Weekend links 237

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Le Palais des Merveilles, 1907 – 1927 – 1960 by Clovis Trouille.

• “Why is it OK to show a male ejaculation but not a female one? What are the qualifications of those who cobble together these rules?” Suzanne Moore on the latest batch of discriminatory restrictions against porn production in the UK. Porn laws in Britain have long been like the drug laws, sprouting fresh Hydra-heads of unwarranted bans and crackdowns after the previous bans and crackdowns have been discredited. Last month Zoe Williams talked to women who make niche porn for other women. This week she discovered that some of those she interviewed now find their work is illegal under the latest restrictions.

• “[Derek Jarman] considered In the Shadow of the Sun to be just as important as any of the feature films that he made in the 1970s.” Film producer and archivist James Mackay talking to Beatrix Rux about Derek Jarman’s Super-8 films. Related: Tilda Swinton is GQ’s Woman of the Year.

The Art of Big O by Michael Fishel (author) and Nigel Suckling (editor), a collection of the fantastic and psychedelic poster art published by Peter Ledeboer’s company in the 1970s. Good to see but at $67 (really?) I’d expect a better cover design.

• New electronica: More “confusing English electronic music” from Moon Wiring Club; Shut-Eyed Stories, an album by Jim Cheff; and Shapwick by Jon Brooks, previously vinyl-only and out-of-print, now has a digital edition.

JK Potter Mutates the Story: Christopher Burke & David Davis talk to the horror illustrator about his photographic work.

• Beth Maiden on The Fascinating Life of Pamela Colman Smith, artist of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck.

• Under the Influence: The Sexy, Sordid Surrealism of Clovis Trouille by Kirsten Anderson.

Geoff Manaugh on The Fiery Underground Oil Pit Eating LA.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 137 by Teste.

The Wild Horny Goat

The Young People (2010) by Belbury Poly & Moon Wiring Club | Goat Foot (2012) by Belbury Poly | Walking Through Me (2014) by Moon Wiring Club

Alas Vegas Tarot cards

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Back in February I bought a Wacom drawing tablet and said I’d show some proper results from its use later. For the past few months I’ve been working on this project using a combination of Wacom drawing and vector graphics. The initial brief from games designer James Wallis was for six Tarot-style card designs for his Alas Vegas role-playing game which has as its theme a fantasy extrapolation from Las Vegas and its gaudy mythology. The Kickstarter funding for the game turned out to be more successful than was anticipated so James asked me to expand the six cards idea into a full set of black-and-white Major Arcana designs.

This has been a fun series to work on although a number of the cards presented problems at first, the antique nature of the Tarot symbolism being a difficult thing to map across a very commercial American city. The symbolism from the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) deck was used as a rough guide although we deviated in a few places from the more traditional attributes. Las Vegas has changed over the years so rather than represent a single period of the city’s history there are references to different eras, from the huge casinos of today back to the buildings of the 50s and 60s with their distinctive “Googie” architecture. Notes for the cards follow below. The artwork can be seen at larger size here.

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The Fool is usually a young man about to step off a cliff edge with a dog barking a warning at his heels, hence the dog on the sign.

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Several of the cards convert the Tarot characters into cabaret acts. This one was pretty inevitable, and I’m sure it’s not the first time a stage conjuror has appeared on this card.

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The chair is based on the 1965 “Ball Chair” design by Eero Aarnio (as seen in The Prisoner TV series), adapted here to resemble the Priestess’s crescent moon.

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The style on this one is more 70s than 60s: patterned wallpaper (the hearts derive from the symbolism of The Empress, and from playing cards, of course), white rug, Kung Fu pyjamas.

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Palladini’s Aquarian Tarot

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For the past two months I’ve been busy drawing a new set of Tarot designs. More about these later, but sporadic research has naturally led to me to look at a few earlier sets, although my Trumps have mostly been following Pamela Colman Smith’s illustrations for the Waite deck. Tarot designs have really proliferated in the past few years (Is there a Lego Tarot? Yes, of course there is), so much so that many previous designs which would once have been notable are now swamped by mediocre decks.

David Palladini’s Aquarian Tarot first appeared in 1970 when the occult revival was getting into its stride. Palladini had contributed to the Linweave Tarot in 1967 along with three other artists, something you can read more about at the excellent Sweet Jane’s Pop Boutique. I’m sure I must have seen the Aquarian Tarot in the past but probably dismissed it for being too modish and not occult enough; for a long time Aleister Crowley’s Thoth deck was the only one I’d look at. Palladini’s art is a lot more familiar now that his fabulous poster for Nosferatu the Vampyre looks down on me every day, and I’ve grown to enjoy his combination of Art Nouveau and Deco motifs so much that I wouldn’t mind a pack of these cards. The Aeclectic site reviews the deck, and has a few more examples of the designs. They also review the New Palladini Tarot which the artist produced in 1996. Given the choice I’d still go for the earlier set.

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Pamela Colman Smith’s Annancy Stories

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Pamela Colman Smith’s work has appeared here before but this is an example of her early illustration I hadn’t seen until now. Annancy Stories (1899) was written and illustrated by Smith, being her own presentation of the Jamaican versions of the Anansi trickster stories. Smith’s mother was Jamaican, and the family lived in Kingston for some years before moving to New York. She was only 20 when she produced this book which is illustrated throughout with full-page plates and smaller drawings. The text is in a Jamaican patois which, as the introduction notes, would have reminded American readers of the Brer Rabbit stories. There is, of course, a shared lineage there that goes back to Africa. The drawings are in a sketchier style than the marvellous Tarot designs Smith produced for the Rider-Waite deck nearly a decade later but you can see in them the origins of her late Art Nouveau style, and also that distinctive monogram in the corner of each drawing. Annacy Stories may be browsed here or downloaded here.

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Recovering Viriconium

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Detail from Assassination in the Night (c. 1600?) by Monsù Desiderio.

Yesterday’s post looked at some of the past cover designs for M. John Harrison’s Viriconium books. This post makes a few suggestions for how they might be presented in the future. Since these are mostly covers that I’d like to see they’re not necessarily ideal for the audience a publisher might be aiming at, cover design is usually a three-way process involving designer, author and publisher. In the end I’ve resisted the temptation to draft a range of original cover proposals—writing these posts has taken long enough—so almost everything here uses pre-existing art. If I was designing covers for all four Viriconium books, however, and the brief was to orient them towards a fantasy readership, the first thing I’d try would be a series of four imaginary Tarot designs. A peculiar pack of Tarot cards is a recurrent feature of the books so I’d create four emblematic cards that featured significant elements and characters from each. The characters wouldn’t be too well defined, they’d be stylised, maybe even silhouettes. Each card would feature a dominant presence: offhand these would be one of the geteit chemosit for The Pastel City, a locust for A Storm of Wings, the Barley Brothers for In Viriconium and a Mari Lwyd horse skull for Viriconium Nights. These presences together with the human characters would loom over a silhouette city at the foot of each card whose outlines would change appearance from book to book, evolving gradually from a fantastic outline of domes and towers to something that resembles a contemporary city. The colours and treatments would show a similar evolution from the bright and bold styles of the Pamela Colman Smith Tarot deck to something more photographic, collaged from elements closer to our world. Maybe.

That’s an idea for the four individual books. All the examples here use the convenience of the omnibus edition so a single image (or pair of images) has to somehow represent the entire series. To save time and effort I’ve taken the liberty of hijacking a couple of Penguin Books layouts. I hope Penguin doesn’t mind, and I should also apologise to Harrison’s UK publishers, Gollancz, for making one of their authors jump ship. The Viriconium omnibus is certainly good enough to be considered a modern classic. Penguin’s recent template for its Modern Classics series happens to be very easy to apply to a wide range of artwork.

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The Anti-Pope (1942) by Max Ernst.

Penguin has a long tradition of using pre-existing art on its covers, especially on those in its Penguin Classics series. You can almost make this into a parlour game: match your favourite novel with the best choice of painting. The tradition was extended to its science fiction titles in the early 1960s when the art of Max Ernst was featured several times along with the work of other Surrealists. Max Ernst is a favourite artist of mine so this is one I can’t resist. Many of Ernst’s decalcomania paintings of the 1940s would suit Viriconium but The Anti-Pope with its horse heads seems especially suitable.

Also on the Penguin sf covers was a picture by the mysterious “Monsù Desiderio” one of whose works can be seen at the top of this post. Desiderio was a 17th-century painter with a vague enough presence—works have been attributed to both François de Nomé and Didier Barra—and a line in gloomy architectural fantasias to make him an ideal Viriconium artist.

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