Saturday, September 23, 2017

SELFMADEHERO: CORBYN COMIC / NICK CAVE by REINHARD KLEIST /SPINNING by TILLIE WALDEN

Pleased to receive for review the latest crop of titles from SelfMadeHero [their 10th Anniversary year] which, as usual, cover a very wide field and demonstrate the wonderful richness and variety of the world of graphic publishing.

Published to coincide with this year's Labour Party conference in Brighton, 'The Corbyn Comic Book' is an anthology of 34 contributions by cartoonists, artists and writers from the UK, US and Australia. They include well-known cartoonists and established graphic novelists, a crop of young upstarts alongside a number of illustrators whose work has never before been published.

As you would expect, many of these contributions picture JC as a heroic figure thwarting the evil forces of Conservatism and Capitalism. Many express the passionate expectations and hopes that he has stimulated for an administration that is more in touch with people on the street. There's a lot of dark humour here reflecting the mood of the moment as well as contrbutions that pick up on Corbyn's well-known predilection for working on his allotment and making jam - the latter beautifully written and illustrated by Richard Dearing. There's a touch of Buddhism to this which I like.

*

Reinhard Kleist is an internationally feted illustrator with a string of graphic biographies to his credit that have earnt him some of the biggest awards in the Comic world. Perhaps best known to many is his wonderful portrait of the life of Johnny Cash entitled 'I See The Darkness'. From the Man In Black to Nick Cave is in many ways a natural step as blackness is a colour best suited to the character and work, both musical and literary, of his rangy anger-filled persona. Kleist does use colour in some of his work but this 300p+ biographic stunner is pure black and white used to startling effect. It's a masterclass which is worth detailed study.

The book cleverly interweaves episodes from Cave's actual factual life story with the strange and fantastical worlds he conjures up in his songs. Rock's Prince of Darkness, Cave's band The Birthday Party earnt a reputation for their violent on-stage performances. After the band broke up in 1983, Cave formed a band named Bad Seeds who have released 16 albums of original songs to date. In 2006, he also started a garage rock band named Grinderman with two albums so far to its credit. Cave's other outpourings include two novels and a roster of highly regarded film scores.

Kleist the perfect artist to document such an extraordinary life.The sheer amount of detailed work in this book is stunning. particularly his visualisations of the live gigs in which he captures the speed, action and emotion in powerful, energetic frames. Nick Cave himself approves. In a cover quote he says: 
'Reinhard Kleist, master graphic novelist and myth-maker has - yet again - blown apart the conventions of the graphic novel by concocting a terrifying conflation of Cave songs, biographical half-truths and complete fabulations and creating a complex, chilling and completely bizarre journey into Cave World. Closer to the truth than any biography, that's for sure. But for the record, I never killed Elisa Day.'
Check out Kleist's website which includes something I've never seen before - pics from gigs where a band plays and Kleist does live drawing projected on a screen behind the group. Great idea.
*

Tillie Walden is just 21 years old and this is already her fourth graphic novel. A twin, born in Austin, Texas in 1996, her extraordinary natural talent flows out of her pen as you can see on her beautiful website. Tillie went to the Centre for Cartoon Studies in Vermont to develop her craft but she told Paul Gravett in an interview here  that it was her father who first lit the spark: 

 “When I was a kid,my dad got me one of those huge collections of Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland [1905–26]. It was so big (and I was so little) that I could sit on top of the pages." and read the comics.”





This new whopping 400+page book is a departure for her as its autobiographical. For twelve years figure and sychronised skating was Tillie Walden's life and 'Spinning' is built on her own experiences.

In the author's note at the back of the book, she explains that she didn't want to collect memorabilia and try and tie all the facts down accurately. She wanted the whole thing to come only from her own memories even if they were not entirely accurate. She says she was trying to capture the feeling:  'I care about how it felt to be there, how it felt to win'. 

She says that in the end she realised it was not only about ice skating as there were lots of other narratives to do with things in her life that influenced her skating which included her sexuality - she is a prominent LGBT figure in the US.


The whole work is realised in a kind of purple ink with the occasional effective highlight in a subtle yellow. Even if it's not your world, the story is touching and affective and emotionally honest. It's a mature work about a confusing adolescence, Walden demonstrates once more her remarkable facility. A stunning career lies ahead.










Sunday, September 10, 2017

THE FUTURE IS FEMALE: FRIDA KAHLO / RADICAL WOMEN: LATIN AMERICAN ART 1960-1985


VANNA VINCI / Source: Zero




Like many women artists of her time, Frida Kahlo did not consider herself a feminist. Yet in the 60+ years since her death her extraordinary life and remarkable artworks, have earnt her iconic status amongst the sisterhood worldwide.

Her personal image and the images she created have permeated global consciousness. Plays and feature films have been produced about her and a library of biographies and academic works have examined her life and ouevre in complex detail.

This wonderful new graphic biography by Vanna Vinci is a marvellous new addition to the literature. It not only chronicles her life but also finds ways to reach into Kahlo's inner self. These two double-page spreads document the tragic accident that marked a huge rupture in her life, crippling her body and setting the scene for a lifetime of pain.

As these pages show, she is in conversation with death from then on.Vinci pulls no punches. The blood, the sex, the murder, the infidelities are all vividly displayed. Kahlo's remarkable resilience, the power of her spirit are captured in powerful vignettes. The drawings and colouration are beautiful. A triumph. [Published by Prestel]

*
By chance or design, Prestel have published another title - 'Radical Women: Latin American Art: 1960-1985' - which follows on neatly from Frida Kahlo.

A ground-breaking survey of Latin American women artists and Latina and Chicano women artists in the USA, it's a mammoth book linked to a major exhibition that took some seven years to research and stage.

Claiming to be the first genealogy of radical and feminist art in the region, it covers the work of 120 women artists and collectives from 15 countries. Sixteen of the featured artists died during the lengthy reaserch and production process.

The majority of this work has been marginalised and hidden. Most of the artists at the time were unaware of each others' works. Less than 20 women artists from the region are widely recognised in the gallery system and several of those are wives of male artists. In the past Kahlo's work was considered "unhealthy" and her craziness "transmissible".


 [Left] Maris Bustamante: 'The Penis as a work instrument' 1982.

One of the two curators Cecilia Fajardo-Hill (the other being Andrea Giunta) writes: 

'The reality is that many more women artists participated in the shaping of twentieth century art than have been accounted for. In Latin America this has been partly because of sexism and because the system, both on the continent and internationally, judges the quality of  artists' work on the basis of visibility and success,which are often denied to women.'


[Left] Sonia Gutiérrez 'We'll Keep Saying Homeland' 1972.

In the introductory essay, the curators say that most of the work they're presenting is:


  'deeply bound to the political situation in much of the continent at the time, particularly in countries ruled by the authoritarian governments that aimed to control behaviour, thought and bodies...The lives and work of these artists are emeshed in the experiences of dictatorship, imprisonment, exile, torture, violence, censorship and repression.'










Apart from Mexico (since the late 1970s), no other country in the region had a organised feminist art movement. The curators claim their purpose is to write a new chapter in art history.

A word on the book's structure. Front and back are essays - general comments before, at the back a series of country by country papers by various scholars, with an appendix of detailed artists biographies.

In-between is a substantial gallery of Plates showing the artists' work, organised in alphabetical order. The exhibition itself is organised around themes: The Self Portrait / Body Language / Mapping the Body / Resistance and Fear / The Power of Words / Social Places / The Erotic.

[Above] Ana Mendieta. Facial Hair Transplants. 1972

During the 25-year period the book focuses on, the depiction of the female body became the battlefield in these women's commitment  to revolutionary struccle and resistance to the region's dictatorships. In Latin America the relationship between the body and violence was central. Women were being held in detention illegally, or exiled. Their children were stolen. There were specific methods of torture on women's bodies.

In response, these brave artists subverted the portrait, depicted the faces of the "disappeared", made artworks with tortured bodies, works using blood, semen, urine and excrement, portrayed eroticism, sexuality and revolutionary kisses between gays and lesbians.

One of the book's essays is a conversation between three women, practitioners and/or academics, which concludes with a statement that underlines the importance of bringing this work to the attention of the world:
'In the current context of violence against women in Latin America, where, according to the Pan American Health Organization, sexual violence—including human trafficking, domestic and sexual abuse, and femicide—are an everyday reality, we believe that for a work of art to be called feminist it must do more than address the issues that afflict women in patriarchal Latin American societies. Artists must go further and embrace feminist politics. 
'The act of calling oneself a feminist artist or artivist, as those who came before us did, is extremely significant in today's world, which would like to see us dead or disappeared, enslaved or submissive. The legacies of artists from the 1970s are alive in the present. This is evident in feminist art collectives, in the individual work of many artists, and in feminist art organizations...[there are] more than one hundred artists and artists' groups that make up the Latin American feminist art scene.'
[Above] Untitled work, Part of a series by Liliana Maresca. 1983


This remarkable book, beautifully produced to the highest print quality, is a seminal work. The artworks on display cover a huge range of forms of expression: paintings, prints, performance pieces, photography, video clips, sculptures and beyond. True inspiration for the next wave of female artivists and an object lesson in creativity and bravery.

SEE PREVIOUS POST: BRAZILIAN MUSIC: MONICA VASCONCELOS / TROPICALIA / LUAKA BOP / SOUND AND COLOURS / BIXIGA 70


Friday, September 08, 2017

THE BRITISH UNDERGROUND PRESS OF THE SIXTIES: EXCLUSIVE

THE GENERALIST is pleased to have the opportunity of writing what is possibly the first review of this book, published by Rocket 88 on October 5th, in a hardback - the Classic Edition (£35) and a limited edition (£250). Am reviewing on the basis of a pdf version as the printed book has not yet arrived.

The book is based on the collection of James Birch, a well-heeled collector with a passion for the underground press and is mainly written by Barry Miles, author of some 50 books, many of them concerning the Beat and Hippy Culture. Miles is well known as one of the founders of International Times and as an expert chronicler, archivist and biographer of key figures in the Beat movement. He was there. For him. this is a well-trodden road.

The book begins with an intro by Birch which sets the start date of the underground press in Britain as being the launch of IT in 1966. He claims that this book contains 'every cover of the underground press launched in the 1960s'  and that this new printed media was the medium that transmitted personal, social, political and aesthetic changes in society.

Miles' first essay tracks the precursors of the underground press - the pacifist Quaker paper Peace News (June 1936), Paul Krassner's The Realist (June 1958), and the satirical Private Eye (October 1961) and, most importantly, The Village Voice (October 1955)

The first of what came to be known as "underground" papers was the Los Angeles Free Press, launched by Art Kunkin on May Day 1963. Two years later came the Berkeley Barb and the East Village Other. By 1966, when the term "underground press" was coined,  these titles were joined by the San Francisco Oracle, the Fifth Estate from Detroit and The Paper from Lansing, Michigan.
The Underground Press Syndicate (UPS) was formed and it was agreed between them that they would send copies of their papers to each other and that each should be allowed to reprint material from each other's papers for free. [At its height, there must have been more than 100 titles across America].

Meanwhile on this side of the Atlantic, the poetry reading at the Albert Hall in June 1965, which featured Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Corso amongst many others, is Miles' marker for the birth of the 'undeground' in England. When 7,00 people turned up, Miles and John "Hoppy" Hopkins realised there was a big audience out there and set a company called Lovebooks that led to the birth of International Times, the history of which Miles covers in great detail.

Next in the book comes the IT comic spin-off Nasty Tales. The underground press was a perfect medium for the new style comic artists, cartoonists and illustrators like Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton to name just the best known.. The artists soon realised they could also produce their work in comic book form. Crumb launched Zap Comix  and many other titles followed, being sold and distributed by Rip Off Press in San Francisco.

OZ was launched in the UK in 1967 by Richard Neville and Martin Sharp, who had travelled overland for three months to get to England from Australia, where they'd produced 26 issues of the first OZ and had been charged with obscenity, sentenced to three months imprisonement, nullified on appeal.

The UK edition made 48 issues and closed in November 1973 having survived a major legal action against them over the SchoolKids OZ. Miles doesn't go into the details of this but a recent article by Mick Brown in The Telegraph provides an excellent account based around a long interview with Jim Anderson (the last surviving member of the OZ trio). A section of the book then looks at cOZmic Comics, another spin-off title.

Next comes two niche titles: Gandalf's Garden, the hippiest of mags produced by Murray Muzz from a mystical community centre and shop down in Chelsea's World's End, opposite the hip boutique Granny Takes a Trip; Black Dwarf  was a Marxist broadsheet launched and edited by Tariq Ali in June 1968 when there really was revolution in the air. It lasted until March 1970 when, after an idoelogical split, Tariq and comrades left to form Red Mole.

Friends/Frendz follows on. Launched initially as a UK Rolling Stone spin-off with plush offices in Hanover Squar, funded by money from Mick Jagger, featuring mainly US material with some UK stuff, it was a business arrangement that wasn't going to last. When Jann Wenner insisted that they submit all editorial material and just sell ads, Alan Marcuson left to form Friends, a more radical title, which survived for 28 issues before Marcuson gave up the struggle in May 1971. The new paper Frendz was run by a company called Echidna Epics operating out of 305/307 Portobello Road.

Finally comes Ink an ill-fated adventure to try and run a Village Voice style weekly paper, a plan hatched by Richard Neville and Ed Victor, an Editor at the publishers Jonathan Cape. With a staff of 30 and a former Sunday Times journalist Alex Mitchell as Editor, things looked good, particularly as the Ed promised a massive scoop for the first issue which he only revealed the details of at the last moment. When the paper was printed, they discovered that the non-story had already appeared as a squib in The Times. Mitchell did a runner and was never seen again. The paper managed to survive for 29 issues but failed to catch a major readership and closed in February 1972.

There is a final Appendix with lot of graphics, documents and ephemera from IT and OZ.

So how does it rate? Its great to see all the covers again and I am sure that they will prove incredibly stimulating both to the survivors of that period and to younger generations who I think will be inspired by the cornucopia of inventive styles, imagery, typography and design that are on display. Producing papers at that time was a much more difficult process than it is now, very labout intensive
and demanding. I know. I was there.

I have some caveats which I have shared with Miles, who is a friend of mine - some actual factual points mainly to do with the coverage of Frendz, the paper I worked on in my youth. It has been given short shrift in this account and, in my view, doesn't do justice to what was an important paper at an important time. But I would say that wouldn't I. Here's some notes I scribbled:

Nick Kent wrote his first important pieces for the paper [Bowie/Grateful Dead/Captain Beefheart] and Pennie Smith did some great design before becoming an important rock photographer at the NME. Colin Moorcraft pioneered the British Whole Earth Catalog as a pullout in many issues. Barney Bubbles made a big contribution design wise as did Pearce Marchbank. We were often being raided - bomb squad, drugs squad, Special Patrol Group. The office was a regular pre-gig meeting spot for Hawkwind and Mike Moorcock was a regular visitor wqho was producing 'New Worlds' around the corner. No-one got paid properly. The end came not because the material had moved elsewhere but because we simple ran out of road and money. 


The book will be launched at an exhibition which will be well worth attending. The price of the book may be a barrier to many young people but lets hope the publishers have a cheaper paperback version in mind in due course.

Yoi can order the book here www.rocket88books.com or here www.britishundergroundpress.com

The 'You Say You Want A Revolution?' exhibition at the V&A, the publication of a 50th Anniversary issue of International Times and now this. Is there are new counter-culture on the rise. Methinks so.

Let's not forget that the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love will be followed by the 50th anniversary of 1968, the Year of Revolutions. Hold on to your heads!



See: THE OZ ARCHIVE: http://ro.uow.edu.au/ozlondon/
See: INTERNATIONAL TIMES: http://www.internationaltimes.it/archive/






Wednesday, September 06, 2017

CULT BOOKS: SERGIO DE LA PAVA / DAVID SIMON and ED BURNS / DAVID MITCHELL / JENNIFER EGAN

Published by Maclehose
This is the first Cult Books post for a while. Have been working hard on review copies whereas most of the novels I read I pick up second-hand at random, always hoping for a marvellous surprise. I generally work through a large pile before hitting pay dirt. These four come highly recommended.

Let me start by saying that A Naked Singularity' by Sergio De La Pava is wonderful. It is also 864 pages and 270,000 words long. I was drawn to it immediately (it was £1) but unsure whether I could possibly digest such a monster work. The answer is not to rush. Hit a steady pace and look forward each day to reading a bit more.

Sergio was born in New Jersey, the son of Columbian parents and works as a legal defendant, largely for poor people caught up in the US criminal justice system. The novel takes us into that world (it ain't pretty), into the life of an extended Latino family, into a complex heist and many more lines of action, enquiry and intrigue. Some sections are almost entirely dialogue. Others are devoted to lengthy disquisitions on boxing.

Published by Canongate [210]

It's an entire world and though sometimes I got frustrated and felt why am I reading this, the book would immediately surpise me by shifting ground, scenery, action and zapping back into focus. It's got incredible energy and gusto and an encyclopaedic spread. Its also full of humour, unusually structured, highly passionate and full of great characters.

Finished in 1999, it took the author (with the help of his wife) ten years to get this unusual and unwieldy book published in the US and it came out in the UK in paperback in 2014.

There are two great Guardian pieces - an inciteful review by Stuart Kelly who felt the book needed a sterner edit but loved it anyway, and an incredibly interesting feature on the author's life and the story behind the book by Sunsanna Rustin. I recommend not reading them until you've swum in the ocean of this brilliant work.


A companion volume is another whopper, this time by the creators of 'The Wire'. Their focus in 'The Corner' is a year in the life of an inner-city neighbourhood. It's an intensely researched and written work, novelistic in style but drawn from minute and detailed journalistic investigation. It's emotionally intense territory and the figures within it are so real that one feels their pain. The complex network of drug suppliers and users form a remarkable social and economic system that operates outside of normal rules and the law. Its hard reading but it takes you there and gives you an understanding of life in black America that adds further depth to the world of 'The Wire'.

*

Published by Sceptre [2011]
Best known for his book 'Cloud Atlas'  - made into a pretty great movie by the Wachowski's (once brothers, now sisters) -  David Mitchell's 'The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet' is, by contrast, a historical novel set in the 18th century, which follows the adventures of a young Dutch clerk who has come to Japan to earn his fortune. 

At that time, Westerners were not allowed on the mainland so Jacob is stationed on the small artificial island in the bay of Nagasaki, where the Dutch traders do what business they can with the ancient and powerful Japanese authorities. 

There is of course intrigue, spies, adventures, love affairs and much more in its 560 pages. Mitchell has studied and worked to make his world as accurate and three-dimensional as possible and the vividness makes this book a satisfying read.





First published in the US in 1999, it took until 2012
before it reached the UK in this edition from Corsair.



This first novel by the now established Jennifer Egan was written in her early thirties. Set in 1978, it tells a story of Phoebe O'Connor's determination to find out the truth of her sister's death, a journey that leads her from the States through Europe to Italy. 

It's genuinely gripping, has a freshness of plot, three great characters and a sureness of tone that gives the reader confidence that they are in the hands of a writer of natural talent.

Egan has gone on to write three more novels - one of which, 'A Visit from the Goon Squad', won a Pulitzer prize in 2011 -  and a book of short stories. A fourth novel 'Manhattan Beach' came out earlier this year. More interesting reading to come.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

MELODY MAKERS



THE GENERALIST has been contacted by Leslie-Ann Coles, the director of 'Melody Makers' a film which began by being a profile of the paper's chief contributing photographer Barrie Wentzell (1965-1975) but, as I understand it, broadens out to include most of the main journalists on the paper. 

Screening at the 25th RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL #Raindance
Program Strand: Raindance Symphony Orchestra
Tickets: £13.00 and £9.00 Dates and Times: 24/09/17: 17:45 and 28/09/17:13:00

Tickets: https://raindance.ticketsolve.com/shows/873578414
Location: Vue Leicester Square (3 Cranbourne Street, Leicester Square London WC2H 7AL)

For those interested in the history of one of the great British musioc papers it sounds like a must. 

See trailer here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjgmxLdaC8c



The nearest thing to an official history of the paper was published  in 1999: Melody Maker: History of 20th Century Popular Music by Nick Johnstone [Bloomsbury]


Read more about the film here: 

'Melody Makers: Should've Been There' in the New Jersey Stage

INTERNATIONAL TIMES 50th ANNIVERSARY ISSUE

The Generalist was browsing in MAGAZINE BRIGHTON [recommended] when to my shock and delight found a 50th Anniversary issue of the British underground newspaper International Times. 

It appears to be published by New River Press and the Guest Editor of the issue is Robert Montgomery. Hope to be able to find out more details in the days ahead. The paper is dated June/July 2017 but whether there are more to come I am not sure.

Really appreciated the fact that the whole issue is dedicated to Mike Lesser (1943-2015) who was the person who drove the process of digitising the whole history of IT

See: http://www.internationaltimes.it/archive/

Heathcote Williams is billed as Editor-at Large; sadly as previously reported, Heathcote died recently [see Previous Post] Heathcote was one of the people who kept IT alive through an online version here: http://internationaltimes.it/

Monday, August 21, 2017

PALEOART: VISIONS OF A PREHISTORIC PAST + NEW DINOSAUR DISCOVERIES




One of the great publishers of the world, known for their extraordinary and outsize publications, Taschen have established new benchmarks in illustrated book publishing. 

This new and remarkable hardbound book from them is, the first ever history of  a new genre. We're not talking about cave paintings here but rather the imaginative depictions of the fauna and flora of our planet's prehistoric past, a visual tradition which began in Britain in 1830. This volume takes the story up to the1990s.

The book was initially conceived by the artist Walton Ford and researched and written by Zoë Lescaze, who has rooted out some wonderful rarely-seen material from major natural history museums, obscure archives and private collections. These include murals and sculptures, drawings and paintings.

A central idea in Ford's introductory essay entitled 'Twofold Time Machine' draws on a quote from SF writer Isaac Asimov who believed that, following on from the steam engine and the first stages of the Industrial Revolution that: "a new kind of curioisity developed, perhaps the first really new kind in recorded history. It was suddenly possible to ask 'what would the future be like'

This idea in turn triggered the question 'what did the prehistoric past look like', chiming in with the new discoveries being made by the rising science of paleontology. This question, writes Ford, 'gives rise to a bizarre and unprecedented pictorial tradition as outrageous and imaginative as the better known vintage visions of the future'. He argues that though many of these paintings and sculptures are now obsolete scientifically because of new knowledge, we should now concentrate on their aesthetic and artistic value. 

What this book demonstrates is that paleoart's exponents range from those whose work is imaginative with little concern about actual factual science and, at the other extreme, artists who aimed for maximum fidelity and used scientific data to underpin their visualisations of prehistoric monsters and landscapes.
*


In 'The Art of Raising The Dead', Zoë Lescaze introduces us to the genre's first exponent, an English geologist and clergman, named Henry Thomas De la Beche, whose Duria antiquior (c.1830), she claims as the 'first vivid picture of the prehistoric past based in fossil evidence'. The potency of this marriage of fact and fantasy - a seductive blend of science and art, defined the genre and influenced painting, sculpture, literature and film.

Beche moved to Lyme Regis in Dorset in 1812 where he met Mary Anning, the most successful fossil hunter in Britain who, amongst a menagerie of creatures, discovered remains of the world's first plesiosaur and pterosaur. Lescaze draws from Hugh Torrens' paper on Anning: 'She discovered the ink sacs preserved within fossil belemnites, having recognized the animals’ resemblance to modern cuttlefish, and even enlisted a friend to reconstitute the pigment. The primordial sepia became a coveted medium for painting fossils.' Fascinating.

Despite the importance of her finds, Anning was broke and it was la Beche who saved the day by persuading here to let him visualise her fossils in order to bring them to life for a broader audience. He augmented his portrayals with imaginative elaborations that Anning disproved of but the book made her a lot of money as it gave people, says Lescaze, a 'first fascinating glimpse of a world no humans had ever seen.'

Demand for fossils increased rapidly and some collectors went after them 'like an opium eater and his drug'. They were considered 'tokens of time'. 'For many, the allure of fossils', writes Lescaze, 'in their ability to render the infinite intimate, to condense immeasurable millennia into physical objects one could hold. These tangible pieces of a past too vast to comprehend provided a vital balm in an age of turbulent transformation.

The discovery that the earth was nuch older than previously thought was disturbing but even more so was the concept of extinction and the idea that what happened to the prehistoric animals could happen to us. This unerving suggestion gained traction, says Lescaze and permeated art and literature. 'For some, pondering prehistory became a transcendent exercise in the sublime...Contemplating
the depths of time, wrote the poet and translator Edward FitzGerald, fills “the human Soul, with Wonder and Awe and Sadness!”
*
Chapter I: Cataclysm and Conquest traces the progress of paleoart through its significant works. In the nineteenth century no-one knew what the animals really looked like so the artists  projected their own imaginations and art history on the bones. Lescaze suggests the results were akin to the monsters and dragons drawn on antique maps. Leonardo da Vinci once advised those hoping to create convincing chimeras: “take the head of a mastiff, the eyes of a cat, the ears of a porcupine . . . the brows of a lion, the temples of an old cock, and the neck of a sea tortoise.”


In 1833 came Reptiles Restored, a watercolour by artist George Nibbs, which five years later, George Scharf lithographed and entitled 'The Ancient Weald of Sussex' . It was used as the frontispiece for 'Sketches in Prose and Verse' by poet and geologist George Fleming Richardson.

Also in 1833, the fossil collector and doctor Gideon Mantell in Lewes was pondering a strange fossil tooth which would later prove to be from the mighty Iguanodon. He wrote in his journals '...like Frankenstein, I was struck with astonishment at the enormous monster which my investigations has...called into existence.' [Interestingly, Mantell and Mary Shelley, the authir of Frankenstein, later developed an interesting relationship documented here ]

In 1838 Mantell got together with painter John Martin who Lescaze describes as an 'art star' of the day, popular and successful for his large canvases, often representing apocalyptic scenes. He produced a suitably gothic frontispiece for Mantell's popular book 'The Wonders of Georlogy' which, says Lescaze, 'blew open the doors for other artists to give their imagination free rein' What is noticeable from these early works is the assumption that these animals were inherently violent.

Lescaze finishes the chapter with two more artists: Josef Kuwasseg, an Austrian Painter who was the first to produce a chronological suite of prehistoric scenes in 14 watercolour paintings in 1851. By 1885, the first paleoart reached Russia when Mikhailovich Vasnetsov was commissioned to create an immense mural devoted to the Stone Age in the State Historical Museum in Moscow. [The earliest paleoart oil painting known in the US was produced by Archibald Willard c.1872]*

Source: Wikipedia

Chapter 2: Paleoart to the People is devoted to perhaps the best known paleoartists Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins who was driven by the idea that prehistory should not only be accessible to the wealthy and well-educated. After working on the 1851 Great Exhibition, he was commissioned to produce the first life-sized sculptures of prehistoric animals for the Crystal Palace in Sydenham. On New Years Eve 1853, he staged a sumptuous dinner held inside his model of the Iguanadon.
After funds for the Crystal Palace dinosaur project ran out, his contract was terminated in 1855.

He was invited to New York in 1868. He first worked at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphis where he assembled the bones of a Hadrosaurus which had been discovered in 1858.This 14-feet high reconstructed dinosaur skeleton, with missing bones made out of plaster, was shown to the public in November 1868 and attracted 100,000 visitors in the first year. 

Fresh from this success he went to work in his studio in Central Park, New York on plans for a Paleozoic Museum in the park grounds. All that is left of the project is one preparatory drawing that is reproduced in this book. The project was killed in 1870  by a ruthless politician named Tweed. When Hawkins lambasted him in the press, Tweed hired thugs to totally wreck Hawkins' studio and smash up all his work. There are continued rumours that all the pieces may be buried somewhere in the Park. A plan for a Paleontology wing at the Smithsonain also fell through so, in 1874 he returned to England only to find the Crystal Palace dinosuars in ruin. 

In 1875 he went back to  to the US to work on the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia but, out of several commissions, all except one were cancelled. Fortunately Princeton’s first professor of geology and geography, Arnold Guyot saved him with a commission to produce a suite of seventeen large oil paintings for his geology museum in Princeton of which 15 survive. Hawkins returned to England in 1878 and died in 1894 at the age of 86.

Charles R. Knight Source: Wikipedia
Chapter III: The Bone Wars refers to the intense rivalry between two American paleontologists named Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope, which bankrupted them both but uncovered a treasure trove of huge dinosaurs that captured the public imagination.

As a result, a curator at the American Museum of Natural History, a showman in the mould of Hawkins named Henry Fairfield Osborn, commissioned Charles R. Knight, a then unknown severely near-sighted painter, to produce dinosaur watercolour paintings for the museum's fossil halls.

Osborn first sent Knight to visit Cope who exposed the artist to the radical conviction that dinosaurs were active, agile animals which resulted in one of his most famous paintings 'Laelaps' (1897) showing two sparring dinosaurs. Knight built clay models of his prehistoric subjects and brought them life in believable landscapes.



This work led a bigger commission from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago  for a 28-mural series for Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, a project which chronicled the history of life on earth and took four years to complete.  His work, says Lescaze, redefined the very spirit of paleoart and triggered a boom in dinosaur artworks and displays. In 1933, 'The World a Million Years Ago' at the Chicago World's Fair was staged inside a giant dome featuring animatronic dinosaurs.

In Chapter IVOf Ancient Wings and Art Nouveau, the narrative moves to Germany where artist Heinrich Harder was commissioned to produce paleoart works for a science writer. In the second half of the nineteenth century there were crazes in collectible cards in tea, chocolate and cigarettes packs. In 1916 a German chocolate manufacturer commissioned Herder to produce two 30-card sets for their products.

More important was Herder's commission to produce a mosaic for an aquarium in Berlin. Vivid mosaics were a staple of Art Nouveau at the time and there was also a cult interest in Japonisme. Herder's mosaic had a bold graphic quality and used the same chromatic scale as Hokusai's paintings. In November 1943, the aquarium and zoo were destroyed by allied bombing and the mosaics seemed lost for ever. In time, the aquarium was rebuilt but the walls remained blank until, by chance in 1977, Herder's original plans for the mosaic was discovered in an old desk and, with the help of old photos and postcards, a new version of the mosaic was produced using square majolica tiles.


Chapter V: Innocence and Experience focuses on Rudolph F. Zallinger, a Russian-born American who studied at the School of Fine Arts at Yale at a time when there was the biggest resurgence of fresco painting since the Renaissance. Aged just 23, he was commissioned to produce one of the largest pieces of paleoart, a chronological fresco entitled 'The Age of Reptiles', covering a time period of 300 million years. Zallinger began by producing a 10-foot long drawing (shown in  the book) which took him 18 months, before it was transferred to the 110ft-long plaster wall in The Great Hall of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale. This was kept open to the public while he worked and he finished his giant crowd-pleaser in spring 1947.

In the same decade in France, Mathurin Méheut was commissioned by the director of the Geological Institute of the University of Rennes to produce 25 large canvases of Breton geology and prehistoric animals.

Chapter VI: The Savage Brilliance of Zdenĕk Burian, a Czech peleoartist who, in his lifetime produced a total ouevre of 15,000 works, very little of which has ever been displayed. As a kid he explored ancient caves and imagined their original inhabitants. Graduating from the Prague Academy of Art at the age of 14, by 17 he had already illustrated 100s of books including Czech versions of Robert Louis Stevenson, Jules Verne and  'The Jungle Book'.  For several years he lived in the wilds with a band of nomads and his remarkable paintings of primitive man and primates are stunning as are his dinosaurs and mammoths. Popular science books featuring his wonderful artwork have been published around the world.

Chapter VII 'The return of English Paleoart features the work of Neave Parker and Maurice Wilson who, during the 1950s and 1960s both collaborated with the same scientists at the Natural History Museum in London, namely zoologist Maurice  Burton and Scottish paleontologist W.G. Swinton. Parker's work, most famously for the Illustrated London News, was rendered in black, ink with white gouache highlights, with harsh illumination and sever cropping. He died in a cinema in 1961 at the age of 51. Maurice Wilson, is described by Lescaze as a 'flamboyant bohemian oddball' His watercolours of prehistoric animals have an Eastern feel, she says.

Chapter VIII: Mammoths and Monsters of Moscow is a grand finalé, covering as it does the whole range of paleoart in Russian from the Revolution to the fall of the Soviet Union. Most of this work is hidden away, has been forgotten in Russia and was mainly unknown (until now) in the West.

Tarbosaurus and armored dinosaur by  Flyorov [1955]
First is Konstantin Konstantinovich Flyorov, born in Moscow in 1904, an idiosyncratic scientists and exuberant painter. He produced his first prehistoric reptile painting in the 1910s.

In 1937 the State Darwin Museum invited him to create life-sized plaster sculptures and large-scale paintings of prehistoric animals and scenes. In 1946 he became director of the Orlov Paleontological Museum in Moscow and died four years later. 

Flyorov avoided scientific literalism and disregarded skeletal remains. A tall man with a booming bass voice, he was a sought after consultant for Soviet films featuring prehistoric creatures.

'Inostrancevia, devouring a Pareiasaurus' 
byAlexei Petrovich Bystrow, 1933

This grand book also contains the more realistic work of Alexei Nikanrovich Komarov and the powerful paintings of Alexei Petrovich Bystrov featured on the book's cover. Truly stunning is Alexander Mikhalovia Belashov's 18m-long mosaic 'Tree of Life'.

In Lascaze's closing words she makes it clear that there are a huge number of other works that  did not make it into this volume. A companion volume would valuably pull together all the artworks and models produced for the numerous dinosuar and caveman films in the history of cinema, from The Lost World to Jurassic Park. The rapid development of computer graphics has also generated highly realistic prehistory scenes. Dinomania is rife and collectables of all kinds are no doubt avidly collected.

'Paleoart' is a great addition to the literature and a valuyable image resource. Only experienced by this reviewer a pdf. Few review copies were available in the UK. The book costs £75.

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THE GENERALIST ARCHIVE

Like many readers of this post, fossils and prehistoric creatures were a big part of my childhood times and that fascination has continued to the present day. Here is some material from the library of  THE GENERALIST ARCHIVE.




This is the cover image for an oversize hardback book entitled 'The Age Of Monsters: Prehistoric and Legendary' by Dr Joseph Augusta with illustrations by Zdenĕk Burian, printed in Czechoslovakia and published in London by Paul Hamlyn in 1966. It shows several hornless rhinoceroses  Indticotherium. On the opposite page is this little drawing perhaps showing Dr Augusta touching the creature's skull.






Printed on the book's hard cover is this wonderful visual of a Mastodon (Anancus arvernensis)


'The Dinosaurs' illustrated by William Stout, an international acclaimed fantasy artist who has done work for George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, is narrated by William Service with scientific commentary by Dr Peter Dodson. Published by Bantam Books in November 1981. Done in a variety of styles, these beautiful illustrations add drama and life to Stout's vision of the prehistoric world. This detail from one of the illustrations shows Camptosaurus sheltering from a storm behind a giant rock.





This illustration comes from 'Dinosaurs From China' by Dong Zhiming, jointly published by the British Museum (Natural History) and the China Ocean Press in 1988. This painting by Shen Wenlong shows a scene in the  Upper Jurassic of the Sichuan Basin with  Tuojiangosaurus multispinus in the foreground;  in the distance a carnosaur looks down at a herd of Mamenchisaurus.





















Two comic books of many that involve dinosaurs and the prehistoric world.

Left:  Inside back cover from 'Alley Oop: The Sawalla Chonicles' ny V.T. Hamlin. This was originally printed in 1936 as a newspaper comic strip.

Right: 'The Cartoon History of the Universe' was written and drawn by Larry Gonick and originally published in seven issues by Rip Off Press in California in 1978.

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RECENT DINOSAUR DISCOVERIES


The Amazing Dinosaur Found (Accidentally) by Miners in Canada: 
Known as a nodosaur, this 110 million-year-old, armored plant-eater is the best preserved fossil of its kind ever found. [National Geographic/June 2017] Its amazing.




Dinosaur discovery: a cavalcade of new giant dinosaurs is unearthed: ...a good new sauropod skeleton can be very valuable, so to have four new genera named in little over a week is something well worthy of comment. So say hello to the cavalcade of giants that are Galeamopus pabsti,Vouivria damparisensisTengrisaurus starkovi and Moabosaurus utahensis, each of which brings some new insight into the evolution and biology of these animals. [The Guardian/May 2017]

Saturday, August 19, 2017

PAUL OLIVER: WORLD EXPERT ON THE BLUES AND VERNACULAR ARCHITECTURE


Woke up this morning to read of the death of Paul Oliver at the age of 90. 
What is the African saying:
When an old person dies a library burns. 

In November 2009, I was privileged to spend one afternoon and early evening with Paul and others at his Oxfordshire house - and at the nearby pub. My mission there on that day could not have been more personally significant or more nerve-wracking. 


I had completed a book on Vernacular Architecture for a book packager who'd made a publishing deal with Thames & Hudson and Rizzoli. Anthony Reid,the Consultant Editor, who guided and corrected my work, was a vernacular architecture teacher who had studied under Paul. He set up this meeting to get Paul's blessing on the project. Also present was the head of the school of vernacular architecture at Oxford Brookes University. The stakes couldn't have been higher.

Paul's stone house was pre-Georgian and suited the man. He  had lived alone since his wife died. They had travelled the world together (many times probably) and I was to get a guided tour of the remarkable and often scary tribal art pieces they had brought back.


Mr Oliver was very gracious. I took him through the proof of the finished book. I am sure he made comments and asked questions but I was in such a state of tension (expecting at any moment for him to say OH DEAR! - major mistake that would scupper the book completely) that I can't remember the details.

Happily all was well and after we'd toasted the occasion with a few glasses of wine, he offered us tea. I went with him into the kitchen and began to talk to him about the blues. 

Its impossible to underestimate Oliver's work on the blues. He was the first white guy (one of the first?) to write in England on the topic and his incredible knowledge and contacts enabled him to define this field of study. One can imagine the huge enthusiasm he brought to his pioneering task.

He told me the story, often retold by many, of first hearing the blues in a field in Norfolk.He said at that time during the War he was too young to enlist so you could either be a forester or work with a farmer. The field in question was next to a US Air Force base, of which there were many in East Anglia at that time, and Paul heard, over the hedge, someone singing in a way he'd never heard before. That was the blues and it was to be his lifelong passion.

As was vernacular architecture, a subject area which he more or less invented, certainly dominated. His many books on the subject were absolutely required reading. He wrote in a remarkable style, expressing ideas and perspectives that only someone with his depth of knowledge could reach. What that man and his wife must have seen in those years before mass tourism and international terrorism, when it was possible to roam Eurasia, Polynesia, the Andean regions, the Balkans and Mid East with impunity.

Is there a link between these two fields of study. I think so. Imagine a song travelling from Scotland to the Appalachians. As its resung and passed on, it acquires local characteristics and embellishments, like musical Chinese whisper. Similarly, an I-House (a very popular plan for a self-build house that spread across America) acquired its own embellishments and local building styles. That's my two-p worth anyway.

Later that same day, he took me upstairs and showed me the almost frightening amount of pictures and tapes from his travels that he had carefully accumulated, most if not all carefully labelled from what I saw.

After we parted, I later spoke to him on the phone and asked whether I could come and interview him about his two passions. He declined and said he was working on his own autobiography. I hope its something he completed. 

I know so little of his mountainous knowledge but look forward to many years of exploration. I will always look back on that afternoon and early evening, in a small Oxfordshire village, when I was welcomed by a great man. Respect.