Astarte In Paisley

Take, if you will, the following group of words and and allow them to swim and mix and coalesce in your head: Greek mythology, simulated sex, paisley leotards, projectors, flowers, psychedelia, lotus tattoos, day-glo, multi-media, “hard rock” music, ballet… Now let me ask you, what single word might the synthesis of these things naturally result in as response? If you harumphed and murmured, “trainwreck” I’m right there with you. 

02.18. filed under: art. history. observations. 8


The Emperor of Presumption

History has seen to it that the number of artists we’ve never heard of far outweighs those which we have, and positively dwarfs, like a supercluster to a matchbook, the number which we revere. This is doubtless as it should be since every aimless young person without quantifiable interests or skills seem to eventually shuffle (or be herded) into the arts seeking refuge from reality. From among these ranks of artists destined to be forgotten I bring you the somewhat interesting case of Guglielmo Achille Cavellini, the self-styled “emperor of presumption,” who undertook a determined campaign to be remembered in the annals of art history.

01.27. filed under: art. history. observations. people. 5


Histoire Naturelle des Indes

The Histoire Naturelle des Indes, created sometime in the 1590’s, is one of the earliest illustrated records of European contact with the America. Also know it by its informal title The Drake Manuscript it was donated to the the Pierpont Morgan Library in 1983, who after many years of study graciously produced a full color facsimile. I happen to have said facsimile, which was published in 1996, right here in front of me. Shall we take a gander?

01.19. filed under: art. books. history. humanity. 12


Mechanismo

Or: praise of futures past

A few weeks ago I picked up a book in the bargain bin at Strand titled Mechanismo. When the guy ringing me up at the checkout counter came upon it in my stack, he stopped, flipped through it quickly and somewhat sheepishly, and alerted a buddy standing a few registers down. They admired it together. I remember thinking, “Well, guess that one is Nonist worthy.” The book, published in 1978, is essentially a collection of essays by the venerable Harry Harrison on all things science-fictional. What makes the book standout, however, is the bounty of 70’s era sci-fi illustrations contained within, and it’s some of these that I’d like to share with you.

01.12. filed under: art. books. science. space. 13


The British Library has a dynamite collection of fine and historical bookbindings numbering, evidently, in the thousands, and their online database will happily serve them up, in random groups of 25, for your ogling pleasure. On the whole they are ludicrously beautiful, making those spiffy, redesigned, Penguin Classic’s we’re all so fond of look about as precious as supermarket circulars. To see them for yourself go here and simply click “reselect” to see more.

The site does not offer much, however, by way of supporting historical information, and knowing, as I do, that beautiful pictures just aren’t enough for you “internauts,” and indeed how ravenously hungry you all are for lengthy texts to read in your browser window, I’ve taken the liberty of gathering together a list of related materials which could shed some light on the art and craft of bookbinding. See below. 

01.03. filed under: art. books. design. history. 7


Relics of Temperance

It is said that in America, prior to the Revolution and prior to urbanization, alcohol consumption, as a general rule, was kept to what was then considered acceptable levels through informal social control in the home and in the community. After the Revolution and urbanization the country saw an increase in poverty, unemployment, and crime, much of which was blamed on the relaxation of social control over alcohol, and the corresponding rise of drunkenness. In hopes of reasserting that social control over the “demon rum” temperance societies began popping up across the Northeast. By 1830 there were 2,220 such temperance societies in the United States, each wielding an arsenal of tracts, leaflets, broadsides, pledges, songs, plays, and illustrations meant to scare, guilt, and bully men back into sobriety…. and that’s a lot of printed matter.

12.17. filed under: art. belief. design. history. 14


Shadow Play

Though the term “shadow play” might bring to mind some sort of salacious fetish practiced by overzealous goths and pre-teen wickans, it is, of course, no such thing. Shadow play refers instead to one of the more ancient forms of theater, one whose roots are so old as to be, beyond a certain point, seemingly untraceable, whose practice can be found, in varying incarnations and distinct traditions, all across the world, and whose contrivances account for some of the most gorgeous puppets to ever to cavort, skulk, vault, or swoon across a stage.

12.05. filed under: art. design. history. play. 4


La Bouche

Quote: “The mouth is the beginning or, if one prefers, the prow of animals; in the most characteristic cases, it is the most living part, in other words, the most terrifying for neighbouring animals. But man does not have a simple architecture like the beasts, and it is not even possible to say where he begins. In a strict sense, he starts at the top of the skull, but the top of the skull is an insignificant part, incapable of attracting attention and it is the eyes or the forehead the play the significatory role of an animal’s jaws.”

12.03. filed under: art. humanity. ideas. 1


The Exhibition Stare

When Somerset House opened to the public in 1780 the main staircase which lead to “the Great Room” quickly became one of London’s famous attractions. This fact is often attributed to its terrifying steepness and narrowness, the climbing of which was viewed as an “aesthetic experience” which people of the time would have referred to as “sublime.” Evidently there was another, and one must assume equally exhilarating, reason for it’s popularity. 

12.03. filed under: art. history. humanity. 6


Minotaure (1933 - 1939)

In 1933 Albert Skira, a young publisher of elegant art books, released the first two issues of a periodical which, though it would only last for 6 years, remains to this day one of the most impressive publications of its kind ever produced. It was called Minotaure and the reasons it is damned near legendary are simple– lavish production values of a quality unseen previously, and contributors who, from the editors to the essayists to the artists, went on to storm the hallowed annals of history.

12.01. filed under: art. history. people. 9


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