The Art of the Occult

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Cover art: Group X, No. 1, Altarpiece (1915) by Hilma af Klint. Design by Paileen Currie.

A surprise arrival in today’s post, the occult art compendium by S. Elizabeth which I would have wanted to read even if it didn’t contain one of my pictures:

From theosophy and kabbalah, to the zodiac and alchemy; spiritualism and ceremonial magic, to the elements and sacred geometry – The Art of the Occult introduces major occult themes and showcases the artists who have been influenced and led by them. Discover the symbolic and mythical images of the Pre-Raphaelites; the automatic drawing of Hilma af Klint and Madge Gill; Leonora Carrington’s surrealist interpretation of myth, alchemy and kabbalah; and much more.

Most of the books I’ve seen on this subject have either been very general and in need of an update (Thames and Hudson’s venerable Magic: The Western Tradition) or exhibition catalogues which are never comprehensive and become increasingly hard to find since they don’t get reprinted. The Art of the Occult is an ideal introduction to the subject for the curious reader, as well as being a useful overview for the aficionado (or initiate) which spans several hundred years of art and illustration, from the earliest occult manuscripts to contemporary works. Occult art is a house with many mansions, a form which can encompass photo-realism, Symbolism, Surrealism or total abstraction without the definition breaking down. The Art of the Occult contains a satisfyingly wide range of examples, 200 in all, and includes many artists whose work I hadn’t seen before. It also reinforces the origin of abstract art in occult concerns, a lineage that went unmentioned for many years by critics who couldn’t accept that their beloved “pure” idiom was tainted by mysticism.

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My piece is a portrait of the serpent-haired Abyzou, one of the Solomonic demons I depicted for The Demons of King Solomon in 2017. The picture was one of the better representations in a series I would have preferred to have more time to work on. I was pleased to see my contribution facing one of Elijah Burgher’s sigil drawings; I like Burgher’s art so he makes a good companion. This is the first and maybe the only book where my name is listed in an index between Pamela Colman Smith and Aleister Crowley.

The Art of the Occult will be published by White Lion Publishing on 13th of October, just in time for the annual spook-fest.

Update: Haute Macabre has a new post by S. Elizabeth showing more pages from the book’s interior plus the opportunity to win a copy.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Calendrier Magique
The Demons of King Solomon
Typefaces of the occult revival
The art of Frieda Harris, 1877–1962
The art of Fay Pomerance, 1912–2001
Songs for the Witch Woman
Wilfried Sätty: Artist of the occult
The art of Scott Treleaven

Weekend links 455

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• At Expanding Mind: Tarot expert Mary Greer talks with Erik Davis about Tarot artist Pamela Colman Smith, the Golden Dawn, the art of illustration, Jung’s active imagination, Smith’s musical visions, and the recent study of Smith’s life and work, Pamela Colman Smith: the Untold Story.

• Almost five years have passed since the last album from Earth (if you discount the Bug vs. Earth collaboration Concrete Desert) but the band will release a new album, Full Upon Her Burning Lips, in May. Cats On The Briar is a taster.

Charles Bramesco on Sergei Bondarchuk’s astonishing 7-hour adaptation of War and Peace. I watched the whole thing last weekend: all superlatives are justified.

• The History of the Future: James Conway on leaving Australia for a life in Berlin and publishing. Related: Where is Rixdorf?

• At Spoon & Tamago: Keisuke Aiso‘s artworks, including the Ubume sculpture that became the face of the Momo Challenge hoax.

• Mixes of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 282 by Tourist Gaze, and Big Sister’s Scratchy Singles Vol 1 by radioShirley.

Alexander Rose on the 26,000-Year Astronomical Monument Hidden in Plain Sight.

Rebecca Cole and Janise Elie go in search of the Brocken spectre on Burley Moor.

M. John Harrison: Critical Essays, edited by Rhys Williams and Mark Bould.

Forest of Resonating Lamps – One Stroke, Cherry Blossoms by teamLab.

• Tour de France: Jonathan Meades selects 13 exercise-bike Classics.

• At Greydogtales: The Cthulhu Mythos for Beginners.

The Black Tower (1987), a short film by John Smith.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Jean Rollin Day.

Ishmael Reed doesn’t like Hamilton.

Babylonian Tower (1982) by Minimal Compact | The Tower (Black Advance) (2007) by Mordant Music | The Tower (Empty Fortress) (2007) by Mordant Music

Weekend links 418

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Poster by Roman Cieslewicz for the 1963 Polish release of Vertigo. Via The Hitchcock Zone.

• Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo is sixty years old this year. It’s a film I’ve always found to be preposterous and very over-rated, despite the considerable strengths of its cast, production, etc; consequently, any claims to its being an unalloyed masterpiece (such as being voted the best film of all time in the 2012 Sight & Sound poll) have been difficult to accept. For the latest anniversary, David Thomson examined the film in the light of changing social attitudes.

• Currently seeking funding at Unbound: Stars, Fools and Lovers: An illustrated guide to the art and history of the Tarot by Joanna Ebenstein, Laetitia Barbier and Mark Pilkington. Another Tarot-related book, Pamela Colman Smith: The Untold Story by Stuart R. Kaplan with Mary K. Greer, Elizabeth Foley O’Connor and Melinda Boyd Parsons, will be published next month.

• Everybody wants to talk to Jon Hassell at the moment, which is no bad thing: recent interviews have appeared at The Vinyl Factory, Red Bull Radio and Vice.

• Coming soon from Lazarus Corporation: England’s Dark Dreaming by Paul Watson.

• Sean Kitching on The Strange World of Charles Hayward (This Heat et al).

• At Dennis Copper’s: The title sequences of 56 mostly horror movies.

• Stone circles: Adam Scovell chooses 10 notable cinematic examples.

• “You gotta be selfish. It’s a terrible thing,” says David Lynch.

Wolf’s Kompaktkiste shows off a serious record collection.

Boy with Cat (1966), a short film by Donald Richie.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 256 by Nina.

Tank (2018), a short film by Stu Maschwitz.

Phantom Islands—A Sonic Atlas

Letraset, design and music

• Vertigo (1988) by Flash Cero | Psyko (Themes from Psycho and Vertigo) (1993) by Laika & The Cosmonauts | Vértigo Magnético (2014) by Liquidarlo Celuloide

Weekend links 257

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The Nine of Swords by Pamela Colman Smith, and the same card from The Ghetto Tarot, a Haitian deck created by photographer Alice Smits and Haitian art group Atis Rezistans.

Almost four months after the murders in Paris, Charlie Hebdo continues to be problematic, to use a common epithet. The “p” word occurs with such frequency in current discussions about offence—and those discussions so often seem like a secular version of old religious arguments, with Manichean forces pitted against each other, and the same schisms, heresies and witch hunts—that I’ve taken to translating “problematic” as “sinful”. Charlie Hebdo is nothing if not a heretical text even if many of those pronouncing on its heresies have never read a copy. Back in January I was confident that we’d be seeing a great deal of equivocation (if not outright victim-blaming) when people began to look closely at the magazine, or at least read hasty appraisals of its contents. You didn’t have to be a psychic to predict any of this because the equivocations are merely the current manifestation of a familiar syndrome. This week’s authorial objections about PEN America honouring Charlie Hebdo have led to a reiteration of the grumblings we heard in January: “Yes, of course, we condemn the violence but…” But, what? “But, it’s a sinful publication…”(This piece by one of the PEN objectors in the LRB is typical.) Publication liberties, which in the UK are more constrained than in the US, are apparently best championed for the virtuous (the responsible, the respectful, etc), not the sinful. In 1963 “Yes, but…” equivocations about freedom of speech were being deployed in the letters page of the Times Literary Supplement with worthies such as Victor Gollancz and Edith Sitwell wondering why it was necessary to defend a deplorable book like The Naked Lunch; in 1992 I sat in a courtroom watching a judge make similar comments when grudgingly overturning an obscenity ruling against David Britton’s Lord Horror novel. The same judge then upheld the obscenity charge against Britton & Guidio’s Meng & Ecker comic which he regarded as trashier fare, “luridly bound” and containing “pictures that will be repulsive to right-thinking people”.

So much for old arguments. Jodie Ginsberg at Index on Censorship goes into some detail about the PEN kerfuffle in a piece entitled “I believe in free expression, but…”; Justin EH Smith for Harper’s says:

I heard from [friends and equals] countless variations on the banality that “violence is always wrong.” How did I know that this judgment, though perfectly true in itself, was only a banality, the expression of a sentiment that had little to do with pacifism? By the clockwork predictability of the “but” that always followed.”

Kenan Malik, who writes a great deal about these issues (his new book is The Quest for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethics) posted a statement from Jo Glanville from English PEN, and a lengthy piece by Leigh Phillips. This affair will rumble on.

• More sinful material: Samuel R. Delany’s Hogg is a novel so transgressive/offensive that it took 26 years to find a publisher. You seldom see any mention of the book when Delany’s work is being discussed, especially in prudish SF circles, but Dennis Cooper’s blog ran a retrospective feature about it this week. Caveat lector. Related: Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany is looking for crowdfunding.

• “[Judy] Oppenheimer relates that Jackson kept a library of over two hundred books on witchcraft, and her interest in the subject was not purely academic.” Martyn Wendell Jones on Shirley Jackson.

The Satyr and Other Tales, a collection by Stephen J. Clark, the title story of which is “inspired by the life and ethos of sorcerer and artist Austin Osman Spare”.

• Mixes of the week: Bacchus Beltane 2: The Mists of Avalon by The Ephemeral Man, and The Ivy-Strangled Path Vol. VI by David Colohan.

Boy and his SIR: BDSM and the Queer Family, a photo series by Kevin Warth, and Xteriors II, a photo series by Desiree Dolron.

• The Quest for Stenbock: David Tibet talks to Strange Flowers about his obsession with the eccentric Count.

Dark Star: HR Giger’s World is a documentary about the artist by Belinda Sallin.

1 in 3 Impressions, a free EP of Moog music by M. Geddes Gengras.

The rise and fall of the codpiece

Blade Runner Reality

Some Weird Sin (1977) by Iggy Pop | Sin In My Heart (1981) by Siouxsie and The Banshees | It’s A Sin (1987) by Pet Shop Boys

Weekend links 250

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Untitled artwork by Melinda Gebbie.

• “Johnny Rocket is like a Chaucerian epic retold by David Peace with music by Bruce Haack and The Focus Group for a music hall located in Hell.” John Doran talks to Maxine Peake and the Eccentronic Research Council about their “psychedelic ouija pop”.

Allison Meier looks at a new exhibition of Victor Moscoso’s psychedelic drawings. Related: Julia Bigham writing in Eye magazine in 2001 about London’s psychedelic poster scene.

• “Oh to eye the very enfilade through which that orchidaceous entity would make his stately progress…” Strange Flowers on the eccentric Count Stenbock.

Melinda Gebbie: What Is The Female Gaze? The artist is in conversation next month with Mark Pilkington and Tai Shani at the Horse Hospital, London.

Pamela Colman Smith: She Believes in Fairies. The Tarot artist and illustrator in a rare interview from 1912.

• Minimalist posters: “a lack of nuance disguised as insight,” says John Brownlee.

• Saturday night in the City of the Dead: Richard Metzger on the John Foxx-era Ultravox.

The Will Gregory Moog Ensemble plays the Brandenberg Concerto No. 3.

• “In a weird way”: a brief history of a phrase by Ivan Kreilkamp.

Die Hexe: An installation by Alex Da Corte.

• RIP Daevid Allen

Istaqsinaayok

You Can’t Kill Me (1971) by Gong | Master Builder (1974) by Gong | When (1982) by Daevid Allen