Peter Christopherson Photography & The Art of John Balance Collected

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Look at it this way / In ten years’ time / Who’ll care? / Who’ll even remember?

Coil, The Dreamer Is Still Asleep

Coil’s John Balance died ten years ago today, bringing an end to two decades of a project that, in its earliest stages, was his own solo musical venture. Ten years on, Coil and Balance have hardly been forgotten: in addition to Coil’s continuing influence in the music world, Jeremy Reed & Karolina Urbaniak recently announced Altered Balance: A Tribute to Coil, a memorial volume whose publication is followed this week by two Coil-related art books from Timeless Editions:

Peter Christopherson: Photography

The legendary unpublished photographic work of Peter Christopherson. The b/w photos featured in the book run the gamut from personal fetishes to social commentary on 1970s UK, portraits of bands, friends and strangers. There are both snapshots and highly staged scenarios. Approximately 95% of this material is published here for the first time ever. Foreword by Claus Laufenburg and a short personal reminiscence by Thighpaulsandra. B/W hardbound, 27 x 33.5 cm, 284 pages.

Bright Lights And Cats With No Mouths: The Art of John Balance Collected

The first ever extensive overview of art (drawings, paintings and sketches) created by John Balance. The artworks featured in the book are both finished elaborate hallucinatory pieces as well as quick sketches with a good sprinkling of Balance’s often underestimated humour. Homages to idols and inspirations next to idiosyncratic magical dreamscapes executed in a wide variety of styles and mediums Compiled by Liam Thomas and Thighpaulsandra. With text by Val Denham and Jeremy Reed. Full colour throughout. 29 x 29 cm, 248 pages.

Both books are limited editions, and given the obsessive nature of Coil collectors they’ll probably sell out very quickly. Both volumes are significant, albeit for very different reasons. Peter Christopherson had a long career as a photographer, famously as one-third of the Hipgnosis design partnership, but outside his professional work, and publicity shots for Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV and Coil, his personal work was always more alluded to than seen. One of the Hipgnosis books mentions his involvement with a group who staged realistic accident and trauma scenes for medical workers but little of this material has been seen until now. Elsewhere in the collection there are shots that resemble some of those that did surface occasionally, also some recurrent obsessions: thuggish youths, violent death, urban dereliction and male bodies. Still no sign of the photos of the Sex Pistols that (we’re told) Malcolm McLaren deemed too heavy.

The John Balance book fascinates simply for showing work that was even more hidden, and hardly alluded to at all. John and I did talk about his artistic endeavours once during our sporadic communications—the 3D scenes on the Musick To Play In The Dark albums were his creations using some PC program whose name I forget—but there was never a hint that he’d produced so much. The publisher sent me a link to their preview pages (here & here) so a few samples follow.

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Val Denham album covers

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Funeral In Berlin (1981) by Throbbing Gristle.

British artist and musician Val Denham was mentioned in yesterday’s post so I thought it worthwhile following up with a selection of the painter’s record sleeves. Denham’s art stood out for me when I first saw the cover of Throbbing Gristle’s Funeral In Berlin album. For its visceral immediacy this is still a big favourite. The early 1980s were the perfect time for Denham’s paintings to appear on record sleeves, the diminished area of CD packages providing a poor stage for work that’s this vivid and dramatic. Denham’s associations with Throbbing Gristle extended to work with Marc Almond, a cover for the Some Bizzare compilation If You Can’t Please Yourself You Can’t, Please Your Soul which featured ex-TG members Coil and Psychic TV, and further associations with Coil allies Black Sun Productions. Many of these connections can be explored at Denham’s detailed website which has a great gallery section showing work in a variety of media from the past thirty years. Denham’s art is surreal, intense, often disturbing, and deeply personal in its exploration of shifting gender boundaries. Isn’t it time someone published a Val Denham book?

Some cover samples follow. More can be seen at the artist’s website.

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Untitled (1982) by Marc and The Mambas. Design by Huw Feather.

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Torment And Toreros (front, 1983) by Marc and The Mambas. Design by Huw Feather.

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Torment And Toreros (back, 1983) by Marc and The Mambas. Design by Huw Feather.

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A Moment of Inspiration, 1983

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Marc Almond (1983) by John Coulthart.

This, girls and boys, is how we occupied ourselves in the long nights before the advent of 24-hour television: we sat up drawing portraits of Marc Almond. A conversation on Twitter reminded me of this, a drawing that’s never before appeared in public but which is now added to the web collection. For a quick piece of art it’s actually a lot more successful than many of the more laboured things of mine that were printed far and wide at this time. The portrait was copied from a magazine photo, I forget which one, possibly Flexipop if it was still going, an increasingly wayward title that had a soft spot (so to speak) for Soft Cell. The Spanish hat identifies it as being from the Torment and Toreros period while the lettering was taken from Val Denham and Huw Feather’s cover design for the first Marc and The Mambas album, Untitled (1982). The padded-cell background refers, of course, to Marc’s former group, and was copied from the back of the Bedsitter 12″. Most of the drawing is done in black Biro pen with the hat and shirt in gouache. On the back I happened to make a note of the date, something I seldom bother with.

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The Twitter conversation was prompted by the appearance of Soft Cell’s notorious Sex Dwarf video at Dangerous Minds; Flexipop enjoyed the scurrilous side of Soft Cell so much they printed a still from this Bacchanal as a centre-spread in one of their issues. Meanwhile Marc himself was writing in the Guardian this week about Bowie manqué Jobriath, one of the real-life inspirations for the Brian Slade character in Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine, and the subject of a feature-length documentary, Jobriath A.D., by Kieran Turner, currently showing at the BFI’s London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.

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