Margit Schwarcz, 1923.
From Art Nouveau (see previous post) to Deco…almost. These posters are more Austrian Moderne, or Plakatstil, most of them being too early for Art Deco which only became an identifiable trend in the mid-1920s. The design above by Margit Schwarcz appeared here last August when I wrote an appreciation of the weird fiction of Stefan Grabinski. Schwarcz’s poster had been reworked as a cover for The Motion Demon, a collection of Grabinski’s rail stories, and I wanted to see the original. The same design appears in Poster Art in Vienna (1923), an introduction to work from the Julius Klinger school of poster art which seems to have been produced to promote the work of the Klinger artists (and Klinger himself) in the USA. The Schwarcz poster is very typical of the Klinger style, with bold shapes, bright inks, spiky serifs and cartoon-like drawings. Klinger’s earlier illustration work was very much in the post-Beardsley style, albeit with a similar cartoon-like approach, so there’s a trace of Beardsley still present in some of the figures.
Julius Klinger, 1922.
This is a great book even if it provokes the melancholy thoughts that tend to arise when looking at something bright and inventive from Austria or Germany in the 1920s. I always find myself wondering how the artists fared during the storm of Nazism and war that would bear down on them in the following decade. Klinger was Jewish, and didn’t manage to escape to his beloved America; he was prevented from working after 1938, and was killed in Belarus in 1942. His name lives on in the Julius Klinger fonts which were based on his type designs. More of Klinger’s poster and illustration work may be seen at Vienna Secession.
Julius Klinger, 1923.
Julius Klinger, 1909.
Julius Klinger, 1923.
Continue reading “Poster Art in Vienna”
Thanks to the demons of distraction it’s taken me a long time to find my way to these books by Polish author Stefan Grabinski (1887–1936) but I’m very pleased to have done so at last. Grabinski was one of several writers first drawn to my attention by Franz Rottensteiner’s The Fantasy Book: The Ghostly, the Gothic, the Magical, the Unreal (1978), a lavishly illustrated popular study that charted the history of fantasy and horror fiction. The book is inevitably dominated by Anglophone authors but Rottensteiner was looking at the genres from a global perspective, to an extent that some of the writers in the sections devoted to Continental Europe were either difficult to find or, as with Grabinski, hadn’t yet been translated into English. Robert Hadji’s Grabinski entry in the Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986) further stoked my curiosity. Neither Rottensteiner nor Hadji mention how they came to read these obscure tales but I’d guess it was in the two collections published in Germany under the Bibliothek des Hauses Usher imprint, Das Abstellgleis (1971) and Dunst und andere unheimliche Geschichten (1974); several covers from the imprint appear in Rottensteiner’s book. Wherever it was that they read the stories, both writers praised Grabinski as an overlooked master of weird fiction. Rottensteiner notes that he was a contemporary of HP Lovecraft, and with a similar biography—briefly married and suffering artistic neglect during his lifetime—but neither Rottensteiner nor Hadji use the common shorthand descriptions of Grabinski as “the Polish Poe” or “the Polish Lovecraft”. These labels are intriguing but misapplied.
Bearing in mind that these stories are translated works, one of the surprises of finally reading them is how fresh they seem compared to so many British ghost stories from the same period. Grabinski was writing during the birth of Modernism but the stories of his Anglophone contemporaries can often read like the products of an earlier epoch. His economical prose lacks the ornamentation of Poe and Lovecraft, just as it lacks Poe’s morbid Romanticism and has nothing of Lovecraft’s cosmic scale. But there are recurrent themes, particularly that of possession, whether by the spirits of the dead, by inhuman elementals, or by idée fixe. The latter provides the subject of The Glance, a story that also demonstrates Grabinski’s knack of finding horror in the most mundane situations: a man whose wife died prematurely is troubled by the sight of an open door, the same door through which she walked out of his life, and subsequently, out of her own. The man’s obsession with the door grows into a fear of closed doors and the implicit tragedies they may conceal, an obsession that soon extends itself to anything that hides too much of the world: curtains, rugs, the sharp corners of city streets… Edgar Allan Poe was fond of cataloguing madness in this manner but Grabinski’s stories go beyond glib formulations of insanity. “Metaphysical” is a word often used in discussion of the Grabinski oeuvre; the fixations of his protagonists reveal truths about the world to which others are blind.
Continue reading “Demons by rail-light: Stefan Grabinski’s weird fiction”