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

Born to be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey

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Cover design by Jim Tierney; photo by Richard Corman.

When so many current biographies are recounting the lives of those about whom we’ve already heard a great deal (see the new biography of Oscar Wilde by Matthew Sturgis), a book exploring the career of a previously undocumented yet worthwhile figure is especially welcome. Such is the case with Born to Be Posthumous, Mark Dery’s life of the elusive Edward Gorey: artist, writer, illustrator, book designer, book creator, bibliophile, theatre designer, cat lover and balletomane.

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The Gashlycrumb Tinies (1963).

Gorey’s small books have long been one of the more curious fixtures of American culture: many of them look like children’s books but aren’t (unless the child is Wednesday Addams); others look like comic books but they aren’t comics either. The books are sometimes (but not always) Surrealist fables; or brief accounts of irreducible mystery; or sombre inexplicabilities; or camp ripostes to the pieties of Victorian morality; infrequently spiced with black humour and with lurches into outright horror. Gorey delivered his miniature tales in an idiosyncratic drawing style that combines a cartoon-like stylisation with the density of shading found in old wood engravings, a blend that would prove influential as his popularity grew. As Dery notes in his book’s introduction, without Edward Gorey’s work there would be no Lemony Snicket, while Tim Burton would be a skeletal shadow of his present self. (Given the latter’s current output, this might do him some good. But I digress.)

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The Doubtful Guest (1957).

In Britain, however, Gorey remains a cult rather than cultural figure, still overshadowed by better-known contemporaries such as Maurice Sendak and Charles Addams. Until the publication of the Amphigorey story collections Gorey’s books were produced in small editions with such a limited availability you were more likely to encounter his art on the cover of another author’s book than within the pages of his own. I became aware of Gorey’s work by gradual osmosis. The first substantial piece I read about him was his entry in Philip Core’s Camp: The Lie that Tells the Truth (1984), in which Core’s mention of an art style “recollecting Victorian engravings” marked Gorey as an artist to be investigated. Two years later he received a longer entry in The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural edited by Jack Sullivan. (Camp and horror: how many other artists sit so easily in both worlds?) But Gorey is absent from many books about 20th-century illustrators, and despite the sequential nature of his work you won’t find him in histories of comic art.

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Edward Gorey’s Dracula: A Toy Theatre (1979).

In a way it’s fitting that the work of a man who was adamant in his determination to avoid being pinned down should be so difficult to find. But it’s also a shame that the work of an ardent Anglophile should be hard to find in the country that fuelled his imagination. Among Gorey’s literary favourites Dery lists Jane Austen and Agatha Christie together with Ronald Firbank, Saki, and EF Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels. (The latter trio are all present in Core’s book on camp, which no doubt makes Gorey camp to the core. Whether he would have approved of being labelled as such is another matter.) I wasn’t surprised by the mention of Saki when so many of Saki’s story titles (The Secret Sin of Septimus Brope) sound like Gorey books, while many of the stories themselves are like Gorey scenarios in prose. Not all Gorey’s work is camp or comic, however; the 32 drawings that comprise the wordless masterpiece of The West Wing (1963) are closer to David Lynch or the “strange stories” of Robert Aickman, the latter an author that Gorey illustrated on several occasions. Dery emphasises how Gorey’s love of silent cinema contributed to The West Wing and other pieces, especially the serials of the Surrealists’ favourite filmmaker, Louis Feuillade.

Continue reading “Born to be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey”

Weekend links 421

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The Death of American Spirituality (1987) by David Wojnarowicz.

Dau: “Art imitating life on an unprecedented scale”. Siddhant Adlakha on a colossal Russian feature-film project that sounds like a real-life equivalent of Synecdoche, New York. Adlakha’s piece, which claims that Dau is finished, was written a year ago but there’s still no sign of the film itself. Wikipedia has more details and links.

Metropolis Magazine from Phantasm Press is a facsimile republication of the 32-page theatre programme produced for the UK premier of Fritz Lang’s feature film.

Children Of The New Dawn is a preview of the score for Mandy by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson. From last year: The Drowned World (live) by Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ’Round the World (1848) by Benjamin Russell & Caleb Purrington is the longest painting in North America.

• “This summer, there is only one book to take to the Terminal Beach”: Applied Ballardianism: Memoir from a Parallel Universe by Simon Sellars.

• “La série des Fredi en trois volumes est une étude sincère et consciencieuse de l’inversion sexuelle.”

• “The Book was Mallarmé’s total artwork, a book to encompass all books,” says Sylvia Gorelick.

• At BLDGBLOG: Graphic Inferno, art by Rico Lebrun based on Dante’s Divine Comedy.

• Mixes of the week: XLR8R Podcast 549 by Hólmar, and FACT Mix 661 by Kelly Lee Owens.

• “Dealing with creative block? A deck of cards might help,” says Abigail Cain.

The Instagram account archiving exquisite interiors from vintage porn.

Polish composers report from Outer Space

Wind From Nowhere (1994) by Uzect Plaush | Slolooblade : The Drowned World (1994) by Mo Boma | Inner Space Memorial for JG Ballard (2014) by Janek Schaefer

Weekend links 379

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Male Nude, Leg Up (1952) by Horst. From a series of photo prints at Wessel + O’Connor Fine Art until 5th November.

• At Bandcamp: “Tuareg guitar mixed with traditional rural folk”: Eghass Malan by Les Filles de Illighadad; “Pan dimensional spacecraft hover over ancient pyramids on worlds undreamed of”: Lemurian Dawn by Memnon Sa.

Songs of Discomposure: Quietus writers pick their most disturbing pieces of music. Also at The Quietus: John Foxx on his collaborations with Harold Budd and Ruben Garcia.

Eros In Arabia, the first album by Richard Horowitz, has been deleted since 1981, and is consequently very difficult to find. Freedom To Spend are reissuing it next month.

JG Ballard—The Interview Concordance. A companion to the concordance of Ballard’s published works. Some of the interviews may be found here.

• At Dangerous Minds: The Male Figure: Bruce of Los Angeles and the perfection of midcentury beefcake.

• Mixes of the week: XLR8R Podcast 508 by Jennifer Cardini, and Secret Thirteen Mix 231 by Alex XIII.

Post Punk: a set of postage stamp designs by Dorothy for punk and post-punk bands.

• At Spoon & Tamago: Kanban: The exquisite art of historic Japanese store signs.

• At Greydogtales: Photography of the Folk Horror Revival.

The Spomenik Database

• The Secret Life Of Arabia (1977) by David Bowie | Arabian Knights (1981) by Siouxsie And The Banshees | Arabiant (2002) by Radar