A tabled question

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Work-related research this week had me wondering who it was that first thought of turning Battersea Power Station into a table. For the past few days I’ve been looking at a lot of the illustration work that George Hardie produced for the Hipgnosis album covers in the 70s and 80s; I’ll explain why in due course but the quest led me to seek out the songbook for Pink Floyd’s Animals album, two pages of which can be seen in the first Hipgnosis book.

Hipgnosis would often extend their album design into promotional areas, producing related posters, stickers, and so on. Pink Floyd’s popularity meant there was demand for songbooks, and the one for Animals is a treat for the use it makes of additional photos from the flying-pig sessions at Battersea Power Station. The idea of using the power station for the cover came from Roger Waters, incidentally; a shame he didn’t apply the same invention to his lyrics. But I digress…

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From the Animals songbook (1977). By George Hardie?

Between the photos (and, er, the songs) there are several pages of graphics by (I’m guessing) Bush Hollyhead and George Hardie; the former depicts a pig, dog and sheep in various stylised arrangements while Hardie provided a vignette of bacon rashers on a Battersea table. This was 1977 so I’m assuming it’s the earliest example of the power-station-as-table, unless, of course, somebody out there knows better.

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When the Monster Dies (1990) by Kate Pullinger. Illustration by Willie Ryan.

And sure enough… Thanks to herr doktor bimler for suggesting this one.

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Robber Baron Table (2006) by Studio Job.

Artist David Mach took up the table idea in the 1990s to produce a series of collages showing an enormous chimney-legged chair sitting beside the power station. There’s no explanation as to why the table should be upside down but then artists often don’t think things through as well as designers. A better idea is the Battersea-like Robber Baron Table (2006) by Studio Job, part of a series of furniture concepts suitable for oligarchs and those who work in the City of London.

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And so to the inevitable, one of a number of stylish tables currently being manufactured by the Battersea Table company.

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Not a table but another clever repurposing of Giles Gilbert Scott’s architecture. Atypyk makes concrete ashtrays for those who still smoke, with the chimneys formed from unsmoked cigarettes. Battersea Power Station when it was in use did much to contribute to London’s polluted air so this seems a fitting by-product. Are there any more examples out there?

Previously on { feuilleton }
Design as virus 16: Prisms
Labels
Storm Thorgerson, 1944–2013
Hipgnosis turkeys
Peter Christopherson, 1955–2010
Storm Thorgerson: Right But Wrong
Battersea Power Station

Monsieur René Magritte, a film by Adrian Maben

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Until the end of his life, [Magritte] preferred to take the tram.

Now there’s an attitude I approve of. George Melly in his BBC film about Surrealism mentions visiting Magritte at his home in Brussels, and we see Magritte’s house at the beginning of Adrian Maben’s 50-minute film about the artist’s life and work. Maben’s film was made in 1978 as an Franco-German TV production but the narration, by Maben himself, is in English. Surrealism seemed to be back in vogue in 1978: as mentioned yesterday, the Hayward Gallery in London staged an exhibition of Surrealist art that year, the BBC commissioned George Melly’s film as a result of this, while over on rival network ITV there was the marvellous documentary about Surrealist patron Edward James who modelled for one of Magritte’s most famous paintings, La reproduction interdite (1937).

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Adrian Maben’s name will be familiar to Pink Floyd obsessives as the director of Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (1972), and if you’re familiar with that film you can recognise the same shooting style in his Magritte film which deploys similar slow zooms, tracking shots and images sliding in and out of the frame. The music is credited to a surprising combination of Béla Bartók (mostly piano) and Roger Waters, although some of the pieces from the latter are actually by Pink Floyd, there’s even some of the opening of Obscured By Clouds. In style and content the film is as good as anything the BBC were producing at the time, with extracts from a TV interview with the artist, and also some of Magritte’s high-spirited home movies made with his wife and friends.

Magritte and Pink Floyd are a fitting match, some of the Floyd’s album covers could be Magritte paintings rendered photographically: two men shaking hands, one of whom is on fire; a giant pig adrift over a power station. Storm Thorgerson always acknowledged the debt that Hipgnosis owed Magritte’s example, it’s there in the title of the first Hipgnosis book, Walk Away René, and in this short Tate interview from 2011 where he mentions the Wish You Were Here album as being a very conscious Magritte homage.

Previously on { feuilleton }
George Melly’s Memoirs of a Self-Confessed Surrealist
The Secret Life of Edward James
René Magritte by David Wheatley

Gerald Scarfe’s Long Drawn-Out Trip

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Yet more animation. Long Drawn-Out Trip was Gerald Scarfe‘s first foray into the medium, produced in 1972 at the request of the BBC who sent the artist to Los Angeles to try out the new De Joux animation system. The process needed only six or eight drawings per second of film thus reducing the usual amount of labour. Scarfe says in the first book collection of his work, Gerald Scarfe (1982), that the 16-minute film was still very labour intensive.

The subject of Long Drawn-Out Trip is Los Angeles and America itself, the concerns being the same ones that Ralph Steadman was depicting that year in his illustrations for Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72: venality, violence, vulgarity and the omnipresent spectre of Richard Nixon, a president who had the good fortune to be drawn many times by two of Britain’s greatest living satirists although he wouldn’t have thanked them for it. In Scarfe’s film we also find Mickey Mouse being reduced to his constituent lines and colours after smoking a joint. In the 1980s Scarfe regularly drew Ronald Reagan wearing the famous mouse ears, something that nearly got him fired from his post at the Sunday Times after Rupert Murdoch saw one of the cartoons. Long Drawn-Out Trip had a more favourable effect when it was seen by Roger Waters who asked Scarfe to create some animations for Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here tour. The animated sequences for The Wall have their origin in this short film.

Long Drawn-Out Trip can be viewed here where the 4:3 ratio has been grievously stretched to 16:9. For those who know how, I’d suggest downloading it then watching it in the proper aspect ratio.

Rick Wright, 1943–2008

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Rick Wright in 1971.

As has been noted nearly everywhere by now, Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright went to the Great Gig in the Sky earlier this week, and I’m sure the inevitability of using the title of his most famous composition in this way wouldn’t have surprised him. I may as well note here that he was always credited as Rick on the albums following Piper at the Gates of Dawn, not Richard. I saw Pink Floyd perform The Wall in the cavernous bounds of Earl’s Court, London in August 1980 so I suppose I can claim to have seen him play, if watching a speck on a distant stage counts as seeing anyone. Wright’s falling out with the increasingly fractious Roger Waters saw him treated as a session musician by that point and while the show was impressively bombastic I can’t bear to hear that dreary and hysterical album any more. (Unless it’s Scissor Sisters covering Comfortably Numb.) Far better to remember Wright for his psychedelic songs such as Remember A Day from A Saucerful of Secrets.

Update: Thom reminds me that French musician Hector Zazou also died earlier this month.