Tag Archives: 1960s

Charles Burchfield – January Twilight

27 Jan

“South wind in January; cool and moist – the occasional soft roar of wind in the tree tops; sunlight streaming from out of the white southern horizon, running up the sides of the trees like polished Dutch metal, and lighting up brightly the fences of houses, yearning southward.”

Charles Burchfield, January Twilight, 1962, watercolour

I’m really sick of you – January, can you end already? Can you possibly have less days or even better, never come again? But whilst you are still here, I will use the opportunity to write about this lovely watercolour by Charles Burchfield called “January Twilight” painted in 1962, just five years before the artist’s death in 1967.

Watercolour “January Twilight” shows a motif which we’ve seen often throughout Burchfield’s career; street scene with gloomy Victorian houses, a few trees and perhaps an uninterested passerby. All these watercolours of streetscenes are similar in a way, and still unique and wonderful each in their own right. What differentiates these watercolours is the mood and the weather, in “January Twilight” the weather is wintery; freezing and cold January . The tall and bare tree branches are stretching up towards the sky like the spires of Gothic cathedrals. Burchfield really has a knack of capturing the mood of the moment, they are so many little things that make you truly feel the scene that you are gazing at; the smoke from the chimneys, the snow on the roofs, the bare trees, the color of the sky, everything is so evocative of a winter’s day. Painted nearly entirely in shades of grey and with a few touches of soft yellow, the watercolour is monochromatic yet lively at the same time. Burchfield perfectly captures the pale rays of winter sun suddenly coming from behind the drab houses and illuminating the bare tree branches, wet pavements and piles of snow. I love how Gothic-looking his wooden Victorian houses always appear, almost as if they were real persons, full of dark secrets and tales to tell. One can also notice how much more free, loose and playful his style had become in his later years, less attention is paid to precision and details, and more on capturing the mood. I love the snake-like curves drawn here and there in the snow and I love the touches of yellow, as subtle as they are. One can really get lost in all the details of Burchfield’s dream-likes scenes.

Burchfield’s watercolours, whether they were painted early in his career in the late 1910s or 1920s or near the end of his life in the 1960s, are all characterised by this sense of wonder for the world around him. Burchfield grew up in a small rural town of Salem, Ohio, which offered little diversities and amusement, and in such circumstances one really has to find the beauty in everyday things because a small town doesn’t offer an array of things to escape the boredom from in the way a big city does. In that aspect, a small town can be fruitful for one’s imagination, time passes slower and one pays attention to little things, one has time to stop and smell the roses. I really see this in Burchfield’s art.

Details

Sabina as an Artist (Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being)

25 Jan

“And that’s how I began my first cycle of paintings. I called it Behind the Scenes. Of course, I couldn’t show them to anybody. I’d have been kicked out of the Academy. On the surface, there was always an impeccably realistic world, but underneath, behind the backdrop’s cracked canvas, lurked something different, something mysterious or abstract. After pausing for a moment, she added, On the surface, an intelligible lie; underneath, the unintelligible truth.

Milan Kundera’s novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, written in 1982 and published in 1984, is one of my favourite novels, as many of you probably know by now because I have written about it before. I love the simplicity with which this novel, and other Kundera’s novels, are written. Kundera never writes to fill the paper with words, he never wastes time on unnecessary descriptions and digressions, every sentence is carefully weighed, simple but philosophical and thought-pondering. He never bores the reader like some writers *cough* Balzac *cough* do. He gets to the point and I appreciate it.

The novel is set against the political events of 1968 and it revolves around the lives of four main characters; Tomáš, a surgeon, an intellectual and a womaniser; Tereza, a shy and gentle provincial girl who falls in love with Tomáš and comes to live with him in Prague and marries him, then Sabina; Tomáš’s lover and his best friend who is a painter and is in a self-declared war on kitsch, and Franz, an idealistic, kind yet weak professor from Geneva and Sabina’s lover. Kundera always uses his characters to explore ideas and philosophies so his characters are not just characters. I’ve always had a soft spot for Sabina because she is very free-spirited and because she is a painter, and she also represents the ‘unbearable’ lightness of being from the title, as opposed to Tereza’s view of life as ‘heavy’ burden. Tomáš and Sabina both represent the lightness of life because they take everything as it comes, they are like balloons in the air, flying freely wherever wind takes them, and Tereza is someone who pulls Tomáš down to reality with her heaviness. Tereza is initially jealous of Sabina, for obvious reasons, but eventually they befriend and on one ocassion Tomáš brings Tereza to Sabina’s studio and Sabina tells us something about her art.

As I mentioned above, the novel is set in the sixties and at the time when Sabina was a student the artistic and cultural climate was strict. We know this from real life examples, the life of the Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal, or from literary examples; Kundera’s first novel “The Joke”, published in 1967 but set in the 1950s, where we see how a simple joke against the regime can mean a life in prison or at least ostracism from society for the individual. If Sabina had painted as freely as she wanted perhaps she would have been expelled from university, but these restrictions only served to inspire her creatively and in her works, which of course we don’t see because it is a novel although I wonder what they might look like in Kundera’s mind, she finds ways to beat the system from within. The space in her paintings always shows two worlds, realism and magic meet and live alongside one another on Sabina’s cavases.

Jeanne Hebuterne, Self-Portrait, 1918

This dualism always reminds me of circus or theatre stage, at once vibrant and melancholy, and that is why I chose the picture of red curtains on the stage because they show this divison well; the red velvet curtains separate the real world of the audience from the magical, fanciful world of the stage. Here is what the novel says:

Sabina invited Tereza to her studio, and at last she saw the spacious room andits centerpiece: the large, square, platform-like bed.

I feel awful that you’ve never been here before, said Sabina, as she showed herthe pictures leaning against the wall. She even pulled out an old canvas, of asteelworks under construction, which she had done during her school days, aperiod when the strictest realism had been required of all students (art thatwas not realistic was said to sap the foundations of socialism). In the spiritof the wager of the times, she had tried to be stricter than her teachers andhad painted in a style concealing the brush strokes and closely resembling colorphotography.

Here is a painting I happened to drip red paint on. At first I was terribly upset, but then I started enjoying it. The trickle looked like a crack; it turned the building site into a battered old backdrop, a backdrop with abuilding site painted on it. I began playing with the crack, filling it out, wondering what might be visible behind it. And that’s how I began my first cycle of paintings. I called it Behind the Scenes. Of course, I couldn’t show them to anybody. I’d have been kicked out of the Academy. On the surface, there was always an impeccably realistic world, but underneath, behind the backdrop’s cracked canvas, lurked something different, something mysterious or abstract. After pausing for a moment, she added, On the surface, an intelligible lie; underneath, the unintelligible truth.

(Sabina and Tereza, two women in Tomáš’s life, stills from the film from 1988 which Kundera disliked intensely.)

Tereza listened to her with the remarkable concentration that few professors ever see on the face of a student and began to perceive that all Sabina’s paintings, past and present, did indeed treat the same idea, that they all featured the confluence of two themes, two worlds, that they were all double exposures, so to speak. A landscape showing an old-fashioned table lamp shiningthrough it. An idyllic still life of apples, nuts, and a tiny, candle-lit Christmas tree showing a hand ripping through the canvas.

She felt a rush of admiration for Sabina, and because Sabina treated her as afriend it was an admiration free of fear and suspicion and quickly turned into friendship. She nearly forgot she had come to take photographs. Sabina had to remind her. Tereza finally looked away from the paintings only to see the bed set in the middle of the room like a platform.

Syd Barrett’s Favourite Artists and Artworks

6 Jan

January is always a time of sobering up, the hangover after a wild party of colours, vibrancy and magic that is December. I hate that! I want the party to go on perpetually, I don’t want to ‘sober’ up… ever. I want to always be drunk on music, art, poetry, love and beauty. And so this drab, lonely and grey month always passes in a whimsical mood for me because I celebrate Syd Barrett’s birthday every year. Syd Barrett was born on the 6th January 1946. But the celebration doesn’t begin and end on the 6th, oh no, it lingers on and on. I devote myself these days to listening to Pink Floyd’s early work, then Syd’s solo albums, reading one of my ultimate favourites: Julian Palacios’s wonderful book “Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe”. The book instantly transports me back in time, to some whimsical, groovy, fairy tale-like place which perhaps never even existed, or it did, but only for a moment, like a shooting star. This is a post I originally wrote six years ago to celebrate Syd’s birthday, but I thought I’d repost it today because it’s been six years, come on, and I know there are many new readers now who probably have not read it. Enjoy!

Syd Barrett with his painting, spring 1964

In this post we’ll discuss two of my favourite things in the world; Syd Barrett and art. Despite having achieved fame as a musician, first with Pink Floyd, and then later with two solo-albums, Syd was a painter first and foremost. He attended the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in London, and continued painting later in life. Let’s take a look at the artists and artworks Syd loved! Syd’s first passion was art. Some even went as far as saying that he was a better painter than a musician. Even David Gilmour said that Syd was talented at art before he did guitar. I’ve seen his paintings, and I wouldn’t agree. What could surpass the beauty that he’s created musically?

All quotes in this post are from the book ‘Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe’ by Julian Palacios, and so is this one: ‘Waters brought older, upper-class friends round to Barrett’s house after school, among them Andrew Rawlinson and Bob Klose. They found him painting, paint below his easel, newspaper as a drop cloth and brushes on the windowsill. Painting and music ran in tandem, and Barrett was good at both. (…) Barrett sketched, painted and wrote, his output prolific.

syd-80Syd holding one of his paintings.

Syd first attended the Saturday-morning classes at Homerton College, and then started a two-year programme at the Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology in autumn 1962. Along with his enthusiasm and skill at painting, he was good at memorising dates and authors of paintings. Here’s another quote that demonstrates Syd’s painting technique: ‘Syd drew and painted with ease, demonstrating a deft balance between shadow and light. He had a talent for portraits, though his subjects sometimes looked somewhat frozen. Best at quick drawings, Syd had a good feel for abstract art, creating bright canvases in red and blue.‘ It seems to me that Syd would have loved Rothko; an American Abstract-Expressionist artist who painted his canvases in strong colours with spiritual vibe.

Then, in autumn of 1964, Syd came to London to study at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts. The curriculum at Camberwell was more rigorous than what Syd was used to at his previous college of arts: ‘At Camberwell, drawing formed the core curriculum. Tutors put Barrett through his paces working in different mediums and materials.‘ Syd’s art tutor, Christopher Chamberlain was taken with Syd’s tendency to paint in blunt, careless brushstrokes. Later in life, Barrett tended to burn his paintings, ‘psychedelic paintings, vaguely reminiscent of Jackson Pollock‘ because he believed that the point lies in creation and the finished product is unimportant. I can’t understand that at all – my paintings are my children.

Now I’ll be talking about seven artists that are in one way or another connected to Syd Barrett.

1918. Hébuterne by ModiglianiAmedeo Modigliani, Portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne, 1918

Modigliani

Sitting cross-legged in the cellar at Hills Road, Mick Rock was impressed as Syd rolled a joint with quick, nimble had. Nicely stoned, they listened to blues and talked about Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani, until the morning light peeked through the narrow slot windows.

Amedeo Modigliani; whose name itself sounds like a sad hymn of beauty, is perhaps one of the most unsung heroes of the art world. And the story of Amedeo and Jeanne’s love is perhaps the saddest of all. When Modigliani died, she couldn’t bear life without him so she threw herself out of the window, eight months pregnant at the time, oh how engulfed in sadness that January of 1920 must have been. Modigliani painted women, he painted them nude, and he painted their heads with large sad eyes, elongated faces, long necks and sloping shoulders. I think Modigliani expressed melancholy and the fragility of life like no other painter. I can’t tell for sure that Syd loved Modigliani, but since he talked about him, I take it that he was at least interested in the story behind his art. I would really like to hear that conversation between Syd and Rock.

gustav klimt beechwood forestGustav Klimt, Beechwood forest, 1902

Klimt

Appealing to Barrett’s Cantabrigian sensibilities were paintings like Gustav Klimt’s 1903 Beechwood Forest, where dense beech trees blot the sky, each leaf captured in one golden brushstroke.

Smouldering eroticism pervades all of Gustav Klimt’s artworks. Sometimes flamboyant, at other occasions toned down, but always burning in the shadow. In ‘Beechwood Forest’, Klimt paints trees with sensuality and elegance. He always painted landscape as a means of meditation, usually on holidays spent in Litzlberg at Lake Attersee, enjoying the warm, sunny days with his life companion Emilie Flöge. Klimt approached painting landscapes the same way he painted women, with visible sensuality and liveliness. The absence of people in all of his landscapes suggest that Klimt perceived the landscape as a living being, mystical pantheism was always prevalent. The nature, in all its greenness, freshness and mystery, was a beautiful woman for Klimt.

1891. James Ensor, Skeletons Fighting Over a Hanged ManJames Ensor, Skeletons Fighting Over a Hanged Man, 1891

James Ensor

Stephen Pyle recalled that Syd’s main interests were expressionist artist Chaim Soutine and surrealist painters Salvador Dali and James Ensor. Ensor’s surreal party of clowns with skeletons cropped up in his artwork even thirty years later.

Belgian painter James Ensor (1860-1949) was a true innovator of the late 19th century art. He was alone and misunderstood amongst his contemporaries, just like many revolutionary artists are, but he helped in clearing the path for some art movements like Surrealism and Expressions which would turn out to be more popular than Ensor himself. Painting ‘Skeletons Fighting Over a Hanged Man’ is a good example of Ensor’s themes and style of painting: skeletons, puppets, masks and intrigues painted in thick but small brushstrokes, with just a hint of morbidness all found their place in Ensor’s art. There’s no doubt that Barrett was inspired by the twisted whimsicality and playfulness of Ensor’s canvases.

1920. Les Maisons by SoutineChaim Soutine, Les Maisons, 1920

Soutine

Art historian William Shutes noted,Barrett used large single brushstrokes, built up layer by layer, layer over layer, like relief contours.

Chaim Soutine was a wilful eccentric, an Eastern Jew, an introvert who left no diaries and only a few letters. But he left a lot of paintings, mostly landscapes that all present us with his bitter visions of the world. He painted in thick, heavy brushstrokes laden with pain, anger, resentment and loneliness. In ‘Les Maisons’ the houses are crooked, elongated, painted in murky earthy colours. Their mood of alienation and instability is ever present in Soutine’s art. He portrayed his depression and psychological instability very eloquently. Description of Barrett’s style of painting, layers and layers of colour, relief brushstrokes, reminds me very much of the way Soutine painted; in heavy brushstrokes, tormented by pain and longings, as if layering colours could release the burden off of his soul.

Ren? Magritte, The Son of Man, 1964, Restored by Shimon D. Yanowitz, 2009 øðä îàâøéè, áðå ùì àãí, 1964, øñèåøöéä ò"é ùîòåï éðåáéõ, 2009Rene Magritte, The Son of Man, 1964

Rene Magritte

There’s no doubt that, as a Surrealist, Magritte was inspirational to young people in the sixties who were inclined to listening to psychedelic music or had a whimsical imagination. With Barrett, Magritte is mostly associated with his ‘Vegetable Man’ phase, in times when his LSD usage was getting out of control, just prior to being kicked out of band. Magritte is, along with Dali, another Surrealist that appealed to Barrett’s imagination. Belgian artist, Magritte meticulously painted similar, everyday objects like men in suits, clouds, pipes, umbrellas and buildings with strange compositions and shadows. In ‘The Son of Man’, some have suggested that he was dealing with the subject of one’s own identity, and that might be something that appealed to Syd when he appeared in the promotional picture with spring onions tied to his head which is an obvious wink to Magritte, not to mention Acimboldo.

1875. Les Raboteurs de parquet - Gustave CaillebotteGustave Caillebotte, Les Raboteurs de parquet, 1875

Gustave Caillebotte

Lying in bed one morning, he stared at his blanket’s orange and blue stripes and had a flashback to Gustave Caillebotte’s 1875 painting ‘The Wood Floor Planers’, which depicts workers scraping the wood floors of a sunlit room in striated patterns. Inspired, with Storm Thorgenson’s garish orange and red room at Egerton fresh in his mind, he got up, pushed his few belongings into a corner, and sauntered off to fetch paint from the Earl’s Court Road.

This is perhaps Caillebotte’s best legacy – inspiring Syd Barrett to paint his floor in stripes which later ended up gracing his first solo-album, the famously dark and whimsical ‘The Madcap Laughs’, released on 3 January 1970. Like the cover, other pictures taken that spring day in 1969 by Mick Rock and Storm Thorgenson, are all filled with light and have a transcendent mood.

1935-dali-paranoiac-visageDali, Paranoiac Visage, 1935

Dali

I believe none of you are surprised that Dali is on this list. Anyone who is familiar with his art will know that it ties very well with the music of Pink Floyd, and perhaps some other psychedelic bands. There’s no one quite like Dali in the world of art. Art he created, like Surrealism in general, is a visual portrayal of Freud’s ideas of the unconscious, and is based on irrationality, dreams, hallucinations and obsessions. His paintings are mostly hallucinogenic landscapes in the realm of dreams; realistic approach combined with deformed figures and objects which, just like in the art of Giorgio de Chirico, evokes feelings of anxiety in the viewer.

When I like an artist, musician or a writer, I always want to know what inspired them, or what they thought of something that I love. What did Barrett really think of Modigliani, for example? But, some things will forever stay a mystery. Perhaps it’s better that way.

Fashion Inspiration: Summer to Autumn…

24 Aug

Alexandra Spencer by Sybil Steele for Spell Designs February/March 2016.

 

 

 

Picture found here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scanned by Miss Peelpants from Petticoat, February 1971

 

 

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Book Review: Summer of Strangers (and Other Stories) by Masao Yamakawa

4 Jul

“The woman sees herself in the sea. She calls out to that other self.
The sea took you from us, Hiroshi. Then you became one with it…I wonder, if I throw myself into the sea, will I become one with you?”

(Masao Yamakawa, The Gift of Loneliness)

Georges Lacombe, Blue Seascape, Wave Effect, 1893

We are starting this July on the blog with my little review of the short story collection called “Summer of Strangers (And Other Stories)” by the Japanese writer Masao Yamakawa which was recently translated by J.D.Wisgo. I have already written a few book reviews for short stories “The Days and Nights” and “Downfall and Other Stories” by Fumiko Hayashi, both translated by the same translator.

The author of these short stories is the Japanese writer Masao Yamakawa who was born in 1930 in Tokyo. He wrote his university thesis on Jean-Paul Sartre and worked as the editor of the literary magazine “Mita Bungaku” which is interesting because that magazine published famous Japanese authors such as Tanizaki Junichiro and Akutagawa Ryunosuke; I enjoyed the works of both of these writers immensely. Yamakawa’s short story “The Summer Procession” is one of his most well-known. Sadly, Yamakawa died at the age of thirty-four as a result of a traffic accident, but his work is popular in Japan even today. The book contrains seven stories; “The Gift of Loneliness”, “You in a Box”, “Summer of Strangers”, “The Distorted Window”, “The Summer Procession”, “No More Summers”, and “Fireworks of the Day”. Each story is presented both in the English translation and in the original form, that is, in Japanese. I think this would be very fun and useful for someone who was studying Japanese language. It was interesting for me too, I will admit it.

Photo by Mervyn O’Gorman, 1913

As you can see, each story has a title that is delicious and alluring and I found it hard to chose which one to read first! What struck me with these stories is how different they are to each other, how uniquely crafted and individualistic, not following a certain plot-formula or having repetitive, recurring motives. And also, how the stories often take a surprising turn. When I would start reading each story, I always finished reading it and feeling surprised: “whoa, I did not expect that!” That was literally my reaction and that made reading all the more fun. The first story I read was “Summer of Strangers” because the title was very inviting and I love how it contained a story within a story: the main character who lives in a coastal, touristy town is swimming one night and meets a mysterious woman and, fearing that she might intend to commit suicide by drowning, he tells her a tale that his father would tell him. This tale, although affirming the individual’s right to decide whether to live or die, ends up saving the woman’s life and changing her perspective on things.

Edvard Munch, The Lonely Ones (Two People), 1895

The second story I read was “The Gift of Loneliness” because, again, the title made me curious. The story starts with a man and a woman sitting on the beach. We find out they are a husband and a wife, but they are emotionally distant from each other… Winter time is approaching in the story and the cold, raging sea seems to mirror the coldness and turmoils that the couple is experiencing. This image of two people, joint together by love and/or marriage, but feeling distanced from one another instantly brought to mind the famous painting by Edvard Munch called “The Lonely Ones” from 1895. In the painting the man and a woman are standing on the beach, gazing at the sea. The waves crush on to the shore as the two of them stand there in silence, just one step away from each other, and yet emotionally distant. The murmur of the sea, louder than their loneliness, matches the turmoil that rises in their soul. Are they a couple who just had an argument, or two lovers who have, after being drunken with love, now sobered and realised that nothing, not even their love, will spare them the loneliness and feeling of isolation that they experience as individuals…? The mood of the story, at least in the beginning, feels similar and quickly we find out the reason behind the mood: a month ago their four-year old son Hiroshi had died, drowned in that very same sea. Here is a passage from the beginning:

It seems like Hiroshi was everything to you,” the man says, forcing a smile. “But Ryoko, you were my wife to begin with…even before you became Hiroshi’s mother.”

The man seems to be calling out to her, but the wind makes his voice difficult to hear.

The woman does not turn around. Far out in the indigo sea, a faint mist hangs in the air.

The sea churns. Surely Hiroshi has already dissolved into the ocean. A month has already passed since the waves carried off his tiny, four-year-old body. Why did we ever go to the beach in September in the first place…
(…)
The man is calling me again. My husband must be worried.

Husband? Is that really my husband? He’s like a stranger to me, a man I’ve never seen before.

Suddenly the sea screams. A powerful roar. It engulfs her.

The woman sees herself in the sea. She calls out to that other self.

The sea took you from us, Hiroshi. Then you became one with it…I wonder, if I throw myself into the sea, will I become one with you?

“Let’s head back to the hotel soon.”

The man’s hand holds her shoulder tightly. Gazing at her from the side with a cautious look in his eyes, the man’s stiff cheeks force a smile. Silly man. You actually think I would jump from here.

“I’m ok. Let go of me,” the woman says. “If I wanted to die, I would have been dead long ago.”

Through the characters’ conversations and visual imagery, the story beautifully captures the sadness of loosing a child, and, as the title suggests, it brings a thought-pondering idea about loneliness being a gift, giving someone some time and space out of love as a gift.

Tanigami Konan (1879-1928), Dahlia, 1917

First and last pictures here by Magdalena Lutek (Nishe)

“I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you
That I almost believe that they’re real
I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you
That I almost believe that the pictures are all I can feel”

(The Cure, Pictures of You)

The story that especially surprised me the way it turned out to be is “You in a Box” because at first we are presented with a shy, withdrawn, slightly socially awkward woman whose coyness reaches such levels that she cannot even look a man in the eye, but as the story unfolds we discover that her shy, frightened demeanour hides an entirely different nature; twisted passions and a distrust, a fear of any relationship with people, with men in particular. The story begins with her strolling around park, meeting a stranger – a tourist and taking his picture, but this innocent start mustn’t fool you because things turn deadly very quickly…

I especially found this inner monologue of hers chilling: “Darling, I’m really sorry about killing you…but just deal with it, ok? You see, I’m scared of the living. I can’t predict what they’ll do, and people who are alive will never truly become mine. In this form, you’re very obedient and will never betray me. Now there’s no reason for us to hide things from each other. I’m sure that you aren’t lonely either. Let’s live together like this forever, happily ever after…” While I was reading the story my perception of who is the predator and who I should hate and fear changed almost instantly as the events in the story unfolded.

Even though the story is very short, the character of the woman in it is very psychologically complex and the story left me feeling haunted for days. At first she struck me as a creepy horror film character, but as this sensation subsided, I came to see the woman as a deeply lonely individual and the story shows how intense loneliness, isolation, and distrust of people can lead to harrowing acts of aggresion. In a way, the woman in the story reminded me of the character Etsuko from Yukio Mishima’s novel “Thirst for Love”; she is also a shy, private person but her calm exterior hides rage and an obsessive love which turns deadly.

I enjoyed all the stories in the book, but this post would be too long to mention them all so I just mentioned the ones that struck me the most. All in all, if you love short stories and Japanese literature, I am sure you will enjoy these shorts stories. You can check out the translator’s word on his blog: Self Taught Japanese and Goodreads page.

This book is available here on Amazon.

Fashion Inspiration for Spring 2022

25 Mar

Lunetta Earrings by Jennifer Behr.

Instagram: devyncrimson.

Instagram: devyn crimson

Earrings, found here.

Instagram: devyn crimson.

Tilfi – Charbagh Collection, found here.

Syd Barrett’s Birthday: Lazing in the foggy dew, sitting on the unicorn

6 Jan

It’s Syd Barrett’s birthday today and, as most of you know, I am a massive fan of the early Pink Floyd and Syd’s two solo albums. And it is my tradition on this blog to post something Syd-related on his birthday. “Flaming” is one of my favourite Pink Floyd songs and for a while now I had this idea of posting the song’s lyrics alongside with the appropriate paintings or pictures because the lyrics are so vivid and full of whimsical, childlike imagery which instantly bring images to my mind and makes me daydream of some fairy tale land of flowers and clouds.

Henri-Edmond Cross, The Pink Cloud, 1896

Odilon Redon, Flower Clouds (c 1903), pastel

Alone in the clouds all blue

Edouard Vuillard, The Red Eiderdown, 1894

Lying on an eiderdown.
Yippee! You can’t see me
But I can you.

Art by Nissan Engel.

Lazing in the foggy dew
Sitting on a unicorn.
No fair, you can’t hear me
But I can you.

Marianne Stokes, In the Meadow (In a Field of Buttercups) (c 1890)

Watching buttercups cup the light

Burchfield, Dandelion Seed Heads and the Moon, ca. 1961-65

Ludwig Stasiak, Dandelions, 1900

Sleeping on a dandelion.
Too much, I won’t touch you
But then I might.

John Fowles’s The Collector and The Smiths: What Difference Does It Make? It makes none

27 Jul

“Oh, the devil will find work for idle hands to do”

(The Smiths)

The original cover featuring Terence Stamp

This is my third and final post (well at least final for now) in relation to John Fowles’ novel “The Collector”; I already wrote a book review, a post about the theme of art in the novel because Miranda was an art student, and now this post which connects the film with the song by The Smiths. Allow me to first open the Bible of misery, melancholy and self-pity: Morrissey’s Autobiography that is, and let us go to the page one hundred and sixty three and see what is there to be said about the song What Difference Does it Make? and the Terence Stamp cover picture incident:

I nominate Pretty girls make graves as the third single, but a bastion of bearded Rough Trade battleaxes drop on me like a ton of beansprouts and argue against a song with a title that would have made Mary Wollstonecraft throw in the tea-towel. Rough Trade wheel out “What Difference Does It Make?” as the next single. I had loved the song until its defilement on “The Smiths” album; the loose swain’s saunter now sounded stiff and inflexible, the drums sounding too frightened to move, the voice sounding like something gone to its reward – or, at least, resting in peace. I use a photograph of Terence Stamp as the sleeve image partly because I am assured that clearance can be gained from Stamp through Geoff’s mutual friendship with Sandie Shaw. Once the single is issued, Terence Stamp objects and will say (years later) that ‘Morrissey did not ask for approval.’ A new shot is panicked together, wherein I imitate the Stamp shot, although I choose to hold a glass of milk in place of Stamp’s strychnine-soaked muslin cloth. I am ugly against Stamp’s glamor-handsomeness, but it will have to do, since the single has already risen to number 12. Evidently Rough Trade are quite pleased about the sudden censoring of the original sleeve, because it might mean that collectors buy the single with the new sleeve also, thus bumping up sales.

I really adore the song Pretty girls make graves, so I agree with Morrissey. In the novel, Frederick (played in the film by Terence Stamp) drugs the beautiful art student Miranda with chloroform not with strychnine, but oh well Morrissey, I forgive you a lousy little mistake. It seems that in both covers the devil did find work for idle hands to do because they are both holding something. Even though the song and the film have nothing in common really, the cover picture was Morrissey’s homage to the films and film stars of the 1950s and 1960s that he loved. The aesthetic of the kitchen sink dramas appealed to his grim view of the world around him.

The cover with Morrissey and a glass of milk

All men have secrets and here is mine
So let it be known
For we have been through hell and high tide
I think I can rely on you
And yet you start to recoil
Heavy words are so lightly thrown
But still I’d leap in front of a flying bullet for you
So, what difference does it make?
So, what difference does it make?
It makes none
But now you have gone
And you must be looking very old tonight
The devil will find work for idle hands to do
I stole and I lied, and why?
Because you asked me to!
But now you make me feel so ashamed
Because I’ve only got two hands
Well, I’m still fond of you, oh-ho-oh
So, what difference does it make?
Oh, what difference does it make?
Oh, it makes none
But now you have gone
And your prejudice won’t keep you warm tonight
Oh, the devil will find work for idle hands to do
I stole, and then I lied
Just because you asked me to
But now you know the truth about me
You won’t see me anymore
Well, I’m still fond of you, oh-ho-oh
But no more apologies
No more, no more apologies
Oh, I’m too tired
I’m so sick and tired
And I’m feeling very sick and ill today
But I’m still fond of you, oh-ho-oh
Oh, my sacred one
Oh

Art in John Fowles’s The Collector

25 Jul

“I’m so far from everything. From normality. From light. From what I want to be.”

(John Fowles, The Collector)

Berthe Morisot, Child With A Red Apron, 1886

John Fowles’ debut novel “The Collector” is one of the most fascinating novels I’ve read recently and it will probably become one of my all time favourites as well because the theme is so fascinating. It’s about a lonely, alienated individual called Frederick who collects butterflies and one day “collects” a girl called Miranda, a pretty twenty year old art student that he had spent weeks admiring from afar. I wrote a book review of it here, but today I would like to focus on the theme of art in the novel because it’s not so often that art gets mentioned in fiction. Art is bound to come up in the conversation with Frederick because Miranda is an art student in the dawn of the sixties so it’s specially interesting to hear her thoughts on the then contemporary art world. After Frederick kidnaps her, he keeps her in his basement and they spend time together and start to get to know each other. On one of such occasions, Miranda draws a portrait of him:

One day about then she did a picture of me, like returned the compliment. I had to sit in a chair and look at the corner of the room. After half an hour she tore up the drawing before I could stop her. (She often tore up. Artistic temperament, I suppose.) I’d have liked it, I said. But she didn’t even reply to that, she just said, don’t move. From time to time she talked. Mostly personal remarks. “You’re very difficult to get. You’re so featureless. Everything’s nondescript. I’m thinking of you as an object, not as a person.” Later she said, “You’re not ugly, but your face has all sorts of ugly habits. Your underlip is worst. It betrays you.” I looked in the mirror upstairs, but I couldn’t see what she meant.

Paul Cezanne, Four Apples, 1881

Another time, Miranda made still life studies of fruits in a bowl. I think this scene shows Miranda’s artistic temperament and how Frederick never has a clue about anything, he is so inferior to her in every sense that Miranda cannot help but laugh. For example, he thinks the best painting is the one that is most accurate, most realistic, he doesn’t understand why someone paints something in a free-spirited, colourful way:

Another day she drew a bowl of fruit. She drew them about ten times, and then she pinned them all up on the screen and asked me to pick the best. I said they were all beautiful but she insisted so I plumped for one. “That’s the worst,” she said. “That’s a clever little art student’s picture.” She said, “One of them is good. I know it is good. It is worth all the rest a hundred times over. If you can pick it in three guesses you can have it for nothing when I go. If I go. If you don’t, you must give me ten guineas for it.” Well, ignoring her dig I had three guesses, they were all wrong. The one that was so good only looked half-finished to me, you could hardly tell what the fruit were and it was all lop-sided. “There I’m just on the threshold of saying something about the fruit. I don’t actually say it, but you get the idea that I might. Do you feel that?” I said I didn’t actually. She went and got a book of pictures by Cezanne. “There,” she said, pointing to a coloured one of a plate of apples. “He’s not only saying everything there is about the apples, but everything about all apples and all form and colour.” I take your word for it, I said. All your pictures are nice, I said. She just looked at me. “Ferdinand,” she said. “They should have called you Caliban.

Syd Barrett with his painting, spring 1964

And I chose this last quote because it shows Miranda’s view on art at the time, her disdain for the avant-garde approach to art. This picture of Syd Barrett above may seem out of place because the post is not about him or the Pink Floyd, but the reason I decided to include it is because he was an art student in the early sixties. When I read The Collector and thought about Miranda, I also thought about the real people and the real art scene from that time. Miranda the book character was probably a few years older, but they could have crossed paths in London. Syd’s generation praise imagination and had a child-like vision of things and I love that approach to art; experimental and fun, not stuffy and rigid and full of rules. I also love how Miranda points out that the bottom line is that either you can paint or you can’t, and I agree:

I felt our whole age was a hoax, a sham. The way people talk and talk about tachism and cubism and this ism and that ism and all the long words they use — great smeary clots of words and phrases. All to hide the fact that either you can paint or you can’t. I want to paint like Berthe Morisot, I don’t mean with her colours or forms or anything physical, but with her simplicity and light. I don’t want to be clever or great or “significant” or given all that clumsy masculine analysis. I want to paint sunlight on children’s faces, or flowers in a hedge or a street after April rain. The essences. Not the things themselves. Swimmings of light on the smallest things. Or am I being sentimental? Depressed. I’m so far from everything. From normality. From light. From what I want to be.

Book Review: The Collector by John Fowles

15 Jul

I read quite a few interesting novels lately, but John Fowles’ debut novel “The Collector”, published in May 1963, is the most peculiar one; both the theme and the style in which it was written are fascinating. I discovered this novel by serendipity, completely randomly, but it turned out that this was exactly the kind of novel I craved. I was captivated from the very first page because from the very beginning Fowles places the reader into the mind of a seemingly ordinary, yet very unusual individual named Frederick Clegg. Frederick isn’t the Arnold Layne from Pink Floyd’s song, stealing and collecting girls knickers from the washing lines in suburban gardens of Cambridge, but he is a collector of other things; firstly the butterflies, and then one beautiful girl called Miranda he watches from afar and over time falls in love with, despite not knowing anything about her really, apart of the Art School she goes to and what she looks like. He is a socially awkward, strange individual and it’s hard to decide whether he is good or bad; the things he does are bad, but his intentions truly are not.

His early daydreams about her are very romantic and sweet, but concerning in their delusional nature: “I used to have daydreams about her, I used to think of stories where I met her, did things she admired, married her and all that. Nothing nasty, that was never until what I’ll explain later. She drew pictures and I looked after my collection (in my dreams). It was always she loving me and my collection, drawing and colouring them; working together in a beautiful modern house in a big room with one of those huge glass windows; meetings there of the Bug Section, where instead of saying almost nothing in case I made mistakes we were the popular host and hostess. She all pretty with her pale blonde hair and grey eyes and of course the other men all green round the gills.

Other days the sweetness of these innocent daydreams takes a darker tone when he sees her spending time with other men, for he, naturally, wants her all for himself, even though Miranda doesn’t even know he exists: “The only times I didn’t have nice dreams about her being when I saw her with a certain young man, a loud noisy public-school type who had a sports car. Those were days I let myself have the bad dreams. She cried or usually knelt. Once I let myself dream I hit her across the face as I saw it done once by a chap in a telly play. Perhaps that was when it all started.

Catherine Deneuve in UK filming 1965 British psychological horror Repulsion, London, Friday 2nd October 1964. Photo by Wilson

One day, Frederick wins a prize in the football pools and decides to buy a lonely and old countryside house. From that moment on, his daydreams and wild fantasies become serious plans; he decorates the cellar and is ready to catch his butterfly-victim Miranda. One evening he follows her after her classes: “It was all planned. And then she was near. She’d come up and round without me seeing, only twenty yards away, walking quickly. If it had been a clear night I don’t know what I’d have done. But there was this wind in the trees. Gusty. I could see there was no one behind her. Then she was right beside me, coming up the pavement. Funny, singing to herself.” After he kidnaps her, he drives her to his countryside house and locks her in the cellar. The novel is divided in three parts; the first part is seen from Frederick’s point of view, the second part is Miranda’s diary written in captivity, and a tiny bit at the end is again told from Frederick’s point of view.

Miranda’s emotions change greatly throughout the novel; at first she is frightened and thinks he must be interested only in sex, which isn’t true, but as she gets to know him, she realises just how pathetic, uneducated, uncultured and weak he truly is; a working class nobody, that is how she sees him, for she is a posh, middle-class art student. He doesn’t have a clue about art or Mozart; things that Miranda loves. Frederick also realises that Miranda is far from the girl of his dreams; she is insolent, she regularly mocks him for the way he walks and talks, decorates his house, nothing escapes her snobbish prejudice. And the most heartbreaking realisation comes in the end, when he realises that she never loved him. The realism gives this novel humanity; Frederick isn’t a cruel savage and a monster, but rather a lonely, confused, strange individual who simply wants to connect with another human being, and he tries doing that the only way he thinks it’s possible, as he says: “if she’s with me, she’ll see my good points, she’ll understand. There was always the idea she would understand.” Things aren’t always black and white and this novel shows the complexities of such a situation. Even though one would assume Miranda was a poor victim and Frederick the evil person, I grew fond of Frederick whilst reading the novel and I developed a sadness and understanding for him. I don’t think he has a cruel heart.

And now more quotes I enjoyed:

That was the day I first gave myself the dream that came true. It began where she was being attacked by a man and I ran up and rescued her. Then somehow I was the man that attacked her, only I didn’t hurt her; I captured her and drove her off in the van to a remote house and there I kept her captive in a nice way. Gradually she came to know me and like me and the dream grew into the one about our living in a nice modern house, married, with kids and everything. It haunted me. It kept me awake at nights, it made me forget what I was doing during the day. I stayed on and on at the Cremorne. It stopped being a dream, it began to be what I pretended was really going to happen (of course, I thought it was only pretending) so I thought of ways and means — all the things I would have to arrange and think about and how I’d do it and all. I thought, I can’t ever get to know her in the ordinary way, but if she’s with me, she’ll see my good points, she’ll understand. There was always the idea she would understand.

Apollo Butterfly, Illustrations taken from ‘The Natural History of British Butterflies’ by Edward Donovan, Printed for the author in 1792 and for F. and C. Rivington

He’s so slow, so unimaginative, so lifeless. Like zinc white. I see it’s a sort of tyranny he has over me. He forces me to be changeable, to act. To show off. The hateful tyranny of weak people. The ordinary man is the curse of civilization. But he’s so ordinary that he’s extraordinary. He takes photographs. He wants to take a “portrait” of me. Then there were his butterflies, which I suppose were rather beautiful. Yes, rather beautifully arranged, with their poor little wings stretched out all at the same angle. And I felt for them, poor dead butterflies, my fellow-victims.

She’d taken her blue jumper off, she stood there in a dark green tartan dress, like a schoolgirl tunic, with a white blouse open at the throat. Her hair swept back into the pigtail. Her lovely face. She looked brave. I don’t know why, I thought of her sitting on my knees, very still, with me stroking her soft blonde hair, all out loose as I saw it after. Suddenly I said, I love you. It’s driven me mad. She said, “I see,” in a queer grave voice. She didn’t look at me any more then. I know it’s old-fashioned to say you love a woman, I never meant to do it then. In my dreams it was always we looked into each other’s eyes one day and then we kissed and nothing was said until after.

For some time she sat smoking, with her eyes shut, as if the sight of me tired her eyes.

High Brown Fritillary, Illustrations taken from ‘The Natural History of British Butterflies’ by Edward Donovan, Printed for the author in 1792 and for F. and C. Rivington

The author explained the inspiration behind the novel in his journal entry for 3rd February 1963:

The Collector. The three sources. One. My lifelong fantasy of imprisoning a girl underground. I think I must go back to early in my teens. I remember it used to be famous people Princess Margaret, various film stars. Of course, there was a sexual motive; the love-through-knowledge motive, or motif, has also been constant. The imprisoning in other words, has always been a forcing of my personality as well as my penis on the girl concerned. Variations I can recall: the harem (several girls in one room, or in a row of rooms); the threat (this involves sharing a whip, but usually not flagellation—the idea of exerted tyranny, entering as executioner); the fellow-prisoner (this by far the commonest variation: the girl is captured and put naked into the underground room; I then have myself put in it, as if I am a fellow-prisoner, and so avoid her hostility). Another common sexual fantasy is the selection board: I am given six hundred girls to choose fifty from and so on. These fantasies have long been exteriorized in my mind, of course; certainly I use the underground-room one far less since The Collector.

Two, the air-raid shelter incident.

Three, Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle.