Tag Archives: Alice in Wonderland

Syd Barrett and The Madcap Laughs: Madness, Solitude and Striped Floors

3 Jan

Syd Barrett’s debut album as a solo artist, “The Madcap Laughs” was released on the 3rd January 1970. The music has a bittersweet feel to it; the melodies are childlike and innocent while others take on darker sounds. The album is in many ways a musical portrayal of Syd’s state of mind at the time.

“We are all mad here.”

(Lewis Caroll, Alice in Wonderland)

It was love at first sound with me and Pink Floyd’s early hits such as Arnold Layne, See Emily Play and Scarecrow; I intuitively felt that something very imaginative and strange was hiding underneath the exterior of your average great pop-song. Those were more than just pop songs that will be forgotten in a few years. They had the magic, the wittiness, the dreaminess that made them linger on in my mind. “Who writes stuff like this?”, I thought to myself. The genius behind the lyrics was Syd Barrett; at the time a drop-out art student from Cambridge who overnight found himself in the centre of the psychedelic underground culture. Music and art were fun for Syd, and coming up with witty lyrics and simple catchy tunes was easy for him because he seemed to have approached things in a childlike way, full of curiosity and wonder at the world around him, but the stress of the band’s success, the interviews, the popularity proved to be too much for him. The increasing consummation of the drug of the moment, LSD, did not help matters. His creative period with the Pink Floyd was short but strong, like an explosion, or a shooting star. Let me provide you with a few dates to show you just how fast it all happened; their first single “Arnold Layne” was released on 10th March 1967. And already, on 15th January 1968 Syd played his last gig with Pink Floyd.

Gustave Caillebotte, Wood Floor Planers, 1875

A new chapter in Syd’s life and musical career began. Alone in the loneliness of his Victorian pad in Wetherby Mansion in Earl’s Court Square, the Psychedelic Mad Hatter was slowly descending into a haunting state of introspection, melancholy and illusions. Into his new bohemian abode, he brought the stuff that remained after many moves around London; a small table, a mattress and a striped blanket, some scratched LPs, Penguin edition books by Shakespeare and Chaucer, barely touched canvases stacked against the wall. His room was his little imaginary world. The outside world did not matter anymore. The cheerful, fun-loving, chatty and friendly Syd was gone. The handsome young Englishman with messy black hair and velvet trousers was slowly going mad…. One morning, after having spent some time meditatively staring at his blanket, a painting by Gustave Caillebotte called “The Wood Floor Planners” suddenly came to his mind and he decided to paint the bare wooden floors of his room in stripes of orange and blue. The album cover shows Syd crouching in his room, a vase of daffodils next to him. He is sad and alone, yet his darkness intimidates me. Angry outbursts and fragmented conversation. Loneliness is seeping through the cracks on the striped floor.

Syd Barrett first entered the studio as a solo artist on 30th January 1968; just ten days after his last show with Pink Floyd, for what would be an unfruitful session. Sessions resumed in June and July produced songs Late Night, Octopus and Golden Hair; all featured on The Madcap Laughs. Peter Jenner, who had worked on these sessions claimed that they had not gone smoothly although he got on well with the singer. Shortly after July sessions Syd suddenly stopped recording, breaking up with his then girlfriend Lindsey Corner and then going off a drive around Britain in his Mini only to end up in psychiatric care in Cambridge. By the start of 1969 Barrett, somewhat recovered, resumed his music career and started working with another engineer Malcolm Jones, after both Jenner and Norman Smith (Pink Floyd’s producer at the time) had declined his request to work on the album. Over four sessions beginning on April 10th 1969. Syd had recorded songs Opel (a beautiful misty ballad that would not see the light of day until 1988), No good trying, No man’s land, Here I go and Love you. The sessions all together were not very productive because in those days recording four or five songs on just guitar in four or five hours wasn’t considered very productive. It was something the engineers tried to avoid.

“You feel me
Away far too empty, oh so alone
I want to go home
Oh find me inside of a nocturne, the blonde
How I love you to be by my side”

(Syd Barrett – Feel)

During the recording of the album Syd was also on Mandrax and he’d sit on a stool and then fall off it. Barrett and his friends were taking the infamous LSD-25, a powerful psychiatric drug still legal in UK those days. It was almost a religious-like experience for Syd, and many others who indulged. Syd really did believe the psychedelic revolution was flowing through him. The world was changing and he thought we should all be perfect beings, cool and groovy. Syd began taking acid regularly with enthusiasm many found alarming. It was in May 1967. that his eyes crazed.  At the time of The Madcap Laughs Syd had already completely surrendered.

The Madcap Laughs is an album filled with long forgotten symbolism. The songs are a mirror of Syd’s mental state of the time and in them he expressed, perhaps deliberately perhaps not, his loneliness and growing alienation. Though some of them have a cheerful rhythm like Love you, one can feel a spark of melancholy. In song Terrapin for example Syd shows his love of the blues while some of the songs sound more like a concept rather than a finished and polished song. This album features some almost child-like songs with optimistic melodies and ostensibly cute themes (Love you and Here I go) through darker and deeper subjects (Dark globe, Golden Hair and No man’s land) to melancholic cries for rescue from his loneliness and ever increasing alienation. Song Golden Hair is actually based on a poem by James Joyce.

This album and the following Barrett reflect not just his state of mind but also the atmosphere at the time, sorrowful end of the sixties whose optimism, innocence and mind-expanding ideas had faded away. By that time the hedonistic atmosphere of the Swinging London was long lost. Perhaps albums The Madcap Laughs and Barrett are a remembrance of the sixties for they were created at the dusk of this beautiful era; era which Syd belonged to and sadly died with.

The striped floors are aesthetically such a fun and exciting things. Syd chose to paint his floors in vibrant contrasting colours which gives the entire room a psychedelic touch, but I noticed the motif of wooden floor in many canvases painted by nineteenth century artists. Seeing the striped wooden floor stretching vertically or horizontally on the canvas is so exciting to me. Here are a few examples by Vincent van Gogh and Degas:

Vincent van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles, 1888

Edgar Degas, Deux Danseuses, 1879

Edgar Degas, The Dance Lesson, 1879

Edgar Degas, Dancers Practicing at the Barre, 1877

William Ratcliffe, Attic Room, 1918

The photo session for the album cover took place in the spring 1969. Most likely in March when daffodils were blooming and Syd had just finished painting his floor in orange and purple stripes. Proud of what he had done, Syd invited his friend Mick Rock to come over and take some photos. At that time Syd was living with Iggy The Eskimo who was a friend of Syd’s ex-girlfriend Jenny Spires. Iggy and Syd weren’t lovers but she was a good company. She answered the doors that day and welcomed Mick completely naked (not an unusual thing for hippies and free-spirited creatures of the time). When Mick arrived he found Syd in bed, still in his underpants; a moment he captured with his new camera Pentax he had just recently bought. After he’d got up, Syd donned a pair of trousers with colour stains on them; from the floor paint. Iggy, the groovy companion to this Mad Hatter of Psychedelia, added some kohl to his eyes to achieve that elegantly wasted look of a Poete Maudite.

The photos were created naturally, with no staging and posing. Mick worked with elements he had: a painted floor, a vase of daffodils, nude Iggy in the background and a huge Canadian car parked just in front of Wetherby Mansion for some outside shots. None of it was planned. Later that day, Storm Thorgerson arrived and his solo focus was the wonderful striped floor. He shoot photos in fading light placing a wide angled lens millimeters of the ground to achieve an Alice in Wonderland effect, giving the floor elastic quality. Syd just crouched by the fireplace and he looked natural; he spontaneously adapted to the background. His pose suggests defiant exhaustion and a dark edge of ‘knowing’. There was only one corner of the room that Syd hadn’t painted and that was the only clean angle if you didn’t want to expose this ‘set’ for what it was; a drab living room with a nasty electric fireplace. As long as he occupied his island-mattress surrounded by striped painted floor, reality and a world of possibilities remained outside his door. The photo that would eventually be the cover photo was also taken by Thorgerson.

I cannot put it in words how much I adore this album and the album cover and the striped floor. All of it has inspired me beyond words. I listen to “The Madcap Laughs” every time I paint my watercolours; it is such a pleasant, soothing, melancholy and dreamy music to provide background for dipping my brush in water, then in the paint… Syd’s fragile voice, his strange and witty lyrics, his yearnings for help and cries of loneliness that come out in some songs, all of it draws me into this strange ethereal world which I always occupy with one part of my mind. When I listen to this album, and also his follow-up “Barrett”, I truly feel like Alice when she found herself in the Wonderland; Syd is the psychedelic Mad Hatter and I follow him blindly, over the striped floor, crossing the yellow glow of the waning sun, to the spaces where only music remains, and I am free, free, free…

Also, grainy quality of the photo brings nostalgia and serves as a barrier between psychedelic vivid colours of the ’60s to more drab and sad reality that came with the seventies. Long gone is the multicoloured glamour of the ’60s Swinging London psychedelia and instead the cover of The Madcap Laughs suggests the ’60s decadence exposed and photos have that sad “party’s over” feel.

I have to take a moment in the end to give praise where praise is due and recommend you all the wonderful, amazing, fun and detailed book about Syd Barret called “Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe” by Julius Palacios.

Haunting Melancholy Dolls by Mari Shimizu

15 Dec

“She’s got the whole dark forest living inside of her.”

(Tom Waits)

Some time ago I discovered these gorgeous dolls made by a Japanese artist Mari Shimizu, and I was instantly drawn to their beautiful pale haunting faces, large eyes radiating melancholy and rosebud lips which hide secrets. Mari Shimizu has been creating these dolls for almost twenty years now, having started in 2000, and she is entirely self-taught. The detailing and the inspiration that went into creating each doll individually is baffling! They are all unique and yet they all seem to belong to this one world; half-fantasy and half-macabre. As I gaze at each doll, it seems to me that their eyes, shiny and large like gemstones, jade or sapphire, are gateways to this other world, that of the imagination.

Some of them are inspired by Alice in Wonderland, some are vampire-like, with delicious little fangs and faded lavender coloured Rococo-style gowns, others are skeletons with rich inner lives, and I mean literary so; their insides, instead of organs, have a whole other vivid crazy world inside them; nude maiden riding a horse of Fuseli-inspired fantasy, anything goes. Mari Shimizu wasn’t into the whole pink, sugary, kawaii aesthetic that Japan is famous for (that isn’t the only aspect of Japanese culture, I know, but it seems a lot of foreigners are drawn to the cuteness and childlike stuff that Japan offers, from mangas to Lolita clothes).

Her imagination wanted to go to greater depths and greater lengths, and looking at these dolls you can notice a whole scale of inspiration that went into it, from Western art and fairy tales and stories, and she said in an interview here that she especially likes Renaissance and Victorian eras which would explain some of the themes behind these dolls, Death and the Maiden, a popular motif in the Middle ages and the Renaissance, and Alice in Wonderland: “Alice in Wonderland is fascinated by being an absurd drama with a girl as the main character, depicted in an era when human activities are automated in the industrial revolution. I interpret that the innocent and pure existence of a girl is a story that fights adult absurdity over time. Human emotions and growth are inherently absurd.  It is animals and nature that tell us the truth, not formulas.  Alice in Wonderland is drawn through the eyes of a girl whose world is still undifferentiated, and she can listen to animal conversations and freely change the size and presence of objects.  It is a theme that always has new discoveries that break our fixed concept.” (in the artist’s own words)

Henri Fuseli, The Nightmare, 1791

Illustrations – Fairies, Myths and Magic

4 Jun

Illustrations by Warwick Goble, Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac – a rather cheerful topic on this ‘damp and lonely Thursday‘.

My mother used to read to me every night when I was little, not only those common children’s books such as Grimm’s fairy tales, Peter Pan, Pippi Longstocking or Alice in Wonderland, but all sorts of myths and legends: Native American myths and legends, Persian fairy tales, stories from ‘One Thousand and One Nights’, and tales from Scandinavian and Slavic folklore. I’ll forever be grateful for the time she spent reading to me and the variety of cultures she introduced me to because all of these things made me an open-minded person that I am. Later I read The Lords of the Rings by myself and entered the magical world of Arhurian legends, but it all started from there: me sitting in my mother’s lap and listening with excitement to her imitations of the characters’ voices. ‘You only have to read the lines, They’re scribbly black and everything shines.‘ (Syd Barrett) I think the best thing you can do for children is to read to them.

When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”- C. S. Lewis

All three artists were book illustrators, mostly remembered for their magical illustrations of fairy tales and children’s stories. Although I love all of their illustrations, I must say that Warwick Goble’s work appeals to me the most because he specialised in Japanese and Indian themes. Different cultures always excited me. I like his usage of sombre colours and a mystic mood of his night scenes, not to mention the beautiful lotus flowers, fairies and interesting clothes.

Warwick Goble - Elfen & Boeken1909. Warwick Goble 4 1909. Warwick Goble 5 1910. The peony lantern. Warwick Goble, from Green Willow and other Japanese fairy tales, by Grace James, London She took up the jewel in her hand, left the palace, and successfully reached the upper world. A Warwick Goble illustration. Sita finds Rama among the Lotus blooms - Warwick Goble, Indian Myth and Legend Warwick Goble - Cancee and the Falcon, Warwick Goble

"Do as you list, I will be ever known your thrall" - The Complete Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (1912)

“Do as you list, I will be ever known your thrall” – The Complete Poetical Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (1912)

Warwick Goble ~ Enchanted Princess Warwick Goble 10 Warwick Goble 12 Warwick Goble, The Water Babies Warwick Goble 13

Arthur Rackham was a well-known British illustrator, most active in the first three decades of the twentieth century. I particularly like his illustrations of Alice in Wonderland (1907) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1908). The first illustration you can see down below is my favourite ever depiction of Alice; I just love all those cards flying around. I must say that many of Rackham’s illustrations have a sinister mood, Pandora’s Box for example, or his depiction of trees and those maidens with their hair floating on the water.

1907. Alice in Wonderland - by Arthur Rackham

Arthur Rackham Fairy Illustrations Pandora

Pandora’s Box

 

Arthur Rackham Alice in Wonderland Arthur Rackham Watercolor, pen & ink

Arthur Rackham - illustration from 'A Midsummer-Night's Dream' 1907. Elena by Arthur Rackham (from 'A Midsummer's Night Dream) 1908. A midsummer night’s dream by Arthur Rackham 1910s Beautiful Arthur Rackham illustration for A Midsummer Night's Dream 1907. Arthur Rackham - Alice in Wonderland 2  ‘A midsummer night’s dream’ by William Shakespeare Arthur Rackham Illustration by Arthur Rackham 6 Illustration by Arthur Rackham 3 Illustration by Arthur Rackham 1 Undine is a fairy-tale novella by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué illustrated by Arthur Rackham in 1909.

Edmund Dulac was a French-born but British naturalised magazine and book illustrator. As soon as he arrived in London at the age of twenty-two, he was commissioned to illustrate Jane Eyre and other novels by Bronte sisters. He went on to become a prolific artist with a diverse oeuvre, having illustrated all sorts of themes, from The Arabian Nights (1907) to Edgar Allan Poe’ poems in 1912. I like his illustrations of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1909), and, as you can see below, he beautifully painted the sea in his illustrations of Little Mermaid; castle under the sea, the waves – it’s all just the way I imagined it.

Night, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam - illustration by Edmund Dulac

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (1909)

Edmund Dulac Illustration 4 Edmund Dulac Illustration 7 Edmund Dulac Illustration 9 Edmund Dulac Illustration 3 Edmund Dulac, Beauty and the Beast Edmund Dulac Annabel Lee (from Edgar Allan Poe's poem) 1912 Ye elves to hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves ~ Elves and Fairies, illustration for The Tempest, by Edmund Dulac. The Princess and the Pea', illustrated by Edmund Dulac Stories from the Arabian Nights, 1911 Illustrations by Edmund Dulac The Little Mermaid – illustrator Edmund DulacEdmund Dulac - The Nightingale

And just one more illustration from the similar time period, ‘The Court of Faerie’ (1906) by Thomas Maybank

1906. The Court of Faerie (1906) by Thomas Maybank

Isn’t it a shame that modern illustrations aren’t as interesting or as imaginative as they once were?