austin Spare, but Hancock lapsed into almost total obscurity following his death at the age of 22. For years all I knew of either him or his work was a book reproduction of the Golden Hind piece together with a note saying that he was dismayed by his declining health, and that his body was found floating in Regent’s Canal. (See this page for more.) Harry Clarke also suffered from poor health for much of his life, and died at the age of 41 in Chur, Switzerland, a town best known today for being the birthplace of HR Giger. Some of the phallic monstrosities lurking at the margins of Clarke’s Faust drawings might be precursors of Giger’s airbrushed abominations. I wonder if Giger knew of this connection? Answers on a biomechanical postcard.

studio04.jpg

studio05.jpg

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Harry Clarke: His Graphic Art
Harry Clarke and others in The Studio
Harry Clarke’s Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault
Harry Clarke in colour
The Tinderbox
Harry Clarke and the Elixir of Life
Cardwell Higgins versus Harry Clarke
Modern book illustrators, 1914
Illustrating Poe #3: Harry Clarke
Strangest Genius: The Stained Glass of Harry Clarke
Harry Clarke’s stained glass
Harry Clarke’s The Year’s at the Spring
The art of Harry Clarke, 1889–1931

Ron Cobb, 1937–2020

cobb02.jpg

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 1959.

The death of American illustrator/cartoonist/designer Ron Cobb was announced yesterday. All the obituaries are concentrating on the designs he produced for Hollywood feature films so here’s an alternative view of a long and varied career.

cobb01.jpg

After Bathing At Baxter’s (1967) by Jefferson Airplane.

Cobb’s first album cover is his most famous, and probably his most familiar work outside his film designs, but there were a few more, some of which may be seen below. The San-Francisco-house-as-aircraft always reminds me of the car/plane hybrid piloted by Professor Pat Pending in the Wacky Races cartoons.

cobb04.jpg

Some Of Our Best Friends Are (1968) by Various Artists.

cobb10.jpg

Ecology symbol, October 1969.

Cobb’s copyright-free design for an ecology symbol was published in the Los Angeles Free Press in November, 1969. The “Freep” also ran Cobb’s cartoons, some of which were later collected in The Cobb Book (1975). Satire has a tendency to date very quickly but many of Cobb’s barbs are still relevant today.

cobb07.jpg

Undated cartoon.

cobb05.jpg

Doctor Druid’s Haunted Seance (1973).

Continue reading “Ron Cobb, 1937–2020”

HR Giger’s Passagen

giger1.jpg

HR Giger’s art books were always very thorough in detailing all the media manifestations of the artist’s work, including film and television appearances. For years this presented tantalising questions, especially regarding the lengthy pre-Alien documentaries that were listed there: what were these films, and when would we get to see them? Giger’s Necronomicon (1976) did finally appear on YouTube a few years ago, and now here’s the second of the pair thanks to an upload of what appears to be a Japanese laserdisc.

giger2.jpg

Passagen was made in 1972 by Giger’s friend Fredi M. Murer, their third film collaboration after Heimkiller and High (1967) and Swiss Made 2069 (1968). The latter (which Giger co-directed) is still frustratingly absent from the web, and similarly tantalising for being a 45-minute piece of underground science fiction which features Giger’s first production designs for cinema. Passagen was less ambitious, a 50-minute documentary about Giger’s work made for the German TV station, WDR. As a documentary it functions as a companion to Giger’s Necronomicon, while both films complement the subsequent art books, especially Giger’s Necronomicon (the book) which features many of the paintings seen in the films, together with anecdotes about their origins and inspiration. One of these anecdotes, about the nightmares induced in the young Hans Rudi by a stairway in the hotel next door to the Giger family home, is recounted in Passagen alongside the vertiginous drawings the nightmares inspired. It’s impossible to consider this piece of child psychology, and to watch the artist walking up and down stairs and stepladders, without recalling that Giger died after falling down a flight of stairs in 2014.

giger3.jpg

Giger’s Necronomicon is the more interesting of the two documentaries, especially now that the life and work is so well known; the art is taken more for granted, and we also get to see Giger at work on one of his big airbrush paintings. Passagen spends much of its time attempting to contextualise Giger’s drawings and paintings for an unwitting television audience, so a great deal of the running time is given over to newsreel footage of wars, riots, terrorism, atomic explosions and so on. A geneticist discusses the effects of atomic mutation while Giger’s earliest series of pictures, Atomkinder, is shown; psychoanalysts examine his paintings from a psychosexual angle.

Of more interest for Giger aficionados is the presence of his partner at the time, Li Tobler, the subject of several memorable portraits from this period. Among the working shots, the best shows Giger improvising a drawing with the same speed as Philippe Druillet in the Ô Sidarta film. Giger only started using an airbrush in 1972 so most of the works seen here are either early drawings or the paintings in the Passagen and Alptraum series, the style and colouring of which is much closer to the art world of 1972 than anything which would follow. For me the greatest revelation comes early on when Giger picks out a record to play while he’s working. The disc he chooses is just identifiable as Universal Consciousness by Alice Coltrane, an album which had been released the year before. (This isn’t the music heard on the soundtrack, however.) Alice Coltrane’s brand of ecstatic, pan-religious jazz would seem remote from Giger’s own universe but the choice isn’t so surprising if you know that he’d been a jazz enthusiast since the 1950s; in The Book of Alien (1979) his list of influences includes HP Lovecraft, John Coltrane and Miles Davis.

As is evident from the screen grabs, the film is hard-coded throughout with Japanese subtitles. Unlike Giger’s Necronomicon there’s no English overdub either, the soundtrack is in German throughout. I can’t complain when I’ve been waiting so long to be able to see this at all. For those who watched the later film divided into four YouTube clips there’s now a complete version (also Japanese but with English overdub) here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Heimkiller and High
The Man Who Paints Monsters In The Night
Hans by Sibylle
HR Giger album covers
Giger’s Necronomicon
Dan O’Bannon, 1946–2009
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune
The monstrous tome