Tag Archives: Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe

Syd Barrett – Favourite Artists and Artworks

6 Jan

Today would have been Syd Barrett’s birthday, and, as always, I decided to write a post to commemorate that. In 2016 I wrote about British Psychedelia and in 2015 I wrote about Syd’s fashion style. You can check those out if you like, but today we’re going to focus on two topics that I like – Syd 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!

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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.

Art Nouveau and 1960s: A Psychedelic Dream

6 Oct

I noticed that some sixties posters and film costumes have a strong Art Nouveau and Pre-Raphaelite vibe, so naturally I turned to my art, culture and music bible when it comes to the Swinging Sixties – book ‘Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe’ by Julian Palacios, And here’s what I found. So, in this post we’ll take a look at the influence of Art Nouveau, Aesthetic movement and 19th century Orientalism on 1960s posters, designs, fashion and film costumes. I’ve also chosen some whimsical psychedelic tunes that I love and that fit very well with the mood of the post. Psychedelic Autumn, is it not?!

1967. Flower Power fashion, Photograph by Peter Knapp. Image scanned by Sweet Jane.

Flower Power fashion, Photograph by Peter Knapp, 1967, Image scanned by Sweet Jane

Donovan – Season of the Witch

Around 1966/67 there was a shift in style and mood. A change was in the air, as ‘vibrant coloured clothes and laughter’ filled the drab tube stations. Waning Mod fashion was quickly being replaced by a style more romantic and oriental. The new mood, exhibited not only in clothes but in posters, designs and music, found its inspiration in nostalgic reveries of the past and romantic daydreams about far East. Gone were the days of short skirts and fake eyelashes. Instead, young people – students, artists, musicians, groupies and dollies – traded their black and white geometrical outfits for caftans, vibrant coloured long dresses, long hair and less make up.

1960s fashion illustrations

1900. The Precious Stones (Ruby, Amethyst, Emerald, Topaz) - Alphonse Mucha

Do you notice the similarity in colours and composition between the sixties illustration (above) and Mucha’s painting ‘The Precious Stones (Ruby, Amethyst, Emerald, Topaz) from 1900.

Cosmic Sounds – The Zodiac

In late sixties, when Mod culture was starting to be looked upon as too commercial, and ‘futuristic themes gave way to exoticism, romanticism and nostalgia’ (1), young people started seeking answers and inspiration in paganism, mysticism and Eastern stuff: I Ching, Bhagavad Gita, The Golden Bough by James George Frazer which explores ‘magic, myths, Druids and Viking lore’, (p. 91), Ouija boards, tarot cards, meditation, vegetarianism and Hindu scriptures. Driven by LSD and hashish, they believed they were creating a new world, and so they delved into mysticism, found beauty in forgotten illustrations and paintings, whether it’s the sumptuous Klimt’s golden paintings or intricate William Morris wallpapers or William Blake’s drawings, laden with spirituality, hidden meanings and symbolism.

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1) Baby Doll Cosmetics 1968/ 2) Photo of Cleo de Merode, 1905; similar hairstyles.

Ravi Shankar – Sitar

A quote from the already mentioned book that sums it all:

The underground exhibited a curious nostalgia, unusual in people so young. Living in tattered Victorian flats, smoking dope and rummaging for antiques on the Portobello Road, the underground pillaged their cultural history. Part romantics and part vandals, as they pulled away from their parents’ world, they embraced the shadow of their grandparents’ Victoriana, torn between an idealised future and rose-tinted visions of the past.

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1) Flower Love, C.Keelan, 1967/ 2) Painting by Mucha

Just imagine that beautiful asceticism of the sixties; candle lit room with bare floor, mattress, incense sticks, Eastern fabrics for curtains, someone jamming on the guitar, girls in colourful clothes with flowers in their hair, resembling Mucha’s painting, laughter, optimism, mind expanding chatter… General mood of the time could be described as a combination of idealism, hedonism and optimism that eventually exceeded into decadence. Similar were the turn of the century vibes and the art movement that came to define the era – Art Nouveau.

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1) 1960s poster/ 2)Alphonse Mucha, ‘Job’, 1898

Art Nouveau demanded artistic freedom, art for art’s sake. Free the colour, the line, the beauty itself, the artists demanded. Similarly, in the sixties, after the drab post-war years were finally over and the economic situation was a bit better, artists and designers demanded the liberty of colour and design. Taking inspiration from the past, in a hope for a better artistic future, designers combined the refinement and elegance of Victorian and Edwardian art; floral prints, aestheticism and playful lines, and combined it with acid-laced colours such as magenta, aqua and bright yellow. Inspiration was often found in flamboyant turn of the century designs by Klimt, Aubrey Beardsley, Mucha and Georges de Feure.

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1) Poster for The Crazy World of Arthur Brown at UFO, 16 and 23 June, by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, 1967, London (Michael English & Nigel Waymouth / 2) 1897-98. Journal Des Ventes, Georges de Feure, Color lithograph

As you can see above, poster for the UFO designed by Michael English and Nigel Waymouth who worked under the moniker ‘Hapshash and the Coloured Coat’, is truly Art Nouveau in style; whimsical lines, fluid shapes amalgamating one into another, female figure with flowers and different ornamental detailing in her hair and on her body, the whole mood very playful and fit for the new sixties spirit and yet beautiful aesthetically.

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Psychedelic poster, Pink Floyd, 15 March 1966

A sixties touch in designs is definitely colour which is often bright, contrasting and eye-catching, whereas the turn of the century style preferred more refined colouring, jewel-like colours being popular but always combined with subtler shades. Klimt, Mucha and Georges de Feure placed the attention on ornamentation, almost Baroque in its heaviness, whereas in the sixties, the designs were made for the tuned-in folk, and colour combination such as mauve and yellow, orange and lilac, red and green appealed to the crowd. Psychedelic flamboyancy owes it all to Art Nouveau (and LSD).

Hapshash and the Coloured Coat’s posters rejected the stark formalism of graphic design in favour of referencing the 19th century illustrators William Morris and Aubrey Beardsley, with opium-laced flora and leaves drawn in interlaced patterns, hypnotic motifs and arabesques.“(p. 147)

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1) Barbra Streisand in Edwardian-inspired dress and hairstyle/ 2) Biba drawing

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1) Barbra Streisand /2) Edwardian illustration

The book also mentions illustrations by Arthur Rackham, a late Victorian and Edwardian era book illustrator who portrayed subjects from Nordic mythology to scenes from Shakespeare and Alice in Wonderland: “Art Nouveau posters by Alphonse Mucha and illustrated books by Arthur Rackham, dented silver carafes, spindly umbrellas with ivory handles, and chipped porcelain tea services formed a backdrop for an undulating mass along Portobello, Curving to Landbroke Grove…

And it seems to me that the sixties were one really long Mad Hatter’s tea party with great clothes, music and attitudes towards life and spirituality.

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1) Pattie Boyd and Twiggy for Vogue, 1969 / 2) Barbra Streisand in Edwardian dress

Influence of Art Nouveau, Pre-Raphaelites and Edwardian era can be seen not only in visual arts but also in fashion and film costumes. In 1990s there was a Jane Austen revival with films such as Sense and Sensibility. Well, films from the sixties and seventies are all about turn of the century; large hats decorated with roses, Art Nouveau interiors, Edwardian dresses in pastel colours with abundance of ruffles and lace… Some great examples of this aesthetic are films Hello, Dolly (1969) with Barbra Streisand, La Ronde (1964), Morgiana (1972), Viva Maria (1965) with Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau, Baba Yaga (1973) etc.

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1) Catherine Deneuve in Edwardian dress / Photo of Emilie de Briand, 1900s

Even in everyday fashion, it’s hard not to see the influence. No, women didn’t return to tight corsets and uncomfortable lingerie, but some designers such as Barbara Hulanicki of Biba took the best of Victorian and Edwardian fashion and incorporated it in sixties style. Think of longer dresses (compared to Mary Quant’s mini dress that ruled the Swinging London), straw hats and lace details, floral prints, velvet, bishop sleeves, heavy dark coloured fabrics, longer hair often with curls (instead of the previous strict bob hair) or soft voluminous buns that were worn by Pattie Boyd and Twiggy for Vogue in 1969, and also Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot. Jane Birkin couldn’t resist the style as well, picture below:

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Jane Birkin in Edwardian dress with lace and ruffles, 1970

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1) Biba girl with Gibson Girl Hairstyle, 2) Illustration by Alphonse Mucha, 3) Biba illustration

Ode to British Psychedelia or ‘What it means to me’

6 Jan

Last few days I’ve been rereading the book called Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe by Julian Palacios, and relishing in its every page. It explores Syd’s life from the early days in Cambridge, to his Swinging London days at the height of his fame as a psychedelic rock star, all the way to his last days spent in seclusion. Each page reveals Syd’s influences in terms of books, artworks (as he was a painter too), films, music and his ideas in general. Even though he is best known for his days with Pink Floyd which resulted in the album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967): a beautiful psychedelic gem, and his subsequent solo albums, it is not his fame or heyday which interests me the most.

Quite the contrary, it is his childhood and teenage years that reveal the true Syd – a creative figure and a true inspiration. What made Syd a psychedelic icon, what made the underground scene thrive wasn’t just LSD, but a great Pandora’s box of different influences. I am fascinated by the 1960s counterculture before it became mainstream. After reading the book, one can truly see all that lay beyond acid trips because psychedelia is so much more.

1960s Swinging London 7

”The vanguard of London’s latest subculture, driven by LSD and hashish, far removed from the plastic flash of mods and dolly birds, took a sharp turn into the mystic. Drugs prompted many questions, so out came Ouija boards, I Ching, tarot cards, Hindu scriptures, meditation and vegetarianism.” (quote from the book)

Psychedelia or ‘altered consciousness’ doesn’t mean wearing tie dye shirts, listening to Jimi Hendrix and being stoned. That’s almost a disgrace of the original spirit and ideas of the underground scene. For me psychedelia means exploration, daydreams, hedonism and joy, everything that’s opposite of logical and rational. Reality is so bitter, and fantasy worlds so appealing, so why couldn’t we choose fantasy, lead happy lives, and discard reality like a fan after the ball. Sadly, this option is impossible, but infusing one’s life with a dash of psychedelia isn’t.

syd 118

First of all, as, for me, psychedelia equals almost childlike exploration, the key thing is to delve into all sorts of activities and hobbies. Whole range of interests may be suitable for the spirit of psychedelia. Art, for example. When Syd was studying art in London, he became acquainted with painters from totally different art movements; from Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s whimsical portraits formed with fruits and vegetables, to Gustave Caillebotte’s striped wooden floor to Klimt’s golden, mystical beechwoods – all of which I’ve written about. He was also fascinated with Dali, James Ensor and Chaim Soutine. If Syd stands as a symbol of psychedelia, at least in British rock, then everything that influenced him may be considered psychedelic too, am I  right.

alice in wonderland mad hatterAlice in Wonderland (2010)

The erudite nonsense of these traditional English children’s stories blends fantasy and sly surrealism. Gnomes, goblins, Hobbits, unicorns, Cheshire cats and hubble-bubble smoking caterpillars. Moles and toads walked, talked, and even drove motor cars. English in eccentricities and mannerism,m the animals wore waistcoats, carried pocket watches, smoked pipes, and were irritable and witty by turns.

Syd’s writing in Pink Floyd was described as ‘rock meets Mad Hatter’s tea party’. Now, who wouldn’t like to attend a tea party with acid-laced sugar cubes? David Bowie also liked Syd’s lyrics and even compared him with Peter Pan. This is precisely why the British psychedelia appeals to me strongly, more than American, as much as I like The Doors and Jim Morrison, I could hardly imagine him reading fairy tales or attending a tea party, and I’m afraid that’s a major factor for me. May I also note that I adored the opium smoking caterpillar when I was little, and I do still. Such a great character. I was thrilled when I discovered Pink Floyd because Syd’s lyrics combined everything I loved. Adults read fairy tales, men wore velvet trousers and floral shirts – must have been a lovely era.

Alice in Wonderland (1966) 9”..doll’s house, darkness, old perfume…” (Matilda Mother – Pink Floyd), still from Alice in Wonderland (1966)

Another thing that British psychedelia cherished was nature. Syd had a profound connection with nature which never left him. Even around London he use to walk barefoot. In moments of loneliness at Wetherby Mansion, he remembered the idyllic strolls, and the landscape of his innocent childhood days. ‘Barrett’s powerful connection to nature set him apart from others brought up with the same books. His lyrics evoke the woods, fenlands and rivers of Cambridge shire.‘ Syd defined nature and energy as one. Sculptor Emily Young, and the inspiration for the song See Emily Play, called Syd ‘a little wild Puck figure coming out of the woods.’

1877. Linnie Watt - A Woodland WalkLinnie Watt – A Woodland Walk, 1877

Another thing typical for British psychedelia is a certain nostalgia unusual with people so young. In December Syd and his friends attended the annual performance of Handel’s oratorio Messiah at the Albert Hall. Also, a typical evening at the UFO started with Vivaldi’s Four seasons. Girls took fashion inspiration in Arthur Rackham’s illustrations; they dressed in long flowing gowns and adorned their hair with flowers. William Morris’ illustrations and drawings by Beardsley influenced the poster designs for the Underground, as well as the 19th-century Orientalism. Young people were ‘torn between an idealised future and rose-tinted visions of the past‘, quoting the book again.

Syd’s interest in Eastern mysticism grew upon moving to London. He was particularly fascinated with I Ching (esoteric reading) and Chinese board game Go. As the decade progressed, many adapted bright colours and loose cut Eastern-inspired clothes designed by Thea Porter. The Rolling Stones traveled to Morocco. George Harrison admired Indian culture and mysticism, became a vegetarian and admired Lord Krishna.

1967. Maddie Smith, she had a part time job working as a shop girl in Biba and also did some modelling for them, appearing in the first Biba catalogue which was photographed by Donald SilversteinMaddie Smith, model for Biba, 1967

All in all, British psychedelia is a whimsical and dashing mixture of Alice in Wonderland, LSD, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Jazz, Eastern mysticism, focus on the innocence of childhood, Wind in the Willows, Pre-Raphaelites, and cheerful domesticity.

My recipe for adding a dash of psychedelia in one’s life is: obviously listening to matching music such as Pink Floyd’s album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (magnificent title), Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and even bands like The Stone Roses. Secondly, indulge in fantasy novels, fairy tales and imaginary worlds, Tolkien is the best in my opinion, as well as Romantic poets, explore William Blake’s artworks, the Pre-Raphaelites. Take interest in many things! Quote by Vincent van Gogh ‘It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.

My plans for the following weeks include reading Scandinavian, Persian and Russian fairy tales and reading about (and finally learning) Greek and Roman mythology, and connecting it to art. Thirdly, wear colourful clothes, and earrings, feather boas, floral shirts, velvet trousers, in homage to the glorious days of the flamboyant London scene. And venture into nature, feel its energy. As Heraclitus said: Nature loves to hide itself. Who known what kinds of creatures inhabit the forests. I believe that trees have souls, and different personalities. I’m certain of it. Birch trees look so fragile, while poplars seem so lonely. This is kind of my manifesto for this year. I wish you all a psychedelic 2016.

Syd Barrett – See Emily Play

26 May

Pink Floyd’s second single, See Emily Play, allegedly told a story of a young aristocrat, known as the psychedelic schoolgirl. Mystical, whimsical and childish, verses of ‘See Emily Play‘ contain a deeper meaning than you’d expect. By reading this post further, you’ll discover the influences that created this beautiful and strange psychedelic gem; from Shakespeare and Romantics to Pre-Raphaelites and Pagan festivals.

pink floyd early posters 1

Recorded on 23 May 1967, and released on 16 June, the song instantly became a hit and struck a chord with the public, preparing the youth for a vivid and mind expanding atmosphere of, what was later known as, the summer of love. It was Pink Floyd’s second single which paved their way to success. Interviews and performances at the Top of the Pops soon followed. At that point Syd had already started struggling with the concept of being a commercial rock musician rather than being an artist.

Still, the lyrics of the song represent the very best of Syd’s writing; witty, childish and whimsical, they are the testimony to the spirit of the 1960s, and yet some of the verses posses a certain mysticism. It is impossible to pinpoint precisely what inspired Syd to write this song for its verses are engulfed in mystery, as is the case in most of Syd’s songs. Syd himself had many versions, one of it was that he feel asleep in the woods after taking LSD and saw an unusual girl.

The main inspiration for the song was, in fact, a fifteen year old girl Emily Young, who skylarked across Holland Park to the London Free School with her friend Anjelica Huston. Emily was nicknamed ‘psychedelic schoolgirl’ at the UFO club. Intellectual curiosity prompted Emily to visit the Free School and educate herself beyond school curriculum. Her private ‘evening classes’ consisted of reading William Blake, existentialists and Romantic poets, dressed at the same time in a noticeable long Victorian style gown ‘that touched the ground’.

Pete Brown said that ‘See Emily Play‘ was based on this schoolgirl.

This English cult of the schoolgirl in fetish uniform has always been around – the more dubious side of English culture, allied with British repression and fetishism. Emily was someone I went out and about with. I was friends with her because Anjelica Huston was at the same school, and hung out with Emily as well. I met them walking down to Portobello Road. I did poetry gigs in schools. I was young, in my twenties. These girls were seventeen or eighteen. I went out with them. English schoolgirls in the sixties were forward-looking, discovering their own sexuality.‘ (Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe by Julian Palacios)

1960s Emily Young - Syd's Muse                      Emily Young in the 1960s

Syd’s young muse blossomed into a notable sculptor whose aim is ‘to tell a truth about the origins of human life and consciousness.‘ In a way her sculptures remind me of Gauguin’s work, at least in approach. Like Gauguin, Emily believes that the truth about life lies in primitive and archaic, and that art is hidden in the forces of nature, not in Western world galleries. I’m delighted to see that despite her progression from a confused 1960s schoolgirl to a prolific artist, she hasn’t lost the open-minded attitude towards life. Her worldview is still psychedelic.

LYRICS:

Emily tries but misunderstands, ah ooh
She’s often inclined to borrow somebody’s dreams till tomorrow
There is no other day
Let’s try it another way
You’ll lose your mind and play
Free games for may
See Emily play

Soon after dark Emily cries, ah ooh
Gazing through trees in sorrow hardly a sound till tomorrow
There is no other day
Let’s try it another way
You’ll lose your mind and play
Free games for may
See Emily play

Put on a gown that touches the ground, ah ooh
Float on a river forever and ever, Emily
There is no other day
Let’s try it another way
You’ll lose your mind and play
Free games for may
See Emily play.

1852. Ophelia by John Everett MillaisMillais’ ‘Ophelia’

The story of Emily Young is, however, merely a segment of Syd’s fantastical song. The opening verses of the third stanza can instantly be connected to Millais’ Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece – Ophelia. It is impossible to believe that the whole century separates these two maidens in long flowing gowns! ‘Put on a gown that touches the ground, ah ooh, Float on a river forever and ever, Emily…’ Emily’s graceful figure full of calmness in a flowing white gown that touched the ground, so brilliantly white against the darkness of the dance hall in All Saints, caught Syd’s eye while he wailed ‘I’m high, Don’t try to spoil the fun‘ into the microphone.

Beautiful and complex, strange as the mists of Avalon, this pop gem is at once intelligible and psychedelic all the way. It simultaneously unites all the elements that Syd’s fantasy world was made of; May Queens and Green Man, psychedelic drugs, tragic heroines, mysterious world of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, children’s stories, Romantic poems along with bright and innocent childish visions. See Emily Play is, at the same time, a hymn to the English woods, willow branches, rivers and pagan festivals, as well as the embodiment of dozens of archetypes of European literature – tragic and innocent maidens such as Ophelia. We know that Barrett was familiar with John William Waterhouse’s rendition of Ophelia who is painted in a long flowing gown, surrounded by the magnificent and mysterious woods and deep sinister water. Flowers, mystery, lost maidens, muses; all amalgamated in the mind of a psychedelic Mad Hatter of rock ‘n’ roll – Syd Barrett.

1894. John William Waterhouse's Ophelia1894. John William Waterhouse – Ophelia

Influence of a great Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, can also be traced in Syd’s writing. Shelley’s poem ‘The Song of Asia‘ was printed in Syd’s copy of ‘The Cambridge Book of Poetry‘. Specific verses evoke both the spirit of the song, and the ones of the Pre-Raphaelites masterpieces.

Whilst all the winds with melody are ringing.
It seems to float ever, for ever,
Upon that many-winding river,
Between mountains, woods, abysses,
A paradise of wildernesses!
Till, like one in slumber bound,
Borne to the ocean, I float down, around,
Into a sea profound, of ever-spreading sound.

1910. Ophelia - John William Waterhouse1910. Ophelia – John William Waterhouse

Final stanza of ‘See Emily Play‘ offers the listener a feeling of isolation; floating forever on a river, in loneliness and sorrow. Tragic destiny awaits Emily, as it awaited other innocent heroines before her; Ophelia, Lady of Shallot, Lavinia… At the same time, these verses may suggest a more personal subject, the one that never stopped occupying Syd’s mind; the end of childhood, days of innocence and playfulness are gone forever. Still, the usage of the same subject, by artists centuries apart, from Shakespeare, Romantics and Pre-Raphaelites to Syd Barrett, shows us that themes in art are eternal, whether it’s a poem, a painting or a rock song.

And what did Emily had to say about the song? ‘Floating forever on a river is a perfect dream image of the soul moving through time and space, through eternity. Of the world at peace in its place in the cosmos. Individual and universe flowing in perfect order with nature at one.

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I decided to write about this song because it’s beautiful and lyrical, thematically rooted in nature, folklore and other artworks that I love, and most importantly – it is a song I can identify with. In fact, it is the only song I can identify with, especially with the verse ‘She’s often inclined to borrow somebody’s dreams till tomorrow’. Then the ‘free games for May’ and I was born in May. For an unknown reason, I’ve felt like a ‘psychedelic schoolgirl’ for a long time. One cannot be sad when one is immersed in psychedelia.

Syd Barrett – Fashion Style

6 Jan

Syd Barrett; a true flower power and a gorgeous hippie boy, Puck in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, whimsical and cheerful creature of the forest, artistic all the way, brought magic in a form of psychedelia and shaped the London underground scene in the 1960s.

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All the information written in this post is from the book ‘Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe‘ by Julian Palacios. It is by far the best thing written regarding Syd, it covers all areas of his life; from his fashion style to his literary influences, all the bits and bobs, everything you’d want to know about Syd or the 1960s London underground scene. Many regards to the writer for creating something so beautiful and poetic in a way, yet bursting with reliable information.

Loves fairytales and outrageous clothes.‘, the newspaper wrote about Syd, and he certainly loved to stood out, even from an early age. Beautiful and mischievous, Syd attracted attention wherever he went. From the age of fourteen he could not be seen without shades, he had a natural gift of ‘getting the look right’ and the girls loved him.

The clothes he wore when not in school uniform were extreme in the beatnik/bohemian iconography evolving. Syd had wraparound shades and extremely tight blue jeans you could not imagine  possible to get a foot into, flecked with paint; authentic paint flakes. Syd had pale grey moccasins, fantastic objects.

When Syd moved to London to study art at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts he still dressed the same as in Cambridge. It was 1964. and all the psychedelia-underground thing had yet to happen.

In contrast to their slightly dour stage image, the lads leapt about for the camera like the Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night. Pop stars in the making, with longish hair, tight trousers and pressed shirts and blazers; they do not look the slightest bit avant-garde. If anything, they resemble students aiming for Carnaby Street hip, by way of high-street clothiers Cecil Gee. Resolutely students, they had yet to develop London cool. Syd wore the cardigan and shirt his mother bought him at Joshua Taylor’s department store before he left Cambridge.

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It is however, Syd’s ‘London Look‘ that interests me the most. Whenever I think of Syd, I imagine him wearing ‘blue velvet trousers, yellow shoes, paisley shirt and turquoise waistcoat’ just like he singed in a song Vegetable man, basically describing his wardrobe that day in ironic way. Although London’s ‘Summer of Love’ was actually in ’66 and the Pink Floyd were regular at the UFO, most of the photos of Syd I have here date from ’67. Syd, clad in psychedelia all the way, looked absolutely gorgeous; like a character from a fairy tale, witty and charming, tall with curly black hair and dark, most enchanting eyes flecked with green.

Syd was a beautiful boy, true flower power,’ recalled Jenner. ‘In outrageous gear, with this permanent that cost £ 20, Syd looked like a beautiful woman, all this Thea Porter stuff.‘ Joe Boyd says ‘My impressions were of his clothes. Tight velvet trousers, military jackets, curled hair, handsome and attractive. Syd had a bandanna around his neck, knotted like a cravat. You got the feeling girls would adore him, which they did.

Just imagine what could have been in Syd’s wardrobe at the time; blue or red velvet trousers, paisley printed shirts, colourful blouses with wild prints, striped trousers, flamboyant waistcoats, bandannas, white blouses with ruffles, velvet coats, Japanese kimono emblazoned with kanji characters and silver reflective discs, the same ones he’d glued on his guitar; particular kimono jacket can be seen in a pop promo for a song Arnold Layne, shot in February 1967.

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In 1960s arts, culture and music flourished, and fashion was no exception. In the time when everything seemed possible in the world of young, and the air of excitement and optimisms permeated the spring air, London streets were crowded with vibrant fashion and painted faces. Psychedelia set the ground for experimentation and the fashion scene slowly shifted from clean cut, tailored, strict monochrome Mod apparels to colourful and exuberant hippie clothes. Originality and mysticism imbued the summer air and the Swinging London scene was at its peak. Laughter and vivid clothes filled the drab and rainy London streets.

At weekends, fashionable young people paraded in their finery on King’s Road, Carnaby Street and the area of Chelsea. ‘The underground embraced the dressing-up ethos and spawned exemplary outfitters. Though ‘hippy’ later came to mean dreary, washed out tie-dyes, dirty jeans and matted hair, underground fashion flowered in flamboyance and extravagance.‘ A psychedelic heaven, really, all those crowded streets filled with the same minded young people, blossoming of art and music, mind expanding venues, air of excitement.

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Indeed, fashion flourished in the 1960s. Today, most recognisable designers of Swinging London were Mary Quant and Barbara Hulanicki (Biba), but there were plenty more of them that really captured that psychedelic, experimenting and mind-expanding mood of the city such as Ossie Clark, Zandra Rhodes, Apple Boutique and ‘I was Lord Kitchener’s Valet‘, ‘Hung on You‘, ‘Granny Takes a Trip’ and ‘Dandi Fashions‘. By 1966. young people looked for something more groovy. Mod fashion, by then seen as commercial, gave way to ‘exoticism, romanticism and nostalgia‘.

Trips to India, counter-culture and rediscovery of some Victorian artists such as William Morris and Aubrey Beardsley directed fashion in a new way, far closer to the psychedelic ideal. Grey, brown and black were substituted for vivid rainbow of colours; magenta, teal, sky blue, sunny yellow, green. Very soon flowing silks and velvets, William Morris print jackets, loose cut Indian cloth dresses, Afghan jackets and wonderful black satin trousers filled the fashion landscape.

In London we all dressed like rock stars.‘, recalls UFO groover Firdsi. ‘It would have been unthinkable to leave the house in something as mundane as jeans and a T-shirt. My wardrobe consisted of feather boas in all colours, sequins, paisley velvets, satins, odd bits of antiquity picked up in junk stores or Portobello Road.

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For Syd, the image tied with his art, rather than simple vanity. The era demanded peacocks. Barrett stepped up and took on the role of a star.
 As his star rose, Lindsay’s sharp eye and expert combination of King’s Road cool were crucial to his new look. Her keen eye made for inspired choices. With hair grown out his trendy Carnaby Street trousers and candy striped shirts sacrificed for velvet, satin, silk in red, lilac and green, and crimson. Syd and Lindsay took to the King’s Road fashion scene with relish, migrating to Granny Takes a Trip, where Barrett was fitted for a satin outfit in green and red. Next was Gohil’s leather Goods store in Camden, where the owner outlined Syd’s feet for custom-made short ankle boots with elastic gussets.
 With Lindsay, Barrett made the scene dressed in silk and velvet, in pied patches like medieval minstrels. Walking on King’s Road on Saturdays, dressed in all their finery, the couple were splendid peacocks on parade. In a luminous dash, they prowled boutiques, piecing a unisex wardrobe mix of gypsy, aristocrat, harlequin and harlot.
Syd also wore eye shadow and mascara, remembers David Bowie who was a regular at the Marquee, both on stage as ‘David Jones and the Buzz‘ and in the audience, ‘Syd Barrett, with white face and black eyeliner all around his eyes. (…) I thought, ”Wow, a bohemian, a poet, in a rock band!” With pale face and black mascara, Syd looked like a kabuki actor or a mummer.
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Even though Syd’s ‘Peacock Fashion Phase‘ is the most interesting; the garments are colourful, vivid and cheerful with exotic paisley psychedelic prints, I must say that the most appealing to me is Syd’s ‘Madcap Laughs Fashion Phase‘. Not a lot has changed actually. Syd’s ‘Madcap Laughs‘ look is engulfed in darkness and mystery; his dark hair now longer and wilder, extraordinary electric-green outfit now faded to a dark ensembles, long bandannas and old velvet trousers stained with paint.
Creature from the forest, or the cheerful Puck gave way to the dark, ungraspable Mad Hatter, days spend at the UFO at the height of the summer of love have now faded into loneliness at the Wetherby Mansion, surrounded only by striped wooden floor and sad memories. Innocence gave way to experience, a path William Blake had already gone through.
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syd 28P.S. It’s Syd’s birthday today!