Works of Calder

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The “Calder” being artist Alexander Calder in a 20-minute portrait by photographer Herbert Matter, with music by John Cage and narration by Burgess Meredith. A small boy (Matter’s son, Alex) wanders along a beach then into a workshop where he finds a man identified in the narration as “Sandy Calder” cutting sheets of metal into shapes for his mobile sculptures. The film aims for the poetic but also happens to show us the mundane labour involved in creating artworks which, 70 years later, you’ll only encounter in a gallery or museum. I’m not a Cage expert but I think the music is from his pieces for prepared piano.

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I used to wonder what happened to Calder’s reputation in the 1980s, a question I still don’t have an answer for today. In the 1970s, when I started reading books about contemporary art, those mobiles were always mentioned somewhere. The “mobile” concept was an influential one, in the world of home decor as much as the art gallery, easily copied and exploited. When Calder died in 1976 much of the earlier interest in his work seemed to die along with him. This may only be my perception, of course; in the USA all his huge public sculptures have remained unavoidably visible if nothing else. Whatever the answer, the Calder Foundation has more films about the artist and his work at their YouTube channel. This one was brought to my attention by Ace Jet 170, a blog from the 2000s which remains active, and still posts new discoveries now and then.

(A note about the aspect ratio: the film was shot in 4:3, and should look as it does in these screen grabs. The YT copy is another one of those uploads which have been stretched to 16:9.)

Previously on { feuilleton }
8 x 8: A Chess Sonata in 8 Movements
Dreams That Money Can Buy

A territory always rather nocturnal and almost subaqueous

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I’m still reading through Umberto Eco’s essays in between various novels, the current Eco volume being Chronicles of a Liquid Society, a book which includes an appraisal of the works of Jules Verne. Enthusiastic remarks about engraved illustrations are uncommon things so I wanted to draw attention to the following:

Verne’s engravings are far more mysterious and intriguing, and they make you want to examine them through a magnifying glass. Captain Nemo, who sees the giant octopus from the large porthole of the Nautilus; Robur’s airship bristling with high-tech masts; the balloon that crashes down on the Mysterious Island (“Are we rising again?” “No. On the contrary.” “Are we descending?” “Worse than that, captain! We are falling!”); the enormous projectile that points toward the Moon; the caves at the centre of the Earth—all are images that emerge from a dark background, outlines with thin black strokes alternating with whitish gashes, a universe without areas of uniform colour, a vision scratched and scored, reflections that dazzle for lack of any strokes, a world seen by an animal with a retina all its own, as seen perhaps by oxen or dogs or lizards, a world glimpsed at night through the thin slats of a venetian blind, a territory always rather nocturnal and almost subaqueous, even in full daylight, made with the dots and abrasions that generate light only where the engraver’s tool has dug or left the surface in relief.

The illustrators of Captain Nemo’s adventures were Alphonse de Neuville and Édouard Riou, their drawings being engraved by Henri Hildibrand. See the rest of them here.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Eco calls on Cthulhu

The Journal of Decorative Art

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My workload has increased of late to a degree where I’ve not been looking at many websites that aren’t intended to fulfil some research quest or other. To this end, the Getty Research Institute has become a regular port of call, especially when the GRI section of the Internet Archive is updated regularly with many fine books that you won’t easily find elsewhere. For my purposes, the GRI is especially good with books about architecture, design and ornamentation, like this three-volume collection of The Journal of Decorative Art, “An Illustrated Technical Journal for the House Painter, Decorator, and all Art Workmen” published from 1881 to 1883. The illustrated examples are typical late Victoriana of a type I don’t always have much use for but for anyone who does the illustrations are very good, especially the spreads which were obviously intended to be copied by decorators. Some of these include lettering samples for sign-writers that range from simple post-Pugin Gothic to the excessively detailed styles that were de rigueur in the 1880s.

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Continue reading “The Journal of Decorative Art”

Weekend links 691

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Arcus (2019) by Markus Matthias Krüger.

• “Listeners can only make an educated guess as to what the experience of working with Slapp Happy might have done for Faust.” Fergal Kinney on the 50th anniversary of Sort Of by Slapp Happy, an eccentric intersection of Anglo-American rock and German experimentalism.

• Now that the summer is over people are making mixes again. Take your pick this week between a mix for The Wire by Shane Woolman at Stihia festival, The Observatory by Jay Keegan, or DreamScenes September 2023 at Ambientblog.

• Quantum poetics: “How Borges and Heisenberg converged on the notion that language both enables and interferes with our grasp of reality.” William Egginton explains, with a little help from Funes the Memorious.

“I feel as if I am entering Jorge Luis Borges’s Library of Babel, a universe of books and records, or maybe a labyrinth of paper and vinyl,” a flabbergasted Szwed relates. “The temptation is to read and listen to every one of them in hopes of at least finding the meaning behind Harry Smith the reader and listener.” He adds, with pointedly Borgesian anxiety, that “maybe my book is in there, already written.”

Ed Halter reviewing Cosmic Scholar: The Life and Times of Harry Smith by John Szwed

• At The Daily Heller: Photographs of lost buildings and American ruins.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: The unknowable presents…Secretly encoded.

• At The Paris Review: Six photos from WG Sebald’s albums.

Winners of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2023.

The Art of Cover Art: A Substack by Rachel Cabitt.

• New music: Le jour et la nuit du réel by Colleen.

Familiar Reality (1971) by Dr John | Reality Dub (Virtual Reality Mix) (1993) by Material | Reality Net (1994) by Richard H. Kirk

Ash

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Cover art by Clayton Welham.

I’ve been doing the design duties on albums and singles by Emptyset since their first self-titled release in 2009. The latest album from the electronic duo, Ash, is also the 50th release on the Subtext label for which I’ve once again provided a minimal layout. I’ve no idea how the images by Clayton Welham were created, and I’m quite happy not knowing. Ash is available for pre-order ahead of its release next month.

Work announcements here have been rather scarce of late, in part because I’ve been working on a major project which is nearing completion and will no doubt be announced soon. Watch this space.