Weekend links 514

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Athanasius Kircher welcoming two guests to the Collegio Romano, a detail from the frontispiece to his Romani Collegii Societatis Jesu Musaeum celeberrimum (1678).

Opium (1919) by Robert Reinert: “A Chinese opium dealer takes revenge on Westerners who have corrupted his wife.” With Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt a year before their pairing in The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari.

Aubrey Beardsley at Tate Britain: in which the gallery thinks that 7 minutes is enough to give us a taste of a major exhibition that we can’t otherwise see.

Joe Pulver (RIP): His Highness in Yellow. A memorial piece that includes artist Michael Hutter talking about his paintings of Carcosa.

Court Mann on the strange history of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, 50 years old this month.

• “Invisible Little Worms”: Athanasius Kircher’s Study of the Plague by John Glassie.

Sophie Monks Kaufman on why literary lesbians are having a moment on screen.

• Photographer Ryan McGinley: “I was taught to believe in Satan. It scared me.”

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Ellen Burstyn Day, and the ghostly novels of WG Sebald.

Dorian Lynskey on where to start with Nina Simone’s back catalogue.

• Wie funktioniert ein Synthesizer? (1972). Bruno Spoerri explains.

• Banham avec Ballard: On style and violence by Mark Dorrian.

John Boardley on the most dangerous book in the world.

Improvisation for Sonic Cure by Ryuichi Sakamoto.

• The Strange World of…JG Thirlwell.

Diet Of Worms (1979) by This Heat | Stomach Worm (1992) by Stereolab | Heartworms (1998) by Coil

Weekend links 481

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L’Hamestoque (1977) by Christine Gaussot.

• Another announcement from Strange Attractor Press: Of Mud & Flame
A Penda’s Fen Sourcebook
edited by Matthew Harle and James Machin will be published at the end of October. Among the contents will be the screenplay of David Rudkin’s cult television play, an item that’s always been impossible to find in print.

• A trailer for Journey to the Beginning of Time (1955), another semi-animated fantasy film by Karel Zeman which will released on disc next month by Second Run.

• “There was craziness in getting lost and dizzy.” Stereolab choose favourite songs from their back catalogue.

E=MC² (1976), an album of spacey jazz-electronica by Teddy Lasry which has never been reissued.

• “Why do so many book covers look the same? Blame Getty Images,” says Cory Matteson.

• Mix of the week: The Ephemeral Man’s Teapot by The Ephemeral Man.

Masataka Nakano has been photographing a deserted Tokyo for almost 30 years.

• Beyond the bounds of depravity: an oral history of David Cronenberg’s Crash.

Woodblocks in Wonderland: The Japanese Fairy Tale Series.

• A new novel by M. John Harrison is always a good thing.

Hamid Drake‘s favourite music.

Warm Leatherette (1980) by Grace Jones | Crash (1980) by Tuxedomoon | A Crash At Every Speed (1994) by Disco Inferno

Picturing Vermilion Sands

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First UK edition, 1971. Art by Brian Knight.

Vermilion Sands (1971) is a story collection by JG Ballard which maintains a cult reputation even while being overshadowed by its author’s more popular (and notorious) novels. Most of the stories were written in the 1960s, and a couple of the pieces are among Ballard’s earliest works, but where many of his other short stories can read like the work of a writer with bills to pay, the tales of Vermilion Sands are much closer to Ballard’s core interests, filled with symbolic resonance and literary allusion.

Vermilion Sands, the place, is a near-future resort with a desert climate and an unspecified location, where the Côte d’Azur meets Southern California but the ocean is a sea of sand. The inhabitants are the idle midde-class types who populate all of Ballard’s work, and each story has a different artistic or cultural theme. Ballard was more receptive to visual art, especially painting, than many authors, particularly the SF writers of his generation for whom art was less interesting than science and technology. There is science and technology in these stories (some of the latter is now inevitably dated) but it doesn’t dominate the proceedings. The stories derive less from scientific speculation than from Ballard’s desire to create a future he would have been happy to inhabit himself, an alternative to the grim dystopias which proliferate in science fiction. The background furnishings also reflect the author’s ideal, owing much to the Surrealist landscapes of Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst, a pair of artists whose works are often referenced in Ballard’s fiction. Given all of this you’d expect that cover artists might have risen to the challenge more than they have. What follows is a look at the more notable attempts to depict Vermilion Sands or its population, only a few of which are covers for the book itself.

Continue reading “Picturing Vermilion Sands”

The art of James Marsh

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Laughing Stock (1991).

The paintings of James Marsh came to mind this week following news of the death of Talk Talk singer Mark Hollis. Marsh’s art was a feature of all the Talk Talk releases, singles as well as albums, but his work was equally prominent throughout the 1980s on a range of book covers, particularly the series he produced for Angela Carter and JG Ballard. The hard-edged, post-Surrealist style favoured by Marsh was a popular one in the 70s and 80s (among British illustrators, Peter Goodfellow and the late John Holmes worked in a similar manner), and I’ve often had to look twice to see whether a cover is one of his. But while the Magritte-like visual games may be replicated elsewhere, Marsh has a preoccupation with animals—birds and butterflies especially—that sets his paintings apart.

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The Bloody Chamber (1981).

I never saw Mark Hollis discuss Marsh’s work but the use of the paintings across all the Talk Talk releases has given the group’s output a coherent look lacking in many of their fashion-chasing contemporaries. The consistency also meant that the cover art was unlikely to overly influence prior perception of their music; there was little warning in 1988 of the musical gulf separating The Colour Of Spring from Spirit Of Eden until stylus met vinyl. Mark Hollis was remembered this week by Rob Young who interviewed him in 1998 when his one and only solo album was released. More from James Marsh’s prolific career may be seen at his website.

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The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1982).

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The Terminal Beach (1984).

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Talk Talk (laserdisc, 1984).

Continue reading “The art of James Marsh”

Weekend links 451

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Manifold (2015), a painting by Samantha Keely Smith which will appear in April on the cover of Life Metal, a new album by Sunn O))).

• At Expanding Mind: Professor and queer historian Heather Lukes talks with Erik Davis about Silver Lake riots, gay bikers, house ball scenes, the nostalgia for repression, and the joys and challenges of working on the online archive The Grit and Glamour of Queer LA Subculture.

A Stroke of Ingenious: Chatting Fear and Fantasy with Darius Hinks.  Also this week, Darius Hinks’ The Ingenious (for which I created the cover art) was featured in a Barnes & Noble list of seven attractive (if hazardous) fantastic cities.

• “From the late ’60s and through the ’70s broadcasters invested in home-grown kids’ television, and much of it was decidedly weird.” Paul Walsh on the vanished, thought-provoking strangeness of British TV.

That late surrealism still needs rescuing by curators and critics is perhaps not a sign of its defeat but of the breadth and pervasiveness of its triumph. Could we have Pablo Picasso or Jackson Pollock without surrealism? What about David Lynch, JG Ballard or Angela Carter? As an influence, it’s easy to give [Dorothy Tanning] a crucial place in the canon of feminist art. Louise Bourgeois was born just a year later than Tanning but only started to sew after Tanning had exhibited her first sculptures.

Lara Fiegel on the weird, wild world of Dorothea Tanning

After its own death / Walking in a spiral towards the house by Nivhek, a new album from Liz Harris (Grouper) “recorded using Mellotron, guitar, field recordings, tapes, and broken FX pedals”.

• At Dangerous Minds: Michael Rother (Neu!/Harmonia) on the forthcoming reissue of his solo albums from the 1970s.

Clesse by Clesse, another pseudonymous musical project by Jon Brooks (The Advisory Council et al).

• After Dark: The art of life at night—and in new lights by Francine Prose.

Elena Lazic on where to begin with Gaspar Noé.

• Mix of the week: Headlands by David Colohan.

Steven Heller‘s confessions of a letterhead.

• RIP Albert Finney.

• Void (2009) by Monolake | Void (2013) by Emptyset | Void (2014) by The Bug feat. Liz Harris