Foss, Jodorowsky and low-flying spacecraft

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Discovered last week in a local charity shop (and for a fraction of the usual asking price), 21st Century Foss, the Dragon’s Dream collection of Chris Foss paintings from 1978. Foss’s book covers were impossible to avoid in the Britain of the 1970s, often to a ridiculous degree when publishers would stick a spacecraft by the artist or one of his imitators on a book containing no spaceships at all. His ubiquity made him the first cover artist who registered with me as exactly that, an identifiable name whose work suggested that this kind of artistic activity might be something worth pursuing.

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I bought a few of the books published by Dragon’s Dream/Paper Tiger in the late 70s/early 80s but many of them weren’t interesting enough to warrant the exhausting of my meagre finances. Ian Miller, yes; Chris Foss, no. Architecture, whether real or invented, was generally more interesting than spaceships, even when the latter were unique designs like the typical Foss behemoth. (There is architecture in many of Foss’s paintings but I preferred Roger Dean’s aesthetics, the fluid and organic buildings, the vehicles modelled on birds, fish and insects.) Foss also suffered from that process of mental evolution whereby you reject an early enthusiasm when you find something that has a more obsessive hold. In musical terms, his paintings were like glam pop, the first music that made a deep impression but which was swiftly displaced by progressive rock and electronic music. Despite the repudiation I still get a weird charge when I see one of his paintings, an instant jolt back to an adolescent mental space. His cover for Midsummer Century by James Blish does this to an excessive degree, being one of a handful of Foss pictures that caused me to attempt some imitative drawings of my own circa 1975. Those drawings, which went astray years ago, caused a minor stir of appreciation among schoolfriends, a reaction that made me realise I was doing something right, however amateurish the attempt.

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Ballard’s Low-Flying Aircraft collection is labelled on the rear as “Fiction”, and is spaceship-free, whatever the cover may suggest.

21st Century Foss belies its title by being more than a simple parade of spacecraft designs. There are Foss covers that you never see in internet galleries—pictures of submarines, ships and aircraft from the Second World War—together with a few pieces used on the covers of crank titles. Ballard aficionados may like to know that the cover for the Panther paperback of Crash is reproduced here on a full page. The latter is a good example of the thinking in paperback publishing at the time: “Ballard is science fiction so we need an SF artist for this one!” Foss had earlier illustrated two volumes of The Joy of Sex so must have seemed an ideal match. According to Rick Poynor, the artist hated the novel while the author disliked the cover.

Foss’s book opens with a section about his designs for three feature films: Jodorowsky’s Dune, Superman and Alien. None of his concepts ended up on the screen but it’s good to see the Dune designs in print. This section is also prefaced by two pages of hyperactive hyperbole for Foss and his art from Alejandro Jodorowsky. The same text may be found at Duneinfo but it bears repeating here as a further example of the manic director in full flight. Incidentally, the “English magazine” that’s referred to is most likely Science Fiction Monthly for February 1974, an issue which contained a collection of Foss paintings plus an interview with the artist.

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Weekend links 567

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Cover art by Roger Dean for Woyaya (1971), the second album by Osibisa. Dean’s flying elephants made their first appearance on the group’s debut album, and have been an Osibisa emblem ever since.

• Many of Roger Dean’s early album covers are better creations than the music on the albums they decorate. This isn’t the case with Osibisa, however, a Ghanaian group based in London whose discography includes (uniquely, I think) two covers by Dean together with one by Mati Klarwein. The group’s first two albums, Osibisa and Woyaya, are exceptional blends of Ghanaian music with rock, funk and jazz whose omission from the generally reliable Kozmigroov list is a serious error. Garth Cartwright talked to Teddy Osei and Lord Eric Sugumugu about Osibisa past and present.

• “The antiheroes of Angry Young Men cinema railed against the limited life opportunities available to them. Wired and frustrated, they especially chafed against girlfriends, wives, domesticity. Yet they never questioned heterosexuality itself. Not, at least, until The Leather Boys (1964), a relatively little-known film directed by Canadian expatriate Sidney J. Furie.” Sukhdev Sandhu on a film about gay life in pre-decriminalisation Britain that offered a slightly more positive view of its subject than the justifiably angst-ridden Victim (1961).

• “Brian Aldiss once confided to me that the big problem with American science fiction writers was that they loved to write about Mars but knew nothing about Indonesia.” Bruce Sterling on the attractions of being an expatriate writer who adopts a foreign persona, as he did for the stories collected in Robot Artists and Black Swans.

• New music: Fire Tower by The Grid / Fripp. Dave Ball, Richard Norris and Robert Fripp have been collaborating on and off since The Grid’s 456 album in 1992. Fire Tower is a preview of Leviathan, a new album out in June on CD/DVD and double vinyl.

• RIP Michael Collins, the astronaut who orbited the Moon alone, listening to Symphonie Fantastique by Berlioz in the Command Module of Apollo 11 while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were walking on the satellite’s surface.

• “‘Walking with a thesis’ could easily function as the subtitle for a significant number of Iain Sinclair’s books.” Tobias Carroll on Iain Sinclair and the radical act of walking through a city.

• “‘Plain speaking, like plain food, is a puritan virtue and thus no virtue at all,’ Meades pronounces.” Steven Poole reviews Pedro and Ricky Come Again by Jonathan Meades.

• Building a panorama: Clive Hicks-Jenkins‘ latest progress report on his Cocteau-inspired illustrated edition of Beauty and the Beast.

• At Unquiet Things: Groovy Goddesses From Dimension X: Gene Szafrans’ Kaleidoscopic Book Covers.

• From leather boys to leather men: Miss Rosen on the little-known photography of Tom of Finland.

Alexis Petridis attempts the impossible again, with a list of Grace Jones’ best songs.

• At Dennis Cooper‘s: Cars.

I’m A Leather Boy (1967) by The Leather Boy | Warm Leatherette (1980) by Grace Jones | Leather Bound (2017) by Patrick Cowley

Solid Space: Jon Anderson’s cosmic voyage

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Jon Anderson’s solo debut, Olias Of Sunhillow, is reissued this week in a double-disc set comprising a remastered CD plus an audio DVD. I’d been hoping for some time that this album might be given a proper reissue, it’s one I like a great deal but my old CD has never sounded as good as it ought to. The album may command cult status round here but you don’t see it mentioned anywhere outside Yes forums or partisan enclaves like the Prog Archives. This post may be taken as a small corrective to the neglect.

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Olias Of Sunhillow was released in 1976, and was the most unusual of all the solo albums recorded by the individual members of Yes in the mid-70s, being a spin-off from some of the group’s early albums, or at least their cover art. Roger Dean’s first cover work for the group was on Fragile in 1971, for which he painted a miniature world rather like one of MC Escher’s planetoids. This was Dean’s idea, the band had suggested a broken piece of porcelain as the cover image. The back cover of the album showed the same planet in a state of fragmentation with a fish-like spaceship floating above it (see below). Another drawing of the fish-ship was added to the front cover before the album’s release, and it’s this ship, and the narrative it suggests, that leads eventually to Anderson’s solo album. Two years after Fragile, the planetary disintegration had turned into an exodus on the group’s triple-live album, Yessongs, the back cover of which shows pieces of planet being towed through space by a similar fish-ship. The other panels of the cover depict the arrival of these fragments on a newer, larger world. Anderson’s album takes this sequence of events then filters them through Vera Stanley Alder’s mysticism to craft a musical odyssey which Discogs describes as:

…the story of an alien race and their journey to a new world due to catastrophe. Olias, the title character, is the chosen architect of the glider Moorglade, which will be used to fly his people to their new home. Ranyart is the navigator for the glider, and Qoquaq is the leader who unites the four tribes of Sunhillow to partake in the exodus.

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For many years in British music circles it would have been a grave error to even acknowledge this album’s existence, never mind admit to actually liking it. This was partly the old animus against progressive rock, an unexamined prejudice that lasted well into the 1990s, but Anderson’s album had so many strikes against it that it might have stood as the winner of a disapproval lottery for the more ideologically rigid writers and readers of the NME. It’s Jon Anderson (strike 1), the lead singer of progressive rock (2) group Yes (3), whose album is a science fiction (4)/ fantasy (5) concept (6), littered with Tolkien-like invented names and words (7), and with a multi-page sleeve embellished with detailed fantasy illustrations (8) by David Fairbrother-Roe. The design was art directed by Hipgnosis, who subsequently designed the next two Yes albums. Anderson originally wanted Roger Dean to create the packaging, which would have provided a further strike of disapproval against the album, but Dean’s career had gone into overdrive following the publication of Views so he either didn’t have the time or didn’t want to be involved. In Views Dean mentions “another project” based on the fish-ship’s journey which may be a reference to Anderson’s forthcoming album, the credits of which thank Dean for “planting the seed”.

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Roger Dean’s original artwork for Fragile (1971). Another fish-ship was added to the final cover art.

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Science Fiction Monthly

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Art by Chris Foss.

Recent uploads at the Internet Archive include an incomplete run of British magazine Science Fiction Monthly, a large-format collection of SF art and original fiction that ran for 28 issues from 1974 to 1976. Science Fiction Monthly was significant for my generation since it was the only regular British SF magazine available in the mid-70s. (Michael Moorcock and co. were still producing issues of New Worlds but the only ones I saw were the quarterly paperbacks). Science Fiction Monthly was published by New English Library which made it seem at first glance like a promotional tool for the publisher, even more so when most of the cover art and almost all the ads were for NEL titles. The early issues lean heavily on NEL content but later issues had a broader reach and contained all the features you’d expect from an SF magazine of the period: news columns, film reviews, interviews, a bad comic strip, and so on. The thing I liked most at the time was the reproduction of book cover art at a large size, with full-colour paintings filling the broadsheet pages or spreads, all printed with the intention of being removed and fixed to bedroom walls. The early issues were also unique in giving regular attention to the artists, running interviews and even showing photographs of the people responsible for all of that familiar paperback art. I didn’t see all of the early issues but the interviews were later collected in book form by NEL in Visions of the Future (Janet Sacks ed., 1976), a volume that made a considerable impression since it showed me that SF and fantasy illustration was a viable career rather than the product of remote and mysterious talents.

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Artist Bruce Pennington (see this post).

A few page samples follow. It’s a shame the collection at the Internet Archive is incomplete since the magazine’s contents were interesting to the end. The only copy I own today is the one for October 1975 (not currently available online) which is almost a JG Ballard special, with a feature on the writer, an interview about his new novel, High-Rise, and an original piece of fiction.

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Art by Bruce Pennington.

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Art by David Pelham.

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Roger Dean postage stamps

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Roger Dean book covers last week; this week it’s postage stamps. These are exclusive to the Isle of Man Post Office, unfortunately, so there’s little chance of buying them over the counter in mainland Britain. First day covers, presentation packs and individual sheets may be ordered from the post office website, however. For those who can visit the Isle of Man there’s also an exhibition of Dean’s art running at the Manx Museum in Douglas until November.

Several of the paintings on the stamps are from the covers for albums by Yes and Asia, including the one above which was used twice on the live Yessongs album in 1973. (The large version inside the gatefold had a figure of a girl and a fish spacecraft added.) The version appearing on the stamp is Dean’s recent reworking of the piece. This removed the airbrushed clouds—added to disguise the footprints of his cats which had walked over the painting when it was drying—and also smoothed the gradients and added a reflection. I’ve been familiar with the album version of this picture for decades so I prefer the rougher original as it is on the cover (and in Dean’s Views book) without the girl and spacecraft.

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One other thing of note is Dean’s lettering design for the stamps. When I wrote about Dean’s art a few years ago I drew attention to the way his design work has been either marginalised or ignored altogether by people who dismiss him as a mere fantasy artist. All of Dean’s album covers have included unique letterforms that are immediately recognisable as his own (so too the logos and lettering he was designing for computer games in the 1980s) but I’ve yet to see this side of his work given any serious attention. (Postage stamp tip via It’s Nice That.)

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Roger Dean book covers
Design as virus 17: Boris and Roger Dean
Roger Dean: artist and designer