Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Crock Of Gold Illustrations by Thomas Mackenzie.

Book illustrations which we are exposed to as children retain a lifelong hold over our imaginations. They draw us back because we are remembering not only the images themselves, but the particular quality of how the images appeared to us then - and, in the process, something of how everything appeared, and how different our minds were.  As adults, we appreciate illustrations in a different way - as works of artistic quality, imaginative vigour, and expressions of the individual style and personality of the artist.  As children, we see them simply as frozen moments in a fully-realized world which extends in every spatial and temporal dimension around the borders of the illustration.  In the same way that the prose contains the whole narrative extended in space, the illustrations contain their preceding moments in the notional space of the child's imagination.  The faces of the characters have a peculiar intensity, if for no other reason than that they have been frozen at precisely this moment, be it at the beginnings of their journey, or when its moments of peril and crisis later arise in the ogre's castle or witches hut.

Not all the books we encounter have the same lasting effect on us.  The majority, as with memories in general, reside in the vast, darkened storerooms of our recall - we will know them again immediately when re-encountered, but they are lost until the memory is jogged.  Others seem to be always with us. One book whose illustrations had a massive impact on me as a child was James Stephens' The Crock Of Gold - not really a children's book, but one that was lying around the house.  The illustrations are by Thomas Mackenzie, drafted in after Arthur Rackham passed away.  A large part of the appeal for me lay in the presence of Pan, and the fact that I had to invent a story around the often mysterious images.  To this day, I haven't read the book, although it's something I've been meaning to get around to for ages.  The last two images are my favourites.

Hat-tip to The Golden Age for posting these wonderful images.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Morbid Fancy: The Erotic and Unhinged Art of Felicien Rops. (Possibly NSFW, Unless you Work in a Tattoo Parlour, or Carcosa.)

Born in the Belgian city of Namur in 1833, Felicien Rops was a quintessential artist of the Decadent/Symbolist era.  Rops' work encapsulates many of the characteristic preoccupations of the bohemian fin de siecle, also apparent in the poems of Baudelaire and the incomparable novels of JK Huysmans: a confluence of morbid, erotic, religious, and Satanic imagery, expressing a sense of rebellious transgression, underscored perhaps by disgust, and a not quite vanquished Medieval fear of perdition.  In his review of A rebours, Barbey d'Aurevilly famously commented: "After Les Fleurs du mal I told Baudelaire it only remains for you to choose between the muzzle of the pistol and the foot of the Cross.  But will the author of A rebours make the same choice?"  The transgressions of the Decadents were no small thing, in the context of their era. 

Perhaps one of the joys of Rops' work, which frequently veers into outright pornography, is its lack of subtly.  In tracing the intertwined complexes of religion, death, and forbidden sexuality, Rops goes for the jugular, and gets to the heart of the matter with almost comic gusto and directness.  Why not?  Sex and death can be expounded upon with great subtly after the fact, but they are both more frequently overt and direct in their operations.   As in later occult-influenced artists like Marjorie Cameron and Rosaleen Norton, Rops' work conveys the sense of an uncensored glimpse into the recesses of a collective imagination still dominated by Catholicism, and its heady association of unfettered sexuality with the demoniac or Satanic.  This idea reaches its apotheosis in The Satanic Cavalry (1882), a work so ebulliently transgressive it renders much of the later iconography of heavy metal tame and superfluous: 

Not sure what old Barbey d'Aurevilly thought of The Satanic Calvary, but I'm guessing he would have told Felicien Rops just to go straight for the muzzle of the pistol. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Hail to the King: Jack Kirby's Concept Art for Lord of Light/Argo in Mind-Melting Colour.

The story behind Barry Ira Geller's proposed movie/theme park adaption of Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light is now well known via Ben Affleck's doubtless competent Oscar winner of a couple of years back.  The concept artwork for the project was undertaken by the mighty Jack Kirby, one of twentieth century pop culture's great visionaries.  This artwork was already pretty astonishing in black and white, but Heavy Metal magazine recently commissioned Mark Englert to colourise it, and the results are mind-melting - at times suggesting that Kirby had been to Alex Grey land before Alex Grey himself: 

Just image this stuff as a movie - better still, a THEME PARK: