The art of Nick Hyde, 1943–2018

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Estate of Man (1967).

A short tribute to American artist Nick Hyde who I’ve been informed died last month. Hyde’s extraordinary paintings were featured here a few years ago after I found a copy of Visions (1977), an art book devoted to artists of the loosely-affiliated California Visionary school. Most of the paintings in the book are a type of fantastic art (not to be confused with fantasy art) that owes much to the hippy mysticism that later became codified as “New Age”, a vague term which covers a lot of territory. Several of the paintings were featured in the early issues of OMNI magazine but I don’t recall Nick Hyde’s art being among them. Hyde’s early paintings are darker and stranger than those of his Visions contemporaries, and they were ones I inevitably preferred to the rest, hence my earlier post highlighting his work. There isn’t much else I can say about him other than pointing to the official website and posting the following appraisal by Walter Hopps from Visions. All the paintings here are from Visions, and several of them (Abraxas in particular) look like they need to be seen at a much larger size.

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Cryptyde (1967).

I am not trying to clean myself of impurities, but to venture into a very real situation. I consider myself a true visionary—it comes to me and I flow with it. My imagery is always a dance.” Nick Hyde, 1976

The powerful nature of Nick Hyde’s art stands in certain important ways vividly apart from that presented here by his visionary colleagues. Rather than scenes of cosmic calm, serene process, or peaceful resolution, Hyde pours forth effulgent compositions of both hallucinatory intensity and tumultuous activity. The myriad visual events and details brought forth in an all-at-once total vision in Hyde’s paintings give rise to a unique tension between what seems the most violent of struggles and the most delicate of dances. In maintaining qualities of such polarity Hyde reveals a mastery of a sinuous, insinuating line structure that both divulges and dissolves images.

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Inside Out Breaking Free (1968).

In his extraordinary allegorical painting Estate of Man, human figures are disgorged from a Gothic tracery of lines that suggests the network of nerves of a livid inner eye. Closer inspection reveals the jaws of a hell-mouth that swallows these figures and assimilates them as functioning fibers in a self-conceiving infernal machine. At upper right, however, in a zone of apparent transcendence, Hyde paints a luminist landscape at the moment of sunrise. It is perhaps where one is to find redemption in the Eye of God: or is it merely the burning earth that bears man to offer him to hell?

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BethAnn (1969).

Hyde’s painting Abraxas touches on a note of subtle, mordant humor: the mythoid monster and his serpent-headed mate entwined in an infernal lair is, at the same time, a gentleman with his lady, reclining at ease, casually smoking. and telephone in hand. A clock—on the fire-place mantle at the right of the composition—is without hands, and ornamented by two barely perceptible figures. They repeat in reverse the pose of the two polymorphic companions. Abraxas, a god of good and evil, exists in a world abandoned of time, of rhythmic mimesis, of smoldering mockery. —Walter Hopps

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Urp (1970).

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Abraxas (1971).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The fantastic art archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Visions and the art of Nick Hyde

Ernst Fuchs, 1930–2015

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It was a surprise to see the death of Austrian artist Ernst Fuchs mentioned on the BBC website since I’d never seen him mentioned in the British media during his lifetime. Fuchs was one of those artists who would have been a natural Surrealist if he’d been born a few years earlier, and his work does occasionally receive a mention in the more comprehensive guides to Surrealism. The first place I saw any of his paintings was in the pages of Omni magazine when it was launched in the late 1970s. As well as providing a high-profile showcase to science-fiction writers, Omni in its early days avoided generic SF art in favour of the living practitioners of Fantastic Realism: Fuchs, HR Giger, Mati Klarwein, Robert Venosa, Rudolf Hausner, De Es Schwertberger and many others. Fuchs was often seen as the figurehead of this loose movement as a result of founding the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism in the 1940s, but Fantastic Realism as it’s generally applied is an umbrella term used to connect a generation of artists who were using hyper-real techniques to explore their obsessions. Fuchs’ obsessions often concern spirituality of one kind or another but he could be erotic as well, something you can’t always say about his many imitators in the current Visionary Art world. At his best his paintings seem caught midway between the Max Ernst style of the late 40s and Gustave Moreau’s more hieratic moments, with human figures or inhuman creatures emerging from (or melting into) mineral forms.

Official site
Fuchs at Wikiart
Fuchs pages at Fantastic Visions
360-degree panorama of the Apocalypse Chapel, Klagenfurt

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Battle of the Gods that have been Transformed (1952).

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The Spirit of Mercury (1954).

Continue reading “Ernst Fuchs, 1930–2015”

Weekend links 133

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Lower Manhattan (1999) by Lebbeus Woods.

RIP Lebbeus Woods, an architect and illustrator frequently compared to Piranesi not only for his imagination and the quality of his renderings but also for the way both men built very little from a lifetime of designs. Lots of appreciations have appeared over the past few days including this lengthy piece by Geoff Manaugh at BLDGBLOG. (Geoff interviewed Woods in 2007.) Elsewhere: A slideshow at the NYT, Steven Holl remembers Lebbeus Woods and Lebbeus Woods, visionary architect of imaginary worlds. See also: Lebbeus Woods: Early Drawings and this post about Woods’ illustrations for an Arthur C Clarke story collection. Woods was at his most Piranesian with Gothic designs for an artificial planet that would have been the principal location in Vincent Ward’s unmade Alien 3.

Arkhonia draws to the end of a year of blogging about and around the Beach Boys’ errant masterwork, Smile (1967). Witty, discursive and frequently scabrous accounts of how Brian Wilson’s magnum opus was derailed and marginalised until it became convenient for commercial interests to exploit its reputation. Anyone following those posts won’t have been surprised by Wilson’s sacking from his own group by Mike Love in September.

• “We’ve been underground for 27 hours now. Everyone is caked in mud, with grit in their hair.” Will Hunt explores the catacombs and sewers of Paris.

I think the only remotely interesting drug was acid. I had a slightly peculiar attitude towards it I think. Just about everything about hippydom I hated. I liked the 60s up to about ’65 or ’66. I liked the mod clothes, I liked the look. I wasn’t a keen taker of speed because I didn’t like the comedown from it. Then everything changed and became looser, I didn’t like the clothes at all. I felt rather out of step with it. The acid thing was interesting though. I come from Salisbury and from the age of 12 I had a friend who was 30 years older than I was who I saw regularly up until when he died a couple of years ago, whose obituary I wrote in The Times. This man was called Ken James and he was deputy head at the chemical warfare unit at Porton Down [the MOD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory]. He then became head of the scientific civil service; he was the man who introduced computing into the civil service and he had taken acid as early as 1950. This was long before Aldous Huxley.

Sharp Suits And Sparkle: Jonathan Meades On Acid, Space And Place by John Doran. Marvellous stuff. Meades’ new book is Museum Without Walls.

• In New York later this month: A Cathode Ray Séance – The Haunted Worlds of Nigel Kneale.

• More acid: Kerri Smith talks to Oliver Sacks about his drug experiences.

• “It starts with an itch”: Alan Bennett (again) on his new play, People.

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Lower Manhattan last Wednesday. Photo by Iwan Baan.

• Back issues of OMNI magazine can now be found at the Internet Archive.

• Alan Moore & Mitch Jenkins present their new film, Jimmy’s End.

• At BibliOdyssey: Atlas title pages part one & part two.

• Raw Functionality: An interview with Emptyset.

Athanasius, Underground

Vintage Caza

Stormy Weather (1979) by Elisabeth Welch.

The art of Robert Venosa, 1936–2011

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A few years back, while experimenting with the hallucinogens, I experienced visions of a dynamic energy in constant high-velocity motion, crystallizing and manifesting in a form which could only be described as angelic. Potential energy, crystallizing energy and structured energy were all visible in the same instant…time and space transcended. These visions, and a new-found awareness of spirit brought about through worship and meditation, were too powerful not to be expressed: a translation had to be attempted.

Robert Venosa, Manas Manna, 1978.

I only discovered a few days ago that American artist Robert Venosa had died last month. As with the late Sibylle Ruppert there’s the inevitable wish for some wider acknowledgement of the passing of these unique talents.

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Millions of people have seen one of Venosa’s creations without being aware of it: in 1970 he designed the logo/title for Santana’s Abraxas album (the one with the amazing Mati Klarwein cover), a design which is still in use today. But it’s as a painter that he ought to be remembered. Manas Manna was the first collection of Venosa’s art published by Peter Ledeboer’s Big O imprint in 1978, and could be found on bookshelves that year with a pair of equally remarkable auto-monographs: Mati Klarwein‘s God Jokes and the first English edition of HR Giger‘s Necronomicon. All three artists were aware of each other (Venosa was friends with the other two), and all had managed the difficult feat of having their work sold in art galleries whilst also being visible to a much larger audience on album covers. All three books were eagerly plundered that year by the art team of OMNI magazine whose early issues made heavy use of paintings by Klarwein, Giger, Venosa, De Es Schwertberger and others. Of this Venosa has said:

OMNI was the first to give the artist equal credit with the author…something that to this day is still not seen in any other newsstand magazine. OMNI also put Fantastic Realism, Surrealism, Visionary, and every other type of ‘Fantasy’ art, square into the public’s eye. I and my colleagues owe OMNI a large measure of gratitude for its uncompromising stance and visionary concepts.

Venosa had been an art director at Columbia Records in the 1960s, a job he abandoned after he met Mati Klarwein and decided he’d rather devote his time to painting. Despite describing Klarwein in his book as his painting master, only a couple of his pictures are reminiscent of Klarwein’s distinctive style. Many of Venosa’s works are more loose and abstract than Klarwein’s tableaux, extending the processes of decalcomania which Max Ernst refined in works such as Europe After the Rain (1942) and The Eye of Silence (1944) to create stunning views of cosmic eruptions and vistas of crystalline beings rendered in a meticulous, hyper-realist manner. Many of his pictures could serve as illustrations for the later chapters of JG Ballard’s The Crystal World.

If the lazy definition of psychedelic art refers merely to shapeless forms and bright, clashing colours, Venosa’s art is psychedelic in the truest sense, an attempt to fix with paint and brush something revealed by a profound interior experience. This was deeply unfashionable by 1978, of course, but he carried on working anyway, and there are further book collections for those interested in his paintings. The Venosa website has a small selection of his extraordinary pictures although they really need to be seen at a larger size.

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

Dan O’Bannon, 1946–2009

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Re-release poster by Bemis Balkind.

Alien was a big deal for me when it appeared in late 1979, one of those films which seems to arrive at exactly the right moment. I’d just left school, I was eagerly reading reprints of French and Belgian comic strips in Heavy Metal magazine, and also paperback reprints of science fiction stories from New Worlds; I was listening to Hawkwind and becoming increasingly obsessed with HP Lovecraft. I was, in short, the target audience for a serious SF-themed horror film with contributions from major artists like HR Giger and Jean “Moebius” Giraud, and I went to see it three times in a row.

Watching Star Wars two years earlier (for which Dan O’Bannon created the computer displays), I’d enjoyed the special effects but been disappointed by its space opera tone and dumb heroics. HR Giger’s large-format Necronomicon art book was published in the UK the same year and the sight of his work was a revelation for the way it pushed Dalí-esque Surrealism to a pitch of unprecedented mutation and malevolence. A year later his paintings were appearing in Omni magazine but it was Alien which exploded his popularity and in 1979 you could hardly open a magazine or newspaper without finding a Giger interview or examples of his work. Alien benefited from the SF boom that Star Wars generated but Dan O’Bannon didn’t need George Lucas’s feeble mythology to point him towards science fiction, he’d already made one low-budget sf film, Dark Star, with John Carpenter, and was planning the effects for Jodorowsky’s ill-fated Dune project years before the world had heard of Luke Skywalker. Dune introduced him to Moebius, and the pair collaborated on a noir sf strip, The Long Tomorrow, which was published in Heavy Metal in 1977. But it was Giger’s connection with the Dune project which proved crucial for Alien:

“(Dune) collapsed so badly,” O’Bannon says, “that I ended up in L.A. without any money, without an apartment, without a car, with half my belongings back in Paris and the other half in storage.”

He retreated to the sofa of a friend, screenwriter Ron Shusett, and didn’t leave it for a week. But depressed or not, O’Bannon knew he had to get back to work. He got his files and typewriter out of storage, and he and Shusett went to work on stacks and stacks of partially completed ideas.

“We pulled out one that I liked very much,” he says, “an old script called Memory that was half-finished and was basically what the first half of Alien is now. I told Ron I’d never been able to figure out the rest of the story. So he read it and said, ‘Well, you told me another idea you had once for a movie. It was the one where gremlins get onto a B-17 bomber during World War II and give the pilots a lot of trouble. So why don’t you make that the second half and put it on a spaceship?’

“That was a great idea, but then we had to figure out the monster. Well, I hadn’t been able to get Hans Rudi Giger off my mind since I left France. His paintings had a profound effect on me. I had never seen anything that was quite as horrible and at the same time as beautiful as his work. And so I ended up writing a script about a Giger monster.”

The working title was Star Beast. O’Bannon had a fortunate brainstorm late one night as he continued to write while Shusett slept. “I was writing dialogue and one of the characters said, ‘What are we going to do about the alien?’ The word came out of the page at me and I said, ‘Alien. It’s a noun and an adjective.’ So I went in the other room and shook Ron awake and told him and he said, ‘Yeah, OK,’ and went back to sleep. But I knew I had found a really hot title.”

The Book of Alien (1979) by Paul Scanlon and Michael Gross

Lest we forget, it was O’Bannon who insisted that Ridley Scott look at Giger’s work during the production of the film after artist Ron Cobb failed to produce a sufficiently nightmarish creature. O’Bannon’s script was mauled by Walter Hill who removed sub-plots, and further scenes were trimmed to speed the pace, but Alien‘s unique atmosphere remains as potent today as it was in 1979. It’s ironic that O’Bannon died in the week that James Cameron’s Avatar (which happens to star Sigourney Weaver) is released. To watch all four Alien films in sequence is to witness progressively diminishing returns, and it was Cameron’s sequel which set the pattern for the later films by dropping the adjective part of the O’Bannon’s title in favour of the noun. There had been plenty of movie monsters before but it was the inhuman quality which we label “alien” that O’Bannon and Giger brought to SF cinema, and it’s a quality that few have been able to deliver since, not least in Avatar which (from what I’ve seen) looks less alien than something Frank R Paul might have painted in the 1930s. O’Bannon did a lot more after Alien, of course, but it’s his first big success which will always mean the most to me. I recommend Ridley Scott’s director’s cut from 2003 which restored scenes and shots removed from the original release.

Remembering the late, great Dan O’Bannon
The first action heroine: Ellen Ripley and Alien, 30 years on

Previously on { feuilleton }
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune
The monstrous tome