The art of Aleksandr Kosteckij

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This is the kind of fantastic art I like a great deal: nebulous landscapes whose vast forms may be some kind of hybrid architecture; implications of the alien and mystical that retain some ambiguity; dreamlike without slipping into post-Surrealist cliché. Monsieur Thombeau at Full Fathom Five (whose excellent eye I have to thank once again) describes the paintings of Aleksandr Kosteckij/Kostetsky (1954–2010) as being “like Gustave Moreau, Salvador Dalí, and Max Ernst put in a blender and left out in the rain.” I’d place them somewhere between Ernst Fuchs and Bruce Pennington but Moreau’s chimeras are certainly present. You’d think an artist of this calibre with a large body of work would be better known, most of the attention at the moment seems to be on Russian websites. Let’s hope that changes soon.

Update: Thanks to Joe for pointing the way to this dedicated website, something I missed in my haste.

Examples chosen from these sites:
http://vk.com/album-32941665_175452413 (139 images)
http://www.2photo.ru/en/post/18614

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New Life for the Decadents by Philippe Jullian

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This essay by cult writer Philippe Jullian appeared in an edition of the Observer colour supplement in 1971, shortly after Jullian’s chef d’oeuvre, Dreamers of Decadence, had been published in Britain. Esthètes et Magiciens (1969), as Jullian’s study was titled in France, was instrumental in raising the profile of the many Symbolist artists whose work had been either disparaged or ignored since the First World War. A year after the Observer piece, the Hayward Gallery in London staged a major exhibition of Symbolist art with an emphasis on the paintings of Gustave Moreau; Jullian alludes to the exhibition in his article, and also wrote the foreword to the catalogue. His Observer article is necessarily shorter and less detailed than his introductory essay, emphasising the reader-friendly “Decadence” over the more evasive “Symbolist”. But as a primer to a mysterious and neglected area of art the piece would have served its purpose for a general reader.

Many thanks to Nick for the recommendation, and to Alistair who went to the trouble of providing high-res scans that I could run through the OCR. The translators of the article, Francis King and John Haylock, had previously translated Jullian’s biography of Robert de Montesquiou.

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New Life for the Decadents

The end of the nineteenth century was the Age of Decadence in the arts. The painters of that time (who have since influenced Pop art) and poets (echoed in pop songs) are back in favour: Philippe Jullian, chronicler of the Decadent period, explains why.

AS THE nineteenth century drew to a close, a number of the finer spirits of the time wondered if progress, increasing mechanisation and democratic aspirations were fulfilling their promises. Horrified by the direction in which Western civilisation was moving, they called themselves “The Decadents” in protest against a society that was too organised, an art that was too academic and a literature that was too realistic.

The Decadents produced some delightful symbolist poets, particularly Belgian and Austrian; at least one musician of genius, Debussy; and a number of painters who, having been despised for many years, are now at last beginning to be admired by a generation surfeited with Impressionists in museums and abstract paintings in galleries.

The genius of these Decadent painters, like that of the Decadent poets, only came to full bloom in the 1890s, when they themselves were in their twenties. Never were painting, music and poetry so close to one another. The gods of the Decadents were primarily Wagner and Baudelaire, then Swinburne and Poe. The Decadent movement, so active all over Europe, turned towards two great sources of inspiration: the Pre-Raphaelites, and a French painter whose glory was for a while eclipsed by the Impressionists but who is now once again accorded his place among the great—Gustave Moreau.

The women whom the Decadents loved and of whom they dreamt resembled the women created 30 years previously by Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Moreau.

Nothing could be more naturalistic than the artistic style elaborated by the Pre-Raphaelites in the middle of the nineteenth century. Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s model, inspiration, mistress and finally wife was the sweet and sad Elizabeth Siddal, on whom so many fin-de-siècle ladies had to model themselves on the Continent as did all the aesthetic ladies of England in the 1880s. She posed for Rossetti as Beatrix and as the Belle Dame sans Merci.

She was a rare spirit, about whom everything was nebulous and evanescent: the thick, wild hair; the tunic of a simplicity to challenge the elaboration of the crinolines then in vogue; the frail hands burdened with lilies; the gaze turned towards eternity. She also posed, fully dressed and lying in a bath, her hair outspread around her bloodless face, as Ophelia for another Pre-Raphaelite, Millais. Elizabeth died of pulmonary tuberculosis in 1862.

A macabre episode, which might have been imagined by Poe, was the exhumation of a sheaf of Rossetti’s poems that had been buried in Elizabeth Siddal’s coffin. When this symbol of the New Woman died, the grief-stricken poet had insisted on placing the poems inspired by her under her long hair before the coffin was sealed.

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Beata Beatrix (1864–1870) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

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Weekend links 216

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Why Do The Heathen Rage? (2014) by The Soft Pink Truth. Cover art by Mavado Charon.

Drew Daniel’s latest release as The Soft Pink Truth is Why Do The Heathen Rage?, a witty electronic riposte to the often reactionary attitudes of black metal music and the people who create it. (The album is dedicated to Magne Andreassen, a gay man stabbed to death by the drummer from Emperor.) Dorian Lynskey talked to Daniel about queering the metal world, as did Angus Finlayson at FACT. Daniel’s project has been receiving press everywhere but you wouldn’t know it to read US/UK gay news sites where the music coverage is relentlessly narrow and insular. To date, only BUTT magazine has mentioned Why Do The Heathen Rage? but then BUTT have always stood apart from their parochial contemporaries. Never mind, here’s another fucking article about “petite pop princess” Kylie Minogue.

• “By the letter of the law, Ulysses was obscene. Obviously, gratuitously, relentlessly obscene.” Josh Cook on censorship and dangerous books. One of my own dangerous publications, the fifth issue of the Lord Horror comics series, Hard Core Horror (declared obscene in a UK court in 1995), received a very belated review at The Comics Journal. More censorship: Judy Bloom on the perennial panics in US school libraries. Lest we feel superior to American prudery, Leena McCall’s painting of a semi-naked woman caused some consternation in a London gallery last week.

• “Over and over, we’re told that nobody buys [compact discs] anymore.” Steven Hyden on the latest obituaries being written for a music format. Ten years ago the death of vinyl was being confidently predicted: “The physical presence of the popular song is gone,” Paul Morley declared. Related: The death of mp3s.

There is nothing quite like Maryanne Amacher’s third ear music. It is alarming. Some of her fellow artists never quite believed that their ears were not being damaged. Third ear music invades you, wraps inside your body, your head, your eyes — just like she says. You can’t be sure, after a while, if the sounds you hear are those created by your ears or Maryanne Amacher.

Stefany Anne Golberg on the music of Maryanne Amacher

• At Dangerous Minds: Nothing Lasts Forever (1984), Bill Murray in a “lost sci-fi comedy set in a totalitarian New York City”.

• More Joyce (there’s always more Joyce): Humument Images to Accompany James Joyce’s Ulysses by Tom Phillips.

• Another celebration of Penda’s Fen by David Rudkin, and another reminder that it’s still not available on DVD.

• Stairway to Heaven: Atlas Obscura on the Gustave Moreau Museum, an essential stop if you visit Paris.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 121 by Higher Intelligence Agency.

• MetaFilter has a wealth of links to pulp magazine archives.

Yan Nascimbene’s illustrations for Italo Calvino’s stories.

• Rebecca Litchfield’s Orphans of Time and Soviet Ghosts.

• RIP Charlie Haden

Going Home (1972) by Alice Coltrane (Charlie Haden, bass) | Earth (1974) by Joe Henderson Featuring Alice Coltrane (Charlie Haden, bass) | Malkauns (1975) by Don Cherry (Charlie Haden, bass)

Heliotropic

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Arriving in the post this week was a catalogue for a Maison & Objet exposition of design and decoration which includes one of my paintings among the listed “Inspirations“. The event was held in Paris at the end of January but I’ve been so busy for the past few of months I forgot to see when it was on. Not that I could have said much about it since this is a showcase event you have to attend rather than experience remotely.

Catalogues for big art and design events often tend to the lavish and expensive but the Elsewhere book is the most lavish I’ve ever encountered. The production runs the gamut of the many expensive options which modern printing can provide: metallic inks, varnish effects, iridescent and translucent sheets, embossing, die-cutting, tipped-in inserts, and variable page sizes. The inflexible icing on the cake comes in the shape of a small square of polished marble glued to one of the pages. Excess aside, the print quality is excellent, and I’m very pleased with the way my Elvis painting appears.

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Sun King (1996).

Sun King was commissioned by Creation Books in 1996 as cover art for a Jeremy Reed novel which ended up being dropped by the company. The concept was the author’s, and while I’m pleased with the way it turned out I always felt it should have had more of a Gustave Moreau quality. This is the first time the picture been used anywhere although I did reuse the Elvis-in-a-Cadillac idea recently for one of the Alas Vegas Tarot cards.

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My painting is included in the Heliotropic section of the book which shows some of François Bernard’s inspirations. I’m pleased they placed one of the die-cut overlays before my piece. The photos below show some of the pages from the other sections which concern the inspirations of Elizabeth Leriche—her section includes the chunk of marble—and Vincent Grégoire whose section features futurism, space scenes, metallic effects, and Daft Punk.

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More chimeras

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The Chimera (1867) by Gustave Moreau.

It’s no easy task to catalogue all the chimeras that proliferate between the numerous examples in the work of Gustave Moreau to those produced before the First World War. Consider this a sample, then, and a pointer to further research. Several of these artists—Malczewski, Ernst, Brauner—returned to theme many times.

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The Sphinx: “My gaze, which nothing can deflect, passes through the things and remains fixed on an inaccessible horizon.” The Chimera: “I am weightless and joyful.” (1889) by Odilon Redon.

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The Chimera’s Despair (1892) by Alexandre Séon.

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