Weekend links 198

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Bum (1966) by Pauline Boty.

Eleanor Birne on Pauline Boty, “the only prominent female Pop artist among a generation of famous men”. Ken Russell’s Pop Art documentary, Pop Goes the Easel (1962), which features Boty, may be seen here. Two years later Boty was back with Ken Russell playing the part of the prostitute from The Miraculous Mandarin in a film about Béla Bartók. That’s something I’d love to see. There’s more about her painting, and the work of other female Pop artists, here.

• Why Are We Sleeping? Mark Pilkington on the music world’s recurrent interest in the philosophy of GI Gurdjieff. Pilkington’s most recent Raagnagrok release with Zali Krishna, Man Woman Birth Death Infinity, was reviewed by Peter Bebergal.

• Cinematic details: Frames-within-frames in The Ipcress File (1966), and the typography of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

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A Jay Shaw poster for Ben Wheatley’s forthcoming film of High-Rise.

• “…a large cavity must be dug in the bird’s shoulder and filled with ball bearings.” Christine Baumgarthuber on the dubious delights of The Futurist Cookbook.

• Why Tatlin Can Never Go Home Again: Rick Poynor on the difficulties of finding a definitive representation of an artwork online.

Jay Parini reviews Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris by Edmund White. At AnOther Donatien Grau talks to White about fashion.

• At Bajo el Signo de Libra (in Spanish): the homoerotic and occasionally Surrealist art of Pavel Tchelitchew.

• At 50 Watts: Kling Klang Gloria: Vintage Children’s Books from Austria.

• The motorbike girl gangs of Morocco photographed by Hassan Hajjaj.

Geoff Manaugh on how LED streetlights will change cinema.

Stylus “is an experiment in sound, music and listening”.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen mix 106 by Senking.

• At Pinterest: JG Ballard

This Is Pop? (1978) by XTC | Pop Muzik (1979) by M | Pop Quiz (1995) by Stereolab

Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake

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More psychedelia (there’s always more psychedelia). Listening to this Small Faces album this week I couldn’t remember whether my vinyl reissue from the 1980s had survived the vinyl purge I instituted a few years ago. It turns out I do still have the vinyl copy, a facsimile of the original circular sleeve. Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake was released in 1968. Despite the innovative sleeve design and the generally tripped-out atmosphere (especially on side two) it seldom gets included in retrospectives of psychedelic album art. This is surprising since for design and execution it’s far better than the sleeves for Their Satanic Majesties Request and Magical Mystery Tour, the latter a great album with a really awful cover. I suspect the Small Faces’ album gets overlooked because the most typically psychedelic aspect of the artwork—the drawing/collage below—is hidden inside, the rest of the cover being a careful imitation of an “Ogdens’ Nut-brown Flake” tobacco tin. XTC borrowed the circular sleeve idea for their 1984 album The Big Express.

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Interior panel. Illustration by P. Brown.

The drawing is credited to one “P. Brown”; the sleeve design, we’re told, was the work of Mick Swan who did nothing else in this area. If I’m vague about the details it’s because my copies of the album (CD and vinyl) contain no information other than the label copy. I imagine recent reissues which have had booklet notes will are more enlightening. This page has some comments from the band as to how the tobacco tin idea came about.

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The opened-out sleeve.

Original copies of this album used to command high prices (so to speak) since the fragile nature of the hinges holding together each part of the sleeve meant they rapidly wore out. Subsequent editions tended to be in regular square sleeves. My CD edition from 1989 was the first to make the most of the tobacco tin concept by packaging the whole thing in a tin. Inside you get a small reproduction of the fold-out sleeve and six somewhat redundant beer mats or coasters.

The band played two-thirds of the album on the BBC’s Colour Me Pop in 1968, complete with an appearance by Stan “The Man” Unwin who provides the “loony links” on the second side of Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake. Most editions of Colour Me Pop are lost but that episode survived, and may be watched here.

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The opened-out sleeve (obverse).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive

Storm Thorgerson, 1944–2013

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Wish You Were Here (outer and inner sleeve, 1975) by Pink Floyd.

Whenever people ask questions about your work at some point the subject of influences always turns up. Influences for me are usually few, they’re those things which skew your perception to such a degree—or which enlarge the range of possibilities—that they make you follow a path you might otherwise have never pursued. I’ve said on many occasions that the window of our local record shop in the 1970s was an art gallery whose contents changed every week, with gatefold sleeves offering an endless variety of fantastic visions and smart designs. I was often indifferent to the music the sleeves were intended to advertise, if a favourite band happening to have a great record sleeve then so much the better. It wasn’t that I wanted to be a record sleeve designer as such, more that the views (as Roger Dean called his first book) were incredibly stimulating, and they excited me enough that I wanted to have the creation of images like that in my future.

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Wish You Were Here shrinkwrap and George Hardie’s sticker design.

I’ve written at some length about Roger Dean and Barney Bubbles but it was Hipgnosis that dominated those window displays during the golden age of record sleeve design. Obituaries of Storm Thorgerson have rightly been acknowledging the contributions of his Hipgnosis design partners Aubrey Powell and Peter Christopherson, but Thorgerson always came across as the driving force, a position reinforced by his text for the group’s first book collection, An ABC of the Work of Hipgnosis: Walk Away René (1978), and by his post-Hipgnosis career which continued to generate even more startling images. Walk Away René is like the designs of Hipgnosis themselves: witty, clever, and beautifully produced, while Thorgerson’s commentary is refreshingly honest both about the details of album sleeve production, and in its lack of the affectation which afflicts many design books. Working in the music business probably helped maintain a no-bullshit attitude; it’s difficult to imagine many other designers cheerfully announcing in their first public showcase that their studio is so primitive that everyone has to piss in the sink. Or, as I noted in December, drawing attention to your least favourite covers in an even more lavish showcase.

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The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973) by Pink Floyd.

The cover examples here have been chosen via the essays in For the Love of Vinyl: The Album Art of Hipgnosis (2008) where several people were asked to choose their favourite sleeves. I’d find it impossible to choose a favourite although at a push I’d probably go for Wish You Were Here. With its absence/four elements concept, in its original package—the postcard insert, the unlabelled sleeve shrink-wrapped in black cellophane then stickered with a George Hardie drawing which I once laboriously copied—it comes close to perfection when you’re discussing album covers as works of art.

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Presence (1976) by Led Zeppelin.

The Hipgnosis Covers site is the place to see more work by Storm Thorgerson and company.

Storm Thorgerson, Pink Floyd and the final secret of the world’s greatest record sleeve designer
The Guardian: “The best album designer in the world”
Storm Thorgerson remembered by Aubrey Powell
Adrian Shaughnessy at Creative Review
Mark Blake at MOJO
Telegraph obituary

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Go 2 (1978) by XTC.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The record covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Hipgnosis turkeys
Peter Christopherson, 1955–2010
Storm Thorgerson: Right But Wrong
Battersea Power Station

Hill figures

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Last year I was searching out various works of American land art via Google Maps. This is a similar post looking for some of Britain’s hillside figures, all of which are far older than any 20th-century artworks even if some of them aren’t as old as people hope. The antiquity of the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire has been established, however, the figure being estimated to be at least three thousand years old. The debate in this case is whether it represents a horse, a dragon or some other creature. What’s most fascinating about the figure is that it can’t be seen from any of the surrounding area, it’s only visible at the top of the hill; all other hill figures are intended to be viewed from a distance. There are other white horse figures carved into southern England’s chalky hillsides but the rest look like distinctly modern creatures. The Uffington carving resembles the kind of animals seen in cave paintings.

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The Long Man of Wilmington in East Sussex provokes endless speculation as to its age and purpose. In the case of this figure and the Cerne Abbas Giant (below) there are no written records of them earlier than the 16th century whereas the Uffington horse is mentioned in medieval texts. This doesn’t rule out their being far older but it implies that their origin may be more recent and more mundane than some would like to believe. The satellite view of the Long Man currently on Google Maps shows that local wags have given the figure a smiley face.

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The most famous erect penis in Britain can be found near the village of Cerne Abbas in Dorset. In the 1930s the Bishop of Salisbury petitioned the Home Office to have the giant phallus covered over, to no avail.

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Not a hill figure, this is the remains of a crop circle I noticed when looking at Avebury from the air. There are no doubt more to be found, Wiltshire is apparently a popular area for circle makers.

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Uno (1974) by Uno.

Given the usual subjects of concern here I have to mention these two album covers which make use of hill figures. The Uno sleeve is a design by Hipgnosis which is a lot more well-known than the album it decorates. The original XTC vinyl sleeve designed by Ken Ansell was textured card with the horse and lettering embossed into the surface. I’ve not been able to find a cover featuring the Cerne Abbas Giant although that doesn’t mean to say there isn’t one.

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English Settlement (1982) by XTC.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Land art
How to make crop circles

Storm Thorgerson: Right But Wrong

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Storm Thorgerson, he of the great design partnership Hipgnosis, has some of his album covers and other work in exhibition this month at the Idea Generation Gallery, London. The exhibition runs to May 2nd. This Sunday (April 11th) he’ll be signing copies of his books at the gallery from 2pm.

Alongside some of the most iconic images from his seminal career, the exhibition will include previously unseen sculptures, sketches and writings from the artist. Right But Wrong will provide an in-depth account of the artist and the processes behind some of the artist’s most acclaimed works. Especially for Idea Generation Gallery, Storm will also present a number of brand new site-specific installations, including ambitious reinterpretations of a few his most renowned pieces. (More.)

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Go 2 by XTC (1978).

News of the exhibition inspired the BBC news site to create a slideshow featuring Hipgnosis covers and examples of Thorgerson’s post-Hipgnosis work. Everyone invariably throws up a Pink Floyd cover when discussing Hipgnosis. Rather than do that, allow me to point you to XTC’s Go 2 album from 1978, the last word (so to speak) in self-referential album design.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive