Wyndham Lewis: Portraits

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James Joyce by Wyndham Lewis (1921).

Wyndham Lewis: Portraits is an exhibition running at the National Portrait Gallery, London, until October 19, 2008. I’m still slowly reading my way through Ulysses so here’s Lewis’s sketch of Joyce, a drawing I’ve always liked for its curving lines. The exhibition notes mention Joyce as one of the subjects on display so visitors may be able to see the original there.

Library of the lost | Iain Sinclair on Lewis’s portraiture.
Banned TS Eliot portrait goes on show

Previously on { feuilleton }
Picasso-esque
Books for Bloomsday
Finnegan begin again

My pastiches

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Lord Horror: Reverbstorm #3 (1992).

Following from the post about an art forgery exhibition (and Eddie Campbell discussing his American Gothic cover for Bacchus), I thought I’d post some of my own forgeries, or pastiches as we call them when no deception is intended.

Reverbstorm was the Lord Horror comic series I was creating with David Britton for Savoy in the 1990s. The Modernist techniques of collage (as in the work of Picasso and others) and quotation (as in TS Eliot’s The Waste Land) became themes in themselves as the series developed, so it seemed natural to imitate the styles of various artists as we went along. Pastiche is also a chance to flagrantly show off, of course, and I can’t deny that this was also one of my impulses here.

Issue #3 of Reverbstorm had marauding apes as its theme, from the Rue Morgue to Tarzan and King Kong, so I had the idea of doing an ape cover in the style of the celebrated paintings by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527–1593) which make human heads out of fruit, flowers or animals. Easy enough to have the idea but making it work took a lot of effort and required careful sketching beforehand, something I rarely do. The painting was gouache on board, a medium I’d been using for years and this was about the last gouache work I did before switching to acrylics.

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Joe Orton

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Gary Oldman as Joe Orton in Prick Up Your Ears (1987).

Ken: At least you can say you’ve sat in the same chair as TS Eliot.
Joe: Yes, I’m never going to wipe my bum again.

Gay playwright Joe Orton receives a welcome renewal of attention this month with a showing of films at the ICA in London and the 20th anniversary re-release of Prick Up Your Ears, the great Orton biopic by Alan Bennett and Stephen Frears. Gary Oldman is marvellously sexy (and funny) as Orton in Frears’ film, Alfred Molina is equally good as his increasingly neurotic lover, Kenneth Halliwell (who eventually murdered Orton before killing himself), and there’s decent casting throughout, with Vanessa Redgrave playing Peggy Ramsay and Julie Walters hilarious as Orton’s mother.

Prick Up Your Ears was originally Halliwell’s title for a script Orton was writing for the Beatles (“…much too good a title to waste on a film,” said Orton.) That film idea, variously titled Up Against It and 8 Arms To Hold You, was deemed “too gay” by McCartney and co., not least because Orton had all four Beatles sleeping in the same bed. He also wrote that “…the boys, in my script, have been caught in flagrante, become involved in dubious political activity, dressed as women, committed murder, been put in prison and committed adultery. And the script isn’t finished yet.” Now you know why the third Beatles film was an animated one.

A feature in The Guardian examining Orton’s legacy, as well as the film, has this to say of Prick Up Your Ears:

it was the first mainstream British film to depict the gay underworld of West End toilets and sign language that existed in an age when homosexuality was still illegal.

And much of it was filmed on location in Orton’s haunts. Every time I’ve been through Islington tube station I think of the scene where Gary Oldman picks up a guy he’s been eying in the lift.

Orton had the misfortune to die in 1967, the year homosexuality was decriminalised in Britain. Well… decriminalised so long as you were both 21, not members of the Armed Forces and there was no one else in the room with you; Orton could have made a play out of such farcical restrictions. But the film makes it clear that the existence of a stupid law—which caused the downfall of another playwright, Oscar Wilde—did nothing to prevent him enjoying himself. The Guardian has another quote from him:

[The police] interfere far too much with private morals—whether people are having it off in the backs of cars or smoking marijuana, or doing the interesting little things one does.

They still do, Joe.

The web doesn’t serve Orton’s memory very well; the links below are some of the more interesting finds.

An interview from June, 1967
Joe Orton at the BBC Sound Archive
Joe Orton at GLBTQ
The Disappearing Gentlemens’ Lavatories of Old London
(A hymn to the public convenience by Dudley Sutton, dedicated to Joe Orton.)

Previously on { feuilleton }
Passion play
The Poet and the Pope
Please Mr. Postman
All you need is…
Queer Noises