Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Man on the Throne

Study after Veláquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X - oil paintimg - 1953, Francis Bacon

And, what does this painting have in common with the unfortunate news of this sad day? See my short PMB post here.

(Note: I've just posted a video on the sidebar you might find unusual. Actually, it's an Egyptian Zār band*: primarily female musicians who utilize ancient ritualistic music to heal and purify their listeners...

... because it's never too soon to begin the healing process.)


* "The purpose of the Zar ceremony is to cure mental illness through contact with the possessing spirits which cause maladies. Though there are several methods for dealing with psychological disturbance, the Zar is the last resort which is supposed to have powerful therapeutic effect for several kinds of ailments," writes John Kennedy in Nubian Ceremonial Life. It should be noted that this ceremony is not widely practiced in Egypt. The Zar ceremony is most prominent in southern Egypt and is practiced further south into the Sudan, though in fact it may be performed anywhere in Egypt. This is a region that was least exposed to the many invaders from Greece, Rome and the Middle East, and the ceremony can be considered as a holdover from older African religions when older women were frequently priestesses. 

Regardless of the fact that Zar is a trance religious ceremony that uses drumming and dancing to cure an illness thought to be caused by a demon, it is technically prohibited by Islam as a pagan practice. However it continues to be an essential part of the Egyptian culture. It provides a unique form of relief to women in strict patriarchal societies.

The phenomenon of Zar can be best described as the "healing cult". It involves hair tossing and swaying and it also acts as a means of sharing information among women of these cultures."

-  From an Egyptian tour page; more information about Zār can be found in the Wiki entry.


The day this post was created, a less controversial (but more important) event had recently occurred: the world lost a great treasure: songbird, poet and Lover, Leonard Cohen.

Farewell to a truly great man.

Below is a version of Cohen's Hallelujah covered by Rufus Wainwright (website), who performed this song, in concert, as a tribute to Cohen shortly after his passing. A video of the tribute can be found on this NME page.

The Leonard Cohen videos that accompanied this post (on the sidebar) can now be found after the jump break.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Art From the Outside (Looking In)

An untitled element from Emery Blagdon's Healing Machine. This photo and
the two inset below were found on this Дай зин! webzine page.
(Click to enlarge.)

"As a young man, he apparently lost his parents and three of his five younger siblings to cancer, and he designed his shed––which housed a system of elegant, spindly mobiles and delicate freestanding sculptures made out of baling wire and found objects––to produce energy fields with preventative, restorative, and curative powers. The objects’ reflective, kinetic, and color properties were intended to resonate and release an electromagnetic force to combat physical and psychic pain. Blagdon’s cure also relied on an equally remarkable, but smaller, group of abstract geometrical panel paintings, which display a transcendental sense of color, proportion, and pattern."

- From Rachel Brice's 2009 post: Emery Blagdon and His Healing Machines.

"In the past century the human spirit's great need for the creation of art has come sharply to the fore – not through the commercialized vulgarity that is now the art market (my GOD – could anything so high sink so LOW?), but rather through the intimate obsessive worlds of artists (outsider or otherwise) who create for themselves and themselves alone, without thought of monetary gain, public approbation or acceptance of any kind.

...Compelled to create a world of healing machines to stave off illness, Emery Blagdon gave light and meaning to his life through wire, tinfoil, and a variety of organic and inorganic materials. These machines, and the paintings that helped power them, brought down and focused healing energy to allow Blagdon to continue living. Did he create to live or live to create? As with all true artists, the answer is either elusive, or both - but in Blagdon's case it is particularly poignant because just a few months after his machines stopped working he tragically passed away."

- From composer John Zorn's (2016) .pdf: Emery Blagdon. (Inset, left: another element of Blagdon's Healing Machine.)

"Over the years, the parameters of Outsider Art have expanded dramatically to include art made by a wide variety of art-makers who share this common denominator of raw creativity. Outsiders come from all walks of life, from all cultures, from all age groups.

In recent years, Outsider Artists may have even come to outnumber Insider Artists who have achieved critical validation within the elite art world, and yet who speak with increasingly less clarity and relevance to us about the human experience. Dubuffet's description of officially recognized art has never been more relevant: 'everyone immediately sprinkles it with champagne, and lecturers lead it from town to town with a ring through its nose. This is the false Monsieur Art.'"

- Excerpt from a description of Outsider Art found on this Outsider Art Fair page.


It's probably interesting to note that two of the quotes (above) regarding Outsider Artist, Emery Blagdon, originate from a belly dancer (Rachel Brice), and a musician (John Zorn), as opposed to an art critic or an art historian. And, why is this? Well, it might have to do with the nature of Emery Blagdon himself. Born in 1907, he was a self-taught artist living in the outbacks of Nebraska, who spent over 30 years of his life assembling an art installation (of sorts) - his Healing Machine - which he never intended to exhibit, and one of which he never sold one molecule of. In other words, he was a creator's creator, following his own inner vision and instinct and, pretty much, ignoring the rest of world; specifically the art world. Had his work not been "discovered" in the 1970's by Dan Dryden - a Nebraskan pharmacist who would eventually work as a sound engineer for the Philip Glass Ensemble in New York - his monumental work may have been disassembled for scrap metal after his death and the world would be none the wiser.

Then again, creatives of all persuasions find inspiration in the realm of Outsider Art. Once again, the Outsider represents the true artist's artist... understood more deeply by artists themselves as opposed to the curators, the critics, the categorizers, and the culture mavens who flock to the carcasses of artistic endeavor. So, in the eyes of the world Emery Blagdon was an oddball. In the eyes of a fellow artist, Blagdon is both a hero and an anti-hero; a maverick who left his mark outside the mainstream before the "mainstream" ultimately absorbed him. (Inset, right: a third element from the Healing Machine.)

But, in many respects, Emery Blagdon's story is a happy one compared to many of the Outsiders who came before him. He, at least, managed to stay well outside the walls of a mental institution. In reality, what we now consider Outsider Art was originally the sort created by psychiatric patients, and other marginalized non-members of society. And, it was a genre of art which would've have remained under the radar - possibly forever - had it not been for the fine, observant eye of French artist, Jean Dubuffet, who in the 1940s identified what he referred to as Art Brut - raw art - that is, art created by those on the fringe of society: prisoners, loners, the mentally ill, and, in some cases, children...

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Book Surgeon: Brian Dettmer

A book sculpture by Brian Dettmer. Click to enlarge.

"New York-based Artist Brian Dettmer creates impressively intricate multi-layered sculptures from books. The artist calls himself the Book Surgeon because he uses knives, tweezers, and surgical tools to carve the art works out of old medical journals, illustration books, dictionaries, map books and encyclopedias. The bigger the book, the better – The Surgeon doesn’t add anything additional to the sculptures, he only folds, bends, rolls, stacks, and, of course, removes."

- Both the (above) quote and the photos of Brian Dettmer's book sculptures found in this post were sourced from this 2015 "DeMilked" article.

"So I think one of the reasons people are disturbed by destroying books, people don't want to rip books and nobody really wants to throw away a book, is that we think about books as living things, we think about them as a body, and they're created to relate to our body, as far as scale, but they also have the potential to continue to grow and to continue to become new things. So books really are alive.

... And I think of my work as almost an archaeology. I'm excavating and I'm trying to maximize the potential and discover as much as I possibly can and exposing it within my own work. But at the same time, I'm thinking about this idea of erasure, and what's happening now that most of our information is intangible, and this idea of loss, and this idea that not only is the format constantly shifting within computers, but the information itself, now that we don't have a physical backup, has to be constantly updated in order to not lose it. And I have several dictionaries in my own studio, and I do use a computer every day, and if I need to look up a word, I'll go on the computer, because I can go directly and instantly to what I'm looking up. I think that the book was never really the right format for nonlinear information, which is why we're seeing reference books becoming the first to be endangered or extinct."

- Two quotes from sculptor Brian Dettmer from the (translatable) TED transcript for the TED video below.


Considering all the book-related posts I've been inspired to write for the past few months, it only stands to reason that when I recently discovered the work of Brian Dettmer, I'd be compelled to feature his sculptures here. Considering that his re-purposed books are not, in fact, assemblages, but carefully carved from the pre-existing content of the old books themselves... well, words like "astonishing" are understatements.

And, I love stories like this... about artists doing unimaginable things... totally unprecedented "out of the box" things... not because they intend to start a trendy movement, but because their muses call upon them to do such things, and in doing so - following their muses - we are allowed to see ordinary objects - in this case, encyclopedias and the like - in a totally new, non-linear, and extraordinary way.

For those interested, an interview with Dettmer can be found here...

And, if art from re-cycled material turns you on, here's a nice Make magazine article about the Ancient Futuristic work of artist Theo Kamecke: Old Circuit Boards Are Reimagined as Sarcophagi and Ancient Monuments.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Jerusalem - a Follow-up

Just published this year: Alan Moore's Jerusalem.
The slipcase edition above was found here.

"The geographic focus of Jerusalem is the Boroughs, a half-mile square area that was the original kernel of Northampton, but by the early 2000s is “gutted,” a squalid waste with “the shoebox stack of ‘Sixties housing where the feudal corridors of Moat Street, Fort Street and the rest once stood.” The chronological focus is on a few days in early May 2006, when Alma Warren, an artist and “mad witch who lived in a rubbish tip” is about to unveil a new exhibition of paintings inspired by her brother Michael’s recalled memories of visions he had a half century earlier as he choked on a 'cough-sweet.'"

- A description of Alan Moore's Jerusalem via this article: Alan Moore’s long-anticipated Jerusalem is a thousand-page doorstop that you can’t stop reading.

“'This planet has a physical geography with which we have already familiarised ourselves,” Moore is telling me, for a feature in The Times. “But since the dawn of the first stories, there is a fictional geography, where the gods and demons live. We have created this big imaginary planet that is a counterpart to our own; and in some cases these places are more familiar to us than the real ones.”

“But science cannot measure the bit that isn’t material. Science is a brilliant tool for analysing our material universe, but science cannot talk about what is inside the human mind: it’s beyond the realm of proof, it’s beyond the realm of science. So I say they should be left to art and magic, which are pretty much the same thing.”

 “We’ll march on ugliness and stupidity, we’ll make loveliness compulsory, and the roar of our orchestra engines will soar evermore in a glorious, annihilating symphony, for the tyranny of beauty is our god-given duty: every child at birth is to be issued with a ukulele, given their own flag and granted absolute and utter sovereignty, and as long as it’s coloured in nicely and has an old woman on it, make their own currency. Turn every urban address into a dripping Rousseau wilderness. We’ll keep advancing until there’s nobody not dancing. We’ll put politics in the pillory, put the art back in artillery; we can weaponise wonder, and our voice shall be as thunder… Cometh the moment, cometh the Mandrill.”

- Three wonderful Alan Moore quotes from this (September 22, 2016) article: If you read only one Alan Moore Jerusalem interview, make it this one.


(This post is a follow-up to the 2014 post: Alan Moore & Jerusalem.)

Writer Alan Moore (of V for Vendetta fame) has a soft spot for women. And, any man who has a soft spot for women is a Great Man in my estimation. While I had known (and mentioned) previously that he characterized himself in his latest book, Jerusalem, as a female artist, I didn't know that the book itself was actually dedicated to a another female: a young girl - and distant relative - by the name of Audrey. Audrey suffered the unfortunate fate of having been institutionalized by her parents for the sole purposes of silencing any allusions she might make to her father's incestuous relations with her.

“The book is dedicated to Audrey,” he says. “The whole book was an attempt… an attempt to rescue her? A particularly futile and belated attempt, but the best I could do. The only way that I could rescue her was in a fiction.” 

I'm assuming Audrey was declared mad around the same time that it was quite the trend to declare women "mad" (as is described in the Camille Claudel section - Into the Madhouse - of this post). It's to Moore's credit that Audrey's story moved him enough to unearth her remains from his family closet; this is so rarely the case. 

For those interested, I've just listened to the first part of a podcast interview with Moore found here. (And here's the second part.) (Thanks, Tam B!) In it he describes some of women in his family, specifically his grandmother - a deathmonger (undertaker) - and the relationship between the midwives, "witches" and the "gilded barber surgeons" of her time.

Fascinating. And, I suspect this is also true of Jerusalem.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Oblique Strategies... and the Circles of Time

The first set of the "Platonic" Cyclohedra cast in 1988. (Photo: 2016, DS)
(click on photos to enlarge)

"Lateral thinking is solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic. The term was coined in 1967 by Edward de Bono."

- Via the Wiki entry for lateral thinking.

"They were most famously used by Eno during the recording of David Bowie's Berlin triptych of albums (Low, "Heroes", Lodger). Stories suggest they were used during the recording of instrumentals on "Heroes" such as "Sense of Doubt" and were used more extensively on Lodger ("Fantastic Voyage", "Boys Keep Swinging", "Red Money"). They were used again on Bowie's 1995 album Outside, which Eno was involved with as a writer, producer and musician. Carlos Alomar, who worked with Eno and Bowie on all these albums, was a fan on using the cards, later saying "at the Center for Performing Arts at the Stevens Institute of Technology, where I teach, on the wall are Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies cards. And when my students get a mental block, I immediately direct them to that wall."

- From the Wiki entry for Oblique Strategies, a card game created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt and first published in 1975. David Bowie's personal deck (pictured above, inset, right) was found here.

Les stratégies obliques (and here)

"Allow an easement (an easement is the abandonment of a stricture)"

- The "oblique strategy" presented to moi when I clicked the link for the online version of Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies. (English only, but there is a French version on the web somewhere... at least there was... as well as a Japanese version.)

"As it happened, the subject of maps came up that day, during a game of Triakis, a game which was fairly new to the Prince, and one for which his uncle insisted he needed training. As it was, he'd just made, what he thought, was a strategic move, but when his uncle's turn came, the boy lost another avatar.

"You will never understand this game, Nathaniel," his uncle grinned, flipping the tetrahedron in the air and then catching it, "until you look at the board as if it were a map."

But, all the Prince really saw when he looked at the diamond- shaped board was a mosaic of triangles, and he said so.

"Well, yes, the board is composed of triangles, but, look closely: those triangles are really portions of hexagons, and it's by the hexagons one calculates the most advantageous moves to make," explained his uncle.

"But, that's not like real maps," Nathaniel complained, "not like the ones of Elidon Wold you have in the library." 

"Well, no," laughed his Uncle, "not like those I own, but precisely like the ancient maps that were made by the Avians."

"Avians? Do you mean, actual birds?" his nephew asked incredulously. "Birds made maps?!"

"The Avians weren't exactly birds, Nathaniel", explained his uncle, "but, like birds, they could fly. Ultimately, it was they who discovered Elidon Wold, and gave it its name. But that was in a different circle of time..."

"Do you mean, when you were a boy, Uncle?"

"Oh no," said his uncle, "I was never a boy. I was as you see me now... as I always have and always will be seen. I merely meant a circle of time in which boys like yourself were not physically located."

- Excerpt from the prologue of "The Last Chronicle of Elidon Wold,"  2013, Dia Sobin.


As you might've noticed, my usual modus operandi these days is to start a post and then leave it hanging there, unfinished... for days. I'm trying hard to break this habit, but, as of late, there seems to be a large disconnect between my impulses and ideas and my ability to translate them into hard copy. Moreover, by the time I've found the words, I've forgotten the point. The reality is, while "lateral thinking" - the sort of thinking that Brian Eno hoped to induce with his Oblique Strategy cards - might be useful for spontaneous, creative leaps of the imagination and breaking though mental blocks, etc., in the end, it doesn't, in itself, produce anything tangible. It takes a certain amount of logic - that is, linear thinking - to bring any "project," large or small, to fruition. In other words, to truly successfully hatch anything into the world, one has to effortlessly glide between the two modes of thought, the two modes of activity, utilizing each at the proper moment. And it takes a certain amount of faith in yourself to pull this off. The minute your faith falters... well, it's like with any other skill - riding a bicycle, perhaps, or ice-skating - you fail... you fall. Or, worse still, you flounder...

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Ghost of Tom Joad

"One of the points I'm making in the book is that, whoever you've been and wherever you've been, it never leaves you," he said. "I always picture it as a car. All your selves are in it. And a new self can get in, but the old selves can't ever get out. The important thing is, who's got their hands on the wheel at an given moment."

- Bruce Springsteen, discussing his new autobiography in an article found here.


I just found the above quote yesterday, and it so resonated with me, that I thought I'd share it here. Bruce Springsteen, an American treasure, has an autobiography being released this month. I was really surprised to learn (from the article linked) that he's had a life-long battle with chronic depression. I'm not going into my own personal history, but, let's just say that I've never really trusted anybody who claims they never get depressed.

If you've never been blue then you've never been human.

Then again, there's the argument that chronic depression is really an expression of suppressed, thwarted rage. Could be.

In any case, while I'm not back to normal posting as of yet, I just wanted put in a few words... and keep my hands on the wheel.

Thanks, Bruce.

Above is Springsteen performing his modern classic The Ghost of Tom Joad featuring the incomparable Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine. Full lyrics to the song can be found after the jump...

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Eye of Newt

Still Life with a Salamander - digital - 2005, 2016

"Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and howlet's wing,--
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble."

- From Macbeth, (Act 4, Scene 1), William Shakespeare.

"The occult world is the hidden world. But what is it hidden from? Well, the occultists themselves usually insist that the world with which they themselves are familiar is hidden from ordinary vision. Most occultists will say that, while it is quite possible for anyone to see this hidden realm, special preparation is usually needed. The majority of people are quite content to pass their lives immersed in the ordinary world of time and space, oblivious to the fact that it is a world interpenetrated by other worlds in which there is a different time and a different space.

The whole range of occult symbols which have come down to us from the remote past is concerned with giving us information about the nature of this different time and space which is hidden from ordinary sight. How is it possible for a hidden world, or an invisible realm, to be represented in ordinary pictures? Imagine, for example, something we have already mentioned, such as the flames which are used to denote the spiritual realm. When an ordinary person looks at a fire, he sees flames leaping upwards. He probably knows that the flames are fed by oxygen from the air, and that what he is seeing is an incandescent gas. Now, when an occultist or an initiate looks with especially sensitised eyes towards the flames of a fire, he does not see only incandescent gases. He sees a sort of life force which is directly linked with the power of the Sun; he also sees that the fire is animated (like all earthly things) by a special soul-being. Such a soul-being is called by modern occultists a ‘salamander’."

- Quote by Fred Gettings from his Secret Symbolism in Occult Art (1987), found in the online article Salamander as soul-being and hieroglyph of fire.


I'm not really officially back to normal posting yet, and I'm not sure when I will be. I'm anxious to get back to the Music Box series before I lose the thread altogether but circumstances dictate that - like it or not (and I don't) - I have to put a great deal more effort into the nuts and bolts (meat-space) side of my existence. It's a survival thing. But, the real question which has always plagued me has come around once again: how does one survive as a corporeal being, and intellectual being, an emotional being and a spiritual being in the phenomenal world of today? One gets the impression that for "most people" - those "ordinary" folks in Gettings' quote (above) - integrating these four modes of existence is not an issue because most are unaware of any existence outside of the corporeal realm. Which may be true, but, I don't believe there are any "ordinary" people.

That being said, when it comes to striking a balance between the four modes of existence, some of us are more flawed than others. In a less complicated world, of course - the superficial world we find on television... glued together by artifice, hype, rhetoric, and generated by meaningless surveys, erroneous statistics, branding and the "common denominator" - any physical or emotional flaw can be fixed by a good diet, a physician, the right variety of potion or powder, or a good pair of running shoes. And, if all of that fails, there's always a dependable life insurance plan. But, in the real world, keeping heart, mind, body and soul functioning together in any sort of optimal way is another story and it rarely ends happily. And, for the artist, the "occultist," the solitary outsider, the unhappy ending scenario is a palpable thing looming cloud-like over the horizon every single day. Poverty is the most imminent threat, but the fear of madness is never far behind...

Friday, July 8, 2016

For the Love of Old Books (Part 3): Wuthering Heights (updated September 16, 2016)

Title page of Wuthering Heights, (1847) by Emily Brontë - 1943 American Edition with woodcuts by Fritz Eichenberg. (All images can be clicked on to enlarge.)

Wuthering Heights

"At noon, Emily was worse; she could only whisper in gasps. With her last audible words she said to Charlotte, "If you will send for a doctor, I will see him now" but it was too late. She died that same day at about two in the afternoon while sitting on the sofa at Haworth Parsonage. It was less than three months since Branwell's death, which led a housemaid to declare that "Miss Emily died of a broken heart for love of her brother". Emily had grown so thin that her coffin measured only 16 inches wide. The carpenter said he had never made a narrower one for an adult. She was interred in the Church of St Michael and All Angels family capsule, Haworth, West Yorkshire, England. Emily Brontë never knew the extent of fame she achieved with her one and only novel, Wuthering Heights, as she died a year after its publication, aged 30."

- Quote found in the Wiki entry for Emily Brontë, (July 31, 1818 - December 19, 1848).  

"The first reviewers were mystified and puzzled by the strangeness and savagery of Wuthering Heights, although nearly all recognized the seductive power of the novel and the original vision of its author...  However, the critic who perhaps most perceptively synthesized the poetic and fictional halves of Emily's creative aptitude wrote at the end of the nineteenth century. A fellow poet, Algernon Swinburne, referred to Wuthering Heights in a 16 June 1883 article as "essentially and definitely a poem in the fullest and most positive sense of the term."

- From the Poetry Foundation's Emily Brontë page.

"An overwhelming sense of the presence of a larger reality moved Rudolph Otto to call Wutheirng Heights a supreme example of "the daemonic" in literature. Otto was concerned with identifying the non-rational mystery behind all religion and all religious experiences; he called this basic element or mystery the numinous. The numinous grips or stirs the mind so powerfully that one of the responses it produces is numinous dread, which consists of awe or awe-fullness. Numinous dread implies three qualities of the numinous: its absolute unapproachability, its power, and. its urgency or energy.

... It has been suggested that Gothic fiction originated primarily as a quest for numinous dread, which Otto also calls the mysterium tremendum."

- Excerpt from a CUNY (City University of New York) article about Wuthering Heights.
(Note: Mysterium tremendum et fascinans is a metaphysical mystery which is regarded with both fear and fascination.)

"The love which devours life itself, which devastates the present and desolates the future with unquenchable and raging fire, has nothing less pure in it than flame or sunlight... As was the author's life, so is her book in all things; troubled and taintless, with little of rest in it, and nothing of reproach. It may be true that not many will ever take it to their hearts; it is certain that those who do like it will like nothing very much better in the whole world of poetry or prose."

- Algernon Charles Swinburne in reference to Wuthering Heights, from his essay "Emily Brontë" (1883). A link to Swinburne's poetry.

"Emily Brontë died in 1848, aged 30, leaving only one published book and some poems. That book, of course, is "Wuthering Heights" (recently issued in new editions, by Penguin and HarperCollins), a novel so strange and powerful that it sinks into the reader's DNA."

- Quote from Richard Raynor, found here.


For my last "interlude" post (featuring bits of my book collection), I couldn't resist posting an edition of one of my favorite novels of all time: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I think the first time I read it was around the age of 13, an age when the mind is most open to new experiences, and when experience itself has its most indelible impact. I've forgotten a lot of novels I've read in the intervening years, but the effect of Wuthering Heights stayed with me, and as Swineburne so wisely predicted: I never once met its match.

He was wrong about one thing though; it seems that a very great many people took it to their hearts and continue to do so. If you google it, or Emily Brontë, you'll find masses of people still have something to say about the young woman's singular novel written over 150 years ago. As recently as 2007, in a British (UKTV Drama) poll, it was voted the number 1 love story of all time. Imagine that. Or, maybe this article: Copy of Wuthering Heights sells for six figures.

So, just exactly what is it about the novel that moves men and women to such a degree? To this very day, critics and academics still discuss it as if it only recently hit the best seller list. You would think that somewhere along the line someone would've finally solved the mystery of the novel's tremendous popularity, its symbolism, and its peculiar author's life. Happily, for Emily Brontë at least, the particulars of her private life will never be revealed. She left no diaries or records... and what little survives of her memory amounts to no more than the second-hand recollections of those who professed to know her, up to and including those accounts offered by her older sister Charlotte...

Monday, June 27, 2016

For the Love of Old Books (Part 2) - The Poètes Maudits & an Artiste Maudit

(From left to right) Das törichte Herz - Vier Erzählungen (The Foolish Heart - A Collection of Essays) by Paul Zech, paperback,1925; Une Saison en Enfer  (A Season in Hell) by Arthur Rimbaud - galley proof (uncut), 1944; Les Fleurs Du Mal - Les Épaves (The Flowers of Evil - The Scraps) by Charles Baudelaire - galley proof (uncut), illustrated by Maurice Mixi-Bérel, 1945.
(All images in this post can be clicked-on for enlarged views.)

"Symbolism was a late nineteenth-century art movement of French, Russian and Belgian origin in poetry and other arts. In literature, the style originates with the 1857 publication of Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal. The works of Edgar Allan Poe, which Baudelaire admired greatly and translated into French, were a significant influence and the source of many stock tropes and images. The aesthetic was developed by Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine during the 1860s and 1870s. In the 1880s, the aesthetic was articulated by a series of manifestos and attracted a generation of writers. The name "symbolist" itself was first applied by the critic Jean Moréas, who invented the term to distinguish the symbolists from the related decadents of literature and of art.

Distinct from, but related to, the style of literature, symbolism of art is related to the gothic component of Romanticism."

- Introduction for the Wiki entry regarding the Symbolists.

"If there is one central tenet held by Symbolist artists, it is that life is fundamentally mysterious, and the artist must respect and preserve this mystery. Thus they insisted on suggestion rather than explicitness, symbols or equivalents rather than description, in both painting and poetry. Choosing music as their model, Symbolists found the creation of a mood to be as important as the transmission of information, and sought to engage the entire mind and personality of the viewer by appealing to the viewer's emotions and unconscious mind as well as intellect. The recognition that there was a major portion of mental activity that is closed to the conscious mind confirmed the Symbolists conviction that there was more to life than could be explained through positivist science."

- Excerpt from the New World Encyclopedia regarding the Symbolist philosophy.

"In terms of specific subject matter, the Symbolists combined religious mysticism, the perverse, the erotic, and the decadent. Symbolist subject matter is typically characterized by an interest in the occult, the morbid, the dream world, melancholy, evil, and death."

- Excerpt found on the following Art Story "Symbolist" page. For information about Symbolist literature in Spain, Germany and America try here (in English only).

"My originality consists in bringing to life, in a human way, improbable beings and making them live according to the laws of probability, by putting - as far as possible - the logic of the visible world at the service of the invisible."

- Quote attributed to French Symbolist painter, Odilon Redon.

Coquille - pastel - 1912, Odilon Redon (Musée d'Orsay)


It's been hot and humid in New Mexico for over a week now, but without a drop of rain in my general vicinity. While there may have been flooding elsewhere on the planet in recent months (including the States), in the American southwest the threat is fire - uncontrollable fires. Happily, my neighborhood has not had to evacuate, but if the dryness continues... well.

But, I can clearly remember the summer's day I bought the three paperbacks shown above. It was a sunny day, possibly in June, but much cooler. I was, after all, still living in New England at the time, and had just been bitten by the antiquated-book-collecting bug. So, when I heard about a book sale being sponsored by a nearby retirement community, well, it was a no-brainer; off I went. 

The books were sitting in a small box on the ground under a tent with other books in foreign languages... dejectedly, as if they were considered less desirable than the American titles lined up on the folding tables above them. I think the first title I saw was Les Fleurs Du Mal, and my heart skipped a beat; Baudelaire (inset, right), Godfather of the Symbolist poètes maudits! And, lying right beside the work of the master, was an inconspicuous (and fragile) little paperback by Rimbaud - the younger of the "accursed" poets - who would have been honored to have his Une Saison en Enfer side by side with Les Fleurs Du Mal. It was too magical; I couldn't believe my luck.  Because, as it was, my first, and most sacred influences as a young artist (and, secretly, a poet) were the Symbolist artists and writers of the turn of the (last) century.

I was yet to realize the books were galley proofs; I just grabbed them, along with a few others - including a German paperback with a bold red and black graphic on the jacket - paid for my treasures, and left. Cradling the books in my arms as I walked to my car was an almost religious experience. Imagine finding such foreign treasures under a tent in Connecticut on a summer day! I drove home in a daze...

Sunday, June 12, 2016

For the Love of Old Books (Part 1)

(Left to right) A Window in Thrums by J.M. Barrie, no date; The Origin of Freemasonry: The 1717 Theory Exploded by Brother Chalmers Izett Paton, 1871; La Sœur De Gribouille by La Comtesse De Ségur, Illustrated by H. Castelli, 1914 (French); The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1906.
(All photographs can be clicked for enlarged views)

"When the English publishers read "A Window in Thrums" in manuscript they thought it unbearably sad and begged me to alter the end. They warned me that the public do not like sad books. Well, the older I grow and the sadder the things I see, the more do I wish my books to be bright and hopeful, but an author may not always interfere with his story, and if I had altered the end of "A Window in Thrums" I think I should never have had any more respect for myself..."
- Excerpt from the introduction to A Window in Thrums, by J.M. Barrie (included in the photo above).


It's already summer here in New Mexico; most days are dry and dusty, the others oppressively humid. But, I'm not complaining really. Considering all the recent flooding in Europe and all the freak meteorological occurrences elsewhere - and all the misfortune and mayhem "natural disasters" entail -  the weather here is the least of my concerns. (Blessed Be, however, to those of you who have struggled and are still struggling with the effects of Mother Nature. Try to remember that our Mother is sick now; she can't help it.)

And, so it's summer... I've yet to see any (beloved) hummingbirds, but, every now and then I see a lizard darting across the wall out back. I've also recently detected a certain singular high-pitched, drill-like sound in the air outside my window: one lone cicada calling out in its weird, mysterious language; like some tiny ambassador from another planet attempting to arouse its extraterrestrial brethren who still lie submerged underground... as they have been for many years! Now, there's a seed for a science fiction story in search of an author.

Well, okay, it's probably already been written... as have so very many other things; written down and published, in some way or another, only to be irretrievably lost or discarded, burnt or buried... left rotting in some basement... or (even) sunken and dissolving at the bottom of a salty sea. Those are the less fortunate fates of many of the world's books. But, there are happier tales; that is, there are some unsung humans who passionately strive to save them. No, we're not bona fide Book Collectors with a regiment of criteria regarding what is deemed "valuable" or not-so-valuable... we're just people who love the look, feel, and smell of an old book between our paws... love the magic of an antiquated embellishment or illustration... and the history inherent in each and every printed word, regardless of its foreign origin.

(Left to right) Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus by "Mrs. Shelley" (in one volume), 
no dates apart from the October 15,1831 preface; Gartenlaube Kalender (Garden Arbor Calendar) 1910illustrated with graphics, engravings & photographs, (German);
Little Folks Astray by Sophie May, illustrated,1871. 

As it happens - and the reason this post appears here - I've spent the last week or so reacquainting myself with my own humble collection; a collection which has spent the last few years secreted away in stacks of boxes. In reality, I have nowhere else to put them. And, finally, It occurred to me - and, no, this was not a pleasant realization - I may never have a place to put them. Moreover, they are presently my only "assets." All (misfortunate) things considered - and, trust me, I will spare you all of that - it likewise occurred to me that the time has come, perhaps, to "liquidate."

No, I've not, as of yet, made any decisions. But, as I haven't had the presence of mind to mentally do much else these days - apart from ruminate (i.e., worry) - I decided I might fill the gap with another "interlude" post, which, at the same time, might serve as a visual - and personal - record...

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Werner Hornung & Joma Sipe (An Interlude)

Romantic Utopia - digital art - © 2014, Werner Hornung

Well, it's time for another interlude... and as I haven't featured any contemporary (2-D) artists in a long time, I'd like to present two amazing artists I came across recently on the web; each a transdimensionalist in his own way.

The first is the German-born digital artist Werner Hornung, an honorary member of the Russian Academy of Fine Arts, whose artistic career began in Paris in the early 1970s and continues there till this day.

His digital work is intricate, dramatic, surreal and multi-dimensional. I am particularly drawn to Romantic Utopia above, but it represents merely one example of the mysterious and multi-layered magic inherent in his work; most especially when the images come to life in an animated .gif format on his must-see website. He also has an exhibit at MOCA's virtual museum, and more of his enigmatic images can be found here and here.


A sampling of images from Lumine Stellarum - © 2015, 2016 Joma Sipe
(click to enlarge)

The second artist I present to you is the Portuguese visionary, and sacred geometer, Joma Sipe. I don't think I've seen any geometrical work in the past that even compares to his masterful (and meticulous) drawings. He uses gold and silver ink on a black background and then goes so far as to embed small crystals in his images, illuminating them in such a way that the effect is truly breathtaking. His subject matter includes many of the geometric and esoteric symbols discussed in my previous post plus numerous others, so he's particularly relevant here. Above is just a tiny sampling of his work - a visionary's view of the stars - but to truly experience the magic of Joma Sipe, I recommend visiting his website, or his YouTube channel, where the two videos (below) featuring his work were found.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Tale of Two Symmetries: A Lover's Pentacle, A Lover's Cross (updated 11/17/16)

Illustration from "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" - 1907, Arthur Rackham
(All images in this post can be clicked on for larger views.)

Alice Takes Another Leap

"What IS a Caucus-race?’ said Alice; not that she wanted much to know, but the Dodo had paused as if it thought that SOMEBODY ought to speak, and no one else seemed inclined to say anything.
`Why,’ said the Dodo, `the best way to explain it is to do it.’ (And, as you might like to try the thing yourself, some winter day, I will tell you how the Dodo managed it.)

First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, (`the exact shape doesn’t matter,’ it said,) and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no `One, two, three, and away,’ but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over."
Excerpt from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Chapter 3) found here.

"The Dodo is a fictional character appearing in Chapters 2 and 3 of the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson). The Dodo is a caricature of the author."
From the Wiki entry for the Dodo in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. (Note: the now-extinct dodo was the first example of humanity's ability to wipe out an entire species.)


Earlier this year, when I was first inspired to write a series of posts on the topic of Love, I was at loss for a central focus. The topic of Love is vast; where to begin... and how? As a visual artist, it's almost as if I needed a metaphorical image, a symbolic embodiment of the myriad ideas and images that began to flood my mind. Had I no muse, no intuition, no relationship with my unconscious mind (and no respect for spontaneous inspirations), the entire project would've floundered from day one. But, this is not the case. I love leaping down rabbit holes! I am the Alice of all Alices, when it comes to pursuing mysterious prompts from the unconscious realm.

As it happened, my first clue arrived in the form of a sudden attraction to an old graphic of mine: a three-headed "sacred" bird I created several years ago as an experiment in creating faux elements; in this case, transforming a plaster carving into a wooden one. (see inset, left). I found myself playing with this image - and, when you come right down to it, unpremeditated play is probably the best way to initiate a dialogue with the unconscious - flipping and juxtaposing copies of the image side by side. I noticed that when the birds faced each other, their necks and their backs formed the shape of heart. I cropped their legs off and this became the first image. But, I also felt the full body mirrored images were intriguing as well and realized I could use all three designs if I created a box in three dimensions.  The idea of making it a music box was the true epiphany - the eureka moment - when the concepts of the language of the birds and the power of Love were united. In other words, I found my metaphor; the Music Box was born...

Monday, April 18, 2016

Hare Interlude...

The Curiosity of Lurices - sculpture - clay - Ellen Jewett
(click to enlarge)

"Caught up in a mass of abstractions," writes David Abram, "our attention hypnotized by a host of human-made technologies that only reflect us back to ourselves, it is all too easy for us to forget our carnal inherence in a more-than-human matrix of sensations and sensibilities. Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth -- our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese. To shut ourselves off from these other voices, to continue by our lifestyles to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence. We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human."

- David Abram... quote (and photo above) found in the Myth & Moor entry, Relationship and reciprocity.


I have a strange dichotomy in my own nature that, on one hand, I've never quite felt wholly of this world, but, at the same time, on a more cellular level, deeply enmeshed in the natural world - the wild world - from which I've always drawn sustenance. And, when I found the beautifully organic clay sculptures by Ellen Jewett (example above) on Terri Windling's (always elegantly eloquent) Myth & Moor blog today, the reality of my present situation sort of came home to me in the same way hearing the video of the thrush's song did a few days ago. In other words, I may be living near the deserts and plains of the American Southwest now - and, that was my choice - but my roots are still in the forests and seashores of New England... where the world outside my door was somehow more intimate, intricate, dense... and magical.

Very much like the entanglement of Ellen Jewett's hare - and really, its expression is a masterpiece in itself - a tribute to the wild women and men in all of us. (Note, too, the moths and/or butterflies on the hare's back!)

Anyway, this is today's (unpremeditated) post. Another "interlude" entry because I'm not really back to blogging yet. You might say I'm just dropping a line as I wander thru the wilds of the most recent interstitial realm I've fallen into.

Oh, you know: Greetings - from the rabbit hole! ;-)


April 28, 2016

Hares are called jackrabbits here in the southwest, and I just saw what looked like the "antelope" variety on the dirt road behind my house yesterday in the early evening. They're incredibly lean, long-legged hares and do have a strangely deer-like quality about them when you see them in action. Very cool! Meanwhile, I just found a YouTube video of a gentle jackrabbit in someone's backyard... and just had to add it to this post.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Language of the Birds: A Musical Interlude

The North American Wood Thrush.

"The last of the light of the sun
That had died in the west
Still lived for one song more
In a thrush's breast.

Far in the pillared dark
Thrush music went --
Almost like a call to come in
To the dark and lament."

- From "Come In" by poet, Robert Frost.

"Whenever a man hears it he is young, and Nature is in her spring; wherever he hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of Heaven are not shut against him."

- Naturalist Henry David Thoreau, regarding the song of the wood thrush (from the Wiki entry).*


Out here in the west, at least, where I currently reside, there are no wood thrushes... and I miss them. In late spring and early summer, they'd begin singing around twilight in the forest behind my childhood home, and the sound was both haunting and inviting... as in Frost's poem (above).

The thrush's song is also a good antidote for "writer's block". And, I'm afraid, writer's block is a symptom of whatever virus or bug I've been battling for the past few weeks.

And, so, despite having several posts in various stages of completion, I'm taking a break from blogging for a short while. Not really long. Just long enough to go outdoors and remind myself that a.) it's spring, and, b.) I actually live on a planet.

Then again, if you must know, a small, nesting sparrow outside my kitchen window advised me. While a sparrow's song can't hold a candle to the thrush's - it's too repetitious...(although no worse than pop music!) - it still knows how to get its point across. And the sparrow's point was: "Get away from that computer keyboard... now!"

Of course, there are those who would debate whether or not birdsong is even musical... scientists mostly. For instance, you'll note in the quote below that, although scientists have detected certain harmonics in the hermit thrush's song which match human patterns, they are still not convinced that birds "have music"... which is quite the opposite of my own views (see my earlier Language of the Birds post), but, then, no one ever accused scientists of having imaginations! ;-)


"Once described as the finest sound in nature, the song of the North American hermit thrush has long captivated the human ear. For centuries, birdwatchers have compared it to human music – and it turns out they were on to something. The bird’s song is beautifully described by the same maths that underlies human harmonies.

... The study shows a natural bias in the thrush towards certain harmonies, similar to those found in humans and some other birds, says Martin Braun of the Swedish organisation Neuroscience of Music in Karlstad, who says the study is an important contribution to the field.

Others remain cautious. Dale Purves of Duke University in North Carolina points out that it concerns just one species, and one component of music – pitch. “What does it all mean? That’s unclear,” he says. The study may explain why the hermit thrush song sounds melodious to our ear, but the debate over whether or not animals have music, and whether theirs is similar to ours, remains very much open."

- Excerpt from a 2014 New Scientist article.**

Well, I'll let you be the judge, but, yes, it sounds like music to me! But, then again, scientists make a living by having such "debates".

On the other hand, I defy them to listen to the Russian canary (below), without becoming at least a tad persuaded. While it's true that the little birds are trained, the point is... well, many human musicians are trained. The important thing is that the birds have the aptitude... and this tiny creature is positively orchestral!

I actually hesitated before posting the above video... I detest the practice of caging birds. But, this amazing bird was actually performing in front of a small crowd - dig on that, if you will - so I caved. Besides which, now that I think of it, isn't chaining oneself to a computer for hours on end kind of like being trapped in a cage?

And, on that note, um... see ya later! :-)

* Interestingly, also from the Wiki entry: "The male (wood thrush) is able to sing two notes at once, which gives its song an ethereal, flute-like quality."

But, naturally, if one scrolls down in the article, we find the creature, like so many animals, is becoming endangered:

"The wood thrush has become a symbol of the decline of Neotropical songbirds of eastern North America, having declined by approximately 50% since 1966. Along with many other species, this thrush faces threats both to its North American breeding grounds and Central American wintering grounds. Forest fragmentation in North American forests has resulted in both increased nest predation and increased cowbird parasitism, significantly reducing their reproductive success."

This reminds me too much of a similar sad story... that of the starlings in my article about the starling's amazing murmurations.

** For another link to a similar article, and more about the wood thrush, see this past post.