Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet

schlemmer.jpg

Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet of the 1920s is one of the more famous products of the Bauhaus movement, a radical reinvention of the medium which encased the dancers in cumbersome costumes. The outfits and stage designs are familiar from Bauhaus histories but you’re less likely to see an actual performance, something that’s possible with this 30-minute film made in 1970. The ballet is in three acts: yellow, pink and black. Erich Ferstl wrote the music for the filmed reconstruction by Margarete Hasting, the original score by Paul Hindemith being lost.

The ballet has additional interest for me in having influenced part of the Reverbstorm book. Oskar Schlemmer’s Bauhaus logo is reworked in the opening and closing pages together with other Bauhaus-derived graphics, but I also looked at Schlemmer’s ballet costumes when I was planning the final section which required a stylised transformation of Lord Horror. In the end I used a sketch by one of Schlemmer’s pupils, Klaus Barthelmess, for the Horror figure but the Barthelmess drawing was also of a dancer, and is very similar to some of Schlemmer’s designs, especially the silver-headed robot-like figures that appear in the black section of the ballet.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Reverbstorm: Bauhaus Horror

The Use and Abuse of Books

savoy.jpg

Savoy • Savoy • Savoy: The first wave of book covers pinned to the Beardsley wallpaper of the Deansgate office.

I often feel I’m in a minority in never having been desperate to see my work in a gallery. We are, after all, living in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (thanks, Walter), and the idea of having to visit a physical location in order to see a work of art can seem like a rather antiquated affair. (Plenty of arguments counter this, of course, but I don’t create anything that needs to be experienced in situ, and I’m also not enmeshed in the art market.) So it’s been surprising this month to realise that examples of my work are currently on display in Monterey, California (the Tentacles exhibition), London (Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK at the British Library which ends today) and in Manchester (The Exhibition Centre for the Use and Abuse of Books at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation). If all goes according to plan, some of my steampunk book covers will also be exhibited in Beijing next month; more about that later.

dbmb.jpg

Britton & Butterworth by Kris Guidio (1986).

The Use and Abuse of Books is a necessarily brief overview of the 40-year history of Savoy Books, a notable moment in the life of the company since this is the first time any Manchester institution has acknowledged the existence of a local publisher with such a long, varied and often controversial history. In part this is a result of the cultural histories of Manchester concentrating almost exclusively on the music scene. Many of the books and features written about Manchester arts have been produced by DJs or ex-musicians who appear tone-deaf to literary culture despite the existence of Carcanet Press (established 1969), Savoy Books, and other more recent publishers who are happy to operate outside London. (The venerable Jon Savage gets a pass here.) Carping aside, The Use and Abuse of Books describes itself thus:

Featuring text, images and rare promotional content from Savoy’s infamous 1989 publication Lord Horror, the exhibition tackles the question of whether the depiction and description of horrific acts is justified in satire. In 1992 Lord Horror was declared by Judge Gerrard Humphries as ‘a glorification of racism and violence’ whereas writer Michael Moorcock believed the book to belong to ‘a tradition of lampoon, of exaggeration. Its purpose is to show up social evils, and the evils within ourselves.’ Displaying artwork from Sinister Legends and Meng and Ecker alongside other panels from rare comics and graphic novels (including Reverbstorm), The Use and Abuse of Books also examines the relationship between text and imagery within Savoy’s publications, revealing how artwork from John Coulthart, Kris Guidio and James Cawthorn supplements and enhances the storytelling through visual references to architecture, cultural figures or specific works of art. The exhibition will be open 10am–4pm weekdays and in the evenings during events from Friday 15th August until Friday 5th September. (more)

Some of my pages from Lord Horror: Reverbstorm have been printed large-size for the walls, and there’s also a life-size cardboard figure of my Beardsley-style Lord Horror. Savoy publications past and present are on display, including some of my book designs. It’s fitting that this should be taking place under the aegis of the Anthony Burgess Foundation; Burgess was a great Joycean and a champion of two Savoy favourites: William Burroughs and JG Ballard. I can’t imagine him getting too enthusiastic about many of Savoy’s publications but I’d hope he might have appreciated the spirit of Mancunian bloody-mindedness in which they were produced.

Du Tac au Tac: Druillet, Hogarth and Buscema

tacautac.jpg

I thought I was done with Druillet for this week but no, there’s more. I hadn’t come across Du Tac au Tac before, a French TV show from the early 70s in which three (sometimes four) different comic artists are given a total of 15 minutes to improvise a drawing on a single board. The list of contributors is a who’s who of comic talent from France, Belgium, America and elsewhere. French TV site Ina.fr (which is pay-to-view) has 130 episodes in their archive, many of which have found their way onto YouTube. Druillet was a regular contributor, as was Moebius.

I’ve singled out this episode from 1972 for the astonishing conjunction of Druillet with Burne Hogarth, two artists with a considerable influence on my own comics work. Without the example of Heavy Metal magazine in general, and Druillet in particular, I might not have bothered trying to adapt Lovecraft’s stories into comics in the 1980s; at one point I was prepared to put together a book of stories-plus-illustrations along the lines of Berni Wrightson’s Frankenstein. Burne Hogarth, meanwhile, casts a Tarzan-shaped shadow over the darker shadows of the Reverbstorm series, his work being quoted throughout, especially in the appropriation of the bizarre and sinister Ononoes from the Tarzan Sunday strips. The third artist present, John Buscema, is notable if only for representing the comics creation that I like the least: the over-muscled, flat-groined, stupidly-costumed, always-fighting, corporate superhero. As it is, Buscema doesn’t fare too well in this exchange, sketching a half-hearted Silver Surfer while Hogarth (who was left-handed; don’t think I knew that) draws a profile of Tarzan in pastels, and Druillet works furiously with markers to create a typical melange of bat-winged demon, alien glyph and screaming head. I’ve not watched any of the other episodes yet but for those interested there are two channels of the things here and here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Sorcerer: Druillet and Friedkin
Ô Sidarta: a film about Philippe Druillet
Lovecraft: Démons et Merveilles
Heavy Metal, October 1979: the Lovecraft special
Philippe Druillet album covers
Druillet’s vampires
Salammbô illustrated
Druillet meets Hodgson

The Trials of Oz

oztrial.jpg

If it’s a surprise to see Cockney geezer Phil Daniels masquerading as the erudite (and non-Cockney) Thomas De Quincey in The Art of Tripping, it’s even more of a surprise to see Hugh Grant in wig and hippy gear as Richard Neville in this 1991 dramatisation of the obscenity trial against Neville’s Oz magazine. Grant wasn’t exactly unknown when this was made but it was prior to Four Weddings and a Funeral so the casting didn’t seem very notable at the time.

The play was written by Geoffrey Robertson QC from the trial transcripts to observe the 20th anniversary of a lengthy and very public trial. Robertson in 1971 was an assistant to John Mortimer, the magazine’s lawyer, so the reconstruction may be taken to be an accurate one. In addition to Grant as Neville, Simon Callow plays Mortimer, Nigel Hawthorne is prosecutor Brian Leary, and Leslie Phillips is Judge Michael Argyle. Among the witnesses there’s Alfred Molina as George Melly (yet again; see yesterday’s post), and Nigel Planer as DJ John Peel, both of whom were called to testify that the notorious “School Kids” issue of Oz wasn’t an obscene publication. The trial, like the earlier drug busts against the Rolling Stones, was as much about the State trying to clobber a bunch of anarchist upstarts as anything that involved the pros and cons of antiquated laws. The three defendants—Neville, Felix Dennis and Jim Anderson—were also accused of “conspiring to corrupt public morals”; the obscenity issue was merely a pretext for getting the longhairs into the dock.

oz28.jpg

Oz 28 (1970). Art by Raymond Bertrand.

This isn’t a lavish production—it’s stylised to the extent that the public gallery is made up of cardboard figures—but it’s good to know that there’s a (rough) copy out there after my tape of the original broadcast developed a fault. Not available, unfortunately, is the live studio discussion that followed in which Jonathan Dimbleby spoke to Geoffrey Robertson, Germaine Greer and others about the trial. The discussion featured a delicious moment when Dimbleby referred to Greer’s feminist issue (no. 29) as “C-Power Oz“. “Come on, Jonathan,” said Greer, “it was Cunt Power Oz!” Dimbleby then spluttered “Anyone can say ‘Cunt Power Oz‘…” and hastily moved on the discussion.

A year after his TV appearance Geoffrey Robertson was in Manchester Crown Court appealing an earlier ruling of obscenity against David Britton’s Lord Horror (1990) novel. I was in the public gallery on that occasion, and it was an education seeing how little had changed since the Oz trial, with a similarly Philistine and deeply ignorant judge presiding. Robertson overturned the ruling against the novel but a ruling against one of Savoy’s Meng & Ecker comics was upheld. In 1995 we were back in court attempting to argue for a jury trial against further rulings of obscenity, this time against one of my own comics, Hard Core Horror 5. (That issue is now the opening section of the Reverbstorm book.) We failed that time thanks to a magistrate who was even less inclined to listen to any argument.

The Oz trial may seem quaint and farcical today but the issues remain pertinent: some forms of art will always be in conflict with laws that are out-of-date, badly written or maliciously applied. And once you’re standing in a courtroom your opinion about the situation is of no consequence; you’re at the mercy of the people who make the rules.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Martin Sharp, 1942–2013
Raymond Bertrand paintings
Raymond Bertrand’s science fiction covers
The art of Bertrand
Oz magazine, 1967–73

Weekend links 194

roberts.jpg

Untitled glass sculpture by Richard Roberts.

Lord Horror: Reverbstorm, my collaboration with David Britton, makes The Quietus list of Literary Highlights of 2013. At the same site there’s Russell Cuzner talking to English Heretic. “His methodology takes in magick, psychogeography and horror film geekdom, along with firm roots in Britain’s industrial music culture of the early 1980s, to form potent, novel topographies of an otherwise unconnected world of occultists and psychopaths.”

• A slew of London links this week: Geoff Manaugh on how the capital was redesigned to survive wartime blackouts, a piece which inadvertently explains why you see so much black-and-white street furniture in post-war films | Bob Mazzer’s photos of the London Underground in the 1970s and 1980s | Philipp Ebeling’s photos of the capital and its inhabitants today.

• “Science has become an international bully. Nowhere is its bullying more outrageous than in its assault on the phenomenon known as subjectivity.” David Gelernter on “The Closing of the Scientific Mind”. Related: “When Science Becomes Scientism” by Stanislav Grof.

• My favourite book about Orson Welles is This is Orson Welles (1992), a collection of Peter Bogdanovich’s interviews with Welles edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum. Bogdanovich’s interview tapes can now be heard at the Internet Archive.

• Brian Dillon on Dada collagist Hannah Höch who he calls “art’s original punk”, and Sean O’Hagan talking to another collage artist, Linder Sterling, who says “Lady Gaga didn’t acknowledge I wore a meat dress first”.

• One Hundred Years Of Weird Fear: Daniel José Older on HP Lovecraft’s literature of genealogical terror. More fear (and Lovecraft): Will Wiles on the growth of Creepypasta.

The Last Alan Moore Interview? A lengthy discussion with Pádraig Ó Méalóid. Shunning interviews hasn’t done Cormac McCarthy any harm so if I was Alan I wouldn’t worry.

• And speaking of Cormac McCarthy, the headline of the week: “Cormac McCarthy’s ex-wife busted after pulling gun from vagina during alien argument“.

• Where the bodies are buried: Mick Brown presents a potted biography of Kenneth Anger who offers a few reluctant quotes.

• A short animation for gore-obsessed kids: Pingu’s The Thing by Lee Hardcastle.

Helen Yentus designs a 3D-printed slipcase for a novel by Chang-rae Lee.

Ralph Steadman‘s illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 103 by Lustmord.

Collage art at Pinterest.

No Escape (1966) by The Seeds | Pushin’ Too Hard (1966) by The Seeds | No Escape (1979) by Cabaret Voltaire | Pushin’ Too Hard (1982) by Paul Parker