The Fearful Figures of Carlos Schwabe

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Le Faune, 1923.

The German symbolist painter Carlos Schwabe (1866–1926) spent most of his professional life in Paris. He composed illustrations for the works of authors Émile Zola and Charles Baudelaire and had notable Rosicrucian sympathies. Taking up such symbolist motifs as death, beauty, mythology and the monstrous, he apparently modeled the angel in his “The Death of the Grave-Digger” after his own wife.

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La Vague, 1907.

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La mort du fossoyeur, The Death of the Grave-Digger, 1895.

La Douleur, The Pain, 1893.

From Baudelaire’s “Les Fleurs du Mal”.

Poster of the First Rosicrucian Exposition by Carlos Schwabe

Medusa by Carlos Schwabe

Medusa, 1895.

For More Information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlos_Schwabe

http://www.artmagick.com/pictures/artist.aspx?artist=carlos-schwabe

http://www.museumsyndicate.com/artist.php?artist=1015

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosicrucian

Banksy: Vortex of the Zeitgeist

Banksy

“The thing I hate the most about advertising is that it attracts all the bright, creative and ambitious young people, leaving us mainly with the slow and self-obsessed to become our artists. Modern art is a disaster area. Never in the field of human history has so much been used by so many to say so little. ~Banksy.

As someone who sometimes has trouble in malls and grocery stores because of what I can only begin to describe as a kind of semiotic agoraphobia, I have found a great deal to appreciate in the artistic devices and proclamations of the British artist known only as Banksy. His talent for revealing the links between graffiti and advertizing, what they imply about the public use of space, of symbols, of human attention, of the powers at play in the way these things are shaped, will no doubt make him stand out as one of our generations’ most notable contributions to art history.

I may be wrong here, but I’ve always felt that much modern art, despite the highly erudite and supposedly subversive messages contained within it, has had an overall conservative, reactionary, and culturally stagnating effect. This, while holding itself with the same smug sense of self-satisfaction, singed in the fires of righteous indignation, reserved for the avant-garde and radical. If you have to have the money, time and other support structures required to go to art school for four or more years just to have a positive emotional response to two blue stripes separated by a red one (i.e. Voice of Fire, by Barnett Newman), it’s probably not as radical as you suspect.

In the 1950s and 60s, the CIA covertly funded such artists as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. This is not to say that the artists involved knew of, or would have approved of, this support, but only that abstract expressionism, and its equally abstract descendants, can and have also served conservatism and nationalistic propaganda.

It is important to keep in mind that things are never inherently radical or conservative though, that these are not properties essential to the work of art itself; they change overtime, from place to place and person to person. Yet it does seem that we live in a context were individuals frequently find themselves confronted with heavily restricted and shepherded hermeneutic resources, be they in the form of advertizements telling us how to interpret products or scientific and political developments, the import of which are fed to us through “talking head” commentators. Within this context art that requires artists to tell us how “high” art is to be appreciated and set apart from “low brow” art, or those things merely produced by illustrators, hardly seems to stand in contrast to the reactionary and conservative interests of the current age.

In the highly stylized yet realistic climate of soviet art, Voice of Fire would have been truly a revolutionary act and a powerful political commentary. Yet it made its first public appearance in America alongside an Apollo space capsule, red-and-white striped Apollo parachutes, photographs of the moon and images of movie stars.

I’ve commented in a previous post about the culture of advertizing and what I feel are some of its effects on the human psyche, and what can be done about it. In a much more immediate sense, on the ground and in the streets, I believe Banksy has shown how graffiti is another valuable player in the conductorless orchestra of semiotic resistance.

And for this, I am grateful.

Banksy

Banksy

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Banksy

Banksy

Banksy

Banksy: Armoured Peace Dove

Armoured Peace Dove, West Bank.

“Joseph and Mary making their way toward Bethlehem, only to find their route blocked by the Israeli West Bank barrier.”

For More Information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banksy

http://www.banksy.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Banksy/39713792073?ref=ts

http://thebanksyblog.blogspot.ca/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/modern-art-was-cia-weapon-1578808.html

http://www.awn.com/articles/animated-propaganda-during-cold-war-part-one

http://aburningpatience.blogspot.ca/2007/06/my-computer-is-back.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voice_of_Fire

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcel_Duchamp

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackson_Pollock

Banksy

Featured bottom right, “Irony”.

Theatre of Tragedy

According to Wikipedia, the Norwegian gothic metal band Theatre of Tragedy was one of the first, if not the first, bands to employ what are often termed “beauty and the beast” vocals. At the very least, they are one of the few bands I know that have used “death grunts”, the “beast” element of these vocals, to melodious effect, rather than having them overpower each other element of their songs. With lyrics in early modern English, German, the occasional sound clip, and haunting piano work, their early output remains the defining feature of their 17 year existence.

For More Information:

http://www.theatreoftragedy.com/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theatre_of_Tragedy

Paul Rumsey and the Seeker of Yesterday

Perhaps it could be said that any meditation on tradition, if be carried through to its consistent conclusion, comes up empty. That the castles of consciousness, to withstand a siege, must forget that their foundations are forever rooted in the air. For each eager, then ever more desperate inquest into authenticity, derived from the longing for some single, unbroken thread connecting you to the past, to some stable, certain, linear, guiding spool that would allow everything else to somehow fall into its rightful place, with time and circumspection these things begin to invite the inquirer to look with some suspicion on what is ‘real’ and what ‘contrived’. As soon as doubt creeps in, the thread is cut, and often cut. It can, indeed, I believe, it must be tied again, if that is what we feel compelled to do, but the consequences of denying that the knots thereafter exist is that you can then never use them to clime back up into, then above yourself, and some greater whole of comprehension.

It is human, indeed, perhaps characteristic of any finite intellect, to seek profound answers to where they come from, where they belong, where are they going, but how could we ever be anything but active participants in the answers to these questions? However, that we feel a certain psychological resonance, here and there, with elements of the past we see, or seek to see within ourselves, seems certain.

It will come as no surprise that for me, part of this tradition has been woven from the fabric of the weird, and so I was pleased to find a contemporary artist who seems to have so effectively characterized some key quandaries of my psyche.

His name is Paul Rumsey. In his own words:

The use of fantastic metaphor and poetic allusion allows me great freedom, to portray any idea from the exterior political to the interior psychological. And the materials I work with give me freedom; charcoal is very flexible, and can be wiped, erased, sandpapered and redrawn. It is open to chance effects that can lead to unanticipated directions and solutions. I make constant revisions and alterations. Even with a medium like pen and ink which would favour the permanent, spontaneous, linear mark, I have found a way (by using sandpaper on card) of reworking, to end up with textures, tones and atmospherics.

For my work to conform to modern taste it should be more gestural, ‘marks on paper’, linear rather than illusionistic. My work begins sketchy and gestural, and some artist friends urge me to leave it like that and not spoil it by wasting weeks bringing it to a more finished state – but I can’t stop myself. I am addicted to the moment when the marks and smudges metamorphose, solidify into an illusion of real space, with solid objects and figures under a unified light and atmosphere. It is only when I feel I can climb into the picture, wander about and touch things that I am happy with it. ~ From Paul Rumsey’s Website, “Artist”.

Philosophers

Triumph of Folly

Bodyhead

Warhead

Libraryhead

The Library-head drawings were in part inspired by Rumsey’s reading of the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges’ story “The Library of Babel”

Toys

Conflict

Crawling City

Building Dream

Egypt

Sphinx

For More Information:

http://www.angelfire.com/pa5/rumsey/

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/07/arts/design/07john.html

http://morbidanatomy.blogspot.com/2008/03/paul-rumsey-21st-century.html

Serafino Macchiati, Spiritualism, and a Lacuna in Wikipedia

The images above, Le visionnaire and Spiritism (Scena spiritica) were done by the Italian artist Serafino Macchiati (1861-1922). I’ve not been able to find out much about Macchiati’s interest in spiritualism. Indeed, the only substantial source of biographical information about him seems to be a site dedicated to two volumes of his works that were produced  by his grandson. I find it exceedingly unusual that, while he was made a Knight of the Italian Crown and produced a series of illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy, there is still no Wikipedia article on him in English, French, German or, most surprisingly, Italian. If anyone knows anything about Macchiati’s relationship to the occult, I’d be curious to find out.

For More Information:

http://www.serafinomacchiati.com/

Facinated by Fractals

[errata: So Mandelbrot coined the term fractal in 1975, not the 1980s. Also have to work on using “um” as a place holder! And… maybe a script would help.]

For More Information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fractal

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nature_deficit_disorder

http://depts.washington.edu/hhwb/Thm_Mental.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hologram

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macrocosm_and_microcosm

http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Scale-free_neocortical_dynamics

http://www.cell.com/neuron/abstract/S0896-6273(10)00291-6

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fractal_dimension_on_networks

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scale_invariance

Buzsaki, Gyorgy. 2006. Rhythms of the Brain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

http://www.philhine.org.uk/writings/ktul_fractals.html

A Bust of Mephistopheles

While it’s sadly no longer on display, I  saw the above bust of the devil Mephistopheles when I first came to Toronto some years ago. Apparently it is cut from a single Tanzanian ruby, with a gold and obsidian base. It’s part of the Michael M. Scott private collection, and as far as I can tell it was made by Günter Petry, in Idar-Obserstein, Germany. While I don’t tend to be a fan of conventional jewelry, the stonework in the collection was quite impressive.

For More Information:

http://www.rom.on.ca/news/releases/public.php?mediakey=6omnl8ho7g

http://www.gpetry.com/ (Site opens with kind of sleazy rich person jazz)