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Posts Tagged ‘illustrations’

Le Pater

July 24, 2014 | by

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In 1899, Alphonse Mucha, a progenitor of Art Nouveau, published Le Pater, an illustrated edition of the Lord’s Prayer embellished in his sinuous, faintly occult style. Mucha, who was born today in 1860, made only 510 copies of the book, which he considered his masterwork. According to the Mucha Foundation,

Mucha conceived this project at a turning point in his career … [he] was at that time increasingly dissatisfied with unending commercial commissions and was longing for an artistic work with a more elevated mission. He was also influenced by his long-standing interest in Spiritualism since the early 1890s and, above all, by Masonic philosophy … the pursuit of a deeper Truth beyond the visible world. Through his spiritual journey Mucha came to believe that the three virtues—Beauty, Truth and Love—were the ‘cornerstones’ of humanity and that the dissemination of this message through his art would contribute towards the improvement of human life and, eventually, the progress of mankind.

Whether or not you buy into Mucha’s spiritual ambition—and I must admit that I don’t—his illustrations are striking in their depth and detail, with a certain haunted, diaphanous quality that would be imitated, if never duplicated, throughout the twentieth century, right on up to those ponderous Led Zeppelin “Stairway to Heaven” black-light posters that continue to grace all too many dorm rooms. As the artist Alan Carroll explains,

in the 1870s and 1880s, so many American artists went to study in Paris (e.g. Sargent, Whistler, Cassatt, Eakins, Homer) because American academic training at the time was generally considered so inadequate. Combine this with a mesmeric American fascination with the Old World, and we can begin to see why Mucha’s early trips to the States were so rapturously received. And yet Mucha seemed reluctant to lap up the attention that the gentry and grandes dames of American Society were determined to bestow. Indeed, he was sick and tired of his obligations, as evidenced in a hilariously melodramatic letter he wrote in 1904: “You’ve no idea how often I am crushed almost to blood by the cogwheels of this life, by this torrent which has got hold of me, robbing me of my time and forcing me to do things that are so alien to those I dream about.”

Something of that crushed-to-blood quality comes through in Le Pater, whose fascination with the otherworldly is predicated on a kind of desperation: There must be something more, right?

You can see more of Le Pater on Carroll’s blog, Surface Fragments.

Lepatermucha005

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Regina and Louise

July 23, 2014 | by

A companion to yesterday’s piece by Edgar Oliver.

Edgar Louise and Helen by Regina Bartkoff

Regina Bartkoff

01 Savannah

Louise Oliver

Deer Trio by Regina Bartkoff

Regina Bartkoff

Louise Oliver - Notepaper 1 for web

Louise Oliver

Edgar's favorite Regina drawing

Regina Bartkoff

For a long time, whenever I visited Edgar Oliver on East Tenth Street, I would look at his mother’s wonderful paintings. They hung all over his crumbly walls and because it was always night when I visited, they were amber lit from the lamps sitting here and there in Edgar’s living room. Whenever I looked at the paintings, I would feel a pang at the thought that I’d never get to meet her. When I decided that I wanted to make Louise Oliver the subject of the third issue of my magazine, Housedeer, Edgar brought out portfolios filled with her drawings for me to see and we looked at them together, sitting on the floor. It seemed as though his whole childhood, and his sister Helen’s too, had been recorded in pencil by Louise. She must have drawn her children constantly, and she drew cemeteries and swamps and old houses and churches and ordinary people going about their business on the streets of Savannah, where they lived. Many of her drawings included detailed notes to herself on the colors of everything in them, so she could use them later to make paintings. Edgar told me that he and Helen were raised to be artists.

I wanted to ask Regina Bartkoff to do a drawing for Louise’s Housedeer cover because while she and Louise have very different styles, there is something about each of them that reminds me of the other. To my eye, the beauty of Regina’s drawings is in their mystery and their innocence. And I think if I had to choose one word to describe what Regina and Louise have in common in what they’ve made, the word innocent might be a good one. Honest would be another. When I told Regina what I wanted, it had been more than a year since she had done any drawing at all, the reason being that she and her husband, Charles Schick, had just finished doing a play by Tennessee Williams called In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel. The play was put on in the gallery they have use of on East Third Street, and they had not yet come out of that other world. Regina and Charles love theater and they love painting (Regina loves drawing too), but when they do a play, it is all-consuming. Regina was still waking up as Miriam, her character in the play, and feeling the kind of lost that theater people often feel when the play is over. Read More »

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The Greatest Artist in the Whole Wide World

July 22, 2014 | by

06 Edgar

A portrait of the author by his mother, Louise Oliver.

02 Edgar December 14th 1963

Louise Oliver, Edgar, December 14, 1963

03 Helen at 17 or So

Louise Oliver, Helen at Seventeen or So

04 Untitled January sketch

Louise Oliver, Untitled (January sketch)

05 Still Life with Glasses

Louise Oliver, Still Life with Glasses

One of our favorite places to play, all throughout my childhood, was in cemeteries. We would go get fried chicken at the Woolworth’s on Broughton Street and go with our sketch pads to the Colonial Cemetery to picnic atop the family vaults that were all shaped like gigantic brick bedsteads. Helen and I loved to climb on these strange bed-shaped vaults and to lie there on the gently curved bellies of the tombs and play at being dead. And while we played, Mother drew in her sketch pad.

At the very back of the cemetery was a playground with old, rusted iron swings that shrieked when you swung in them. Helen and I loved to swing high and make the swings shriek mournfully—the cry of our flight. On the other side of the brick wall, overlooking the playground, rose the Savannah jailhouse—a tall old building with a tower topped by a red onion dome. High up in the jailhouse wall were dark arched windows where you could sometimes see the silhouettes of men’s heads—the prisoners watching us as we swung.

“You’re the greatest artist in the whole wide world, Mother. You’re also the best, funnest, most beautiful Mother in the whole wide world. And you cook such good food too.”

Mother made us say that to her over and over again—every day. And I think we said it sincerely. Mother almost never cooked—but when she did, what she made was always luscious. And I think Mother was a great artist. There is an innocence to Mother’s work that is like a form of revelation.

Over the years of our childhood, Helen and I were to become Mother’s most trusted and devoted encouragers and critics. Mother would call us in from the backyard to examine whatever painting she was working on. We would make our pronouncements with great authority. Read More »

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A Glorious Figure of Young Manhood

July 8, 2014 | by

Baseball Joe on the School Nine
HE WAS A GLORIOUS FIGURE OF YOUNG MANHOOD

“HE WAS A GLORIOUS FIGURE OF YOUNG MANHOOD”

Baseball Joe of the Silver Stars

“IT DARTED TOWARD THE PLATE, BREAKING INTO A WIDE OUTCURVE”

Baseball Joe on the Giants
IT WAS THE LONGEST HIT THAT EVER HAD BEEN MADE ON THE POLO GROUNDS

“IT WAS THE LONGEST HIT THAT EVER HAD BEEN MADE ON THE POLO GROUNDS”

Baseball Joe Home Run King
JOE CAUGHT IT SQUARE ON THE END OF THE BAT

“JOE CAUGHT IT SQUARE ON THE END OF THE BAT”

JOE WAS DOING GOOD WORK

“JOE WAS DOING GOOD WORK”

THE NEXT MOMENT THE HORSEHIDE WENT SPEEDING TOWARD THE PLATE

“THE NEXT MOMENT THE HORSEHIDE WENT SPEEDING TOWARD THE PLATE”

If baseball remains, however tenuously, our national pastime, then Joe Matson, the eponymous hero of Lester Chadwick’s Baseball Joe series, remains our all-American man: an “everyday country-boy” with a can-do attitude, an unimpeachable sense of right and wrong, and a fucking cannon-arm. Chadwick’s sequence of boys’ novels, published from 1912 to 1928, follows Joe on a Horatio Alger–esque journey from small-town schoolyard star to World Series slugger. Spoiler alert: Joe wins. Joe always wins.

With their cheery illustrations and gee-whiz spirit, the Baseball Joe novels emblematize a brand of wish fulfillment that stands at a far remove from the young-adult fiction of today: there’s no dystopia here, nor even a whiff of the supernatural, unless you count Joe’s otherworldly batting average. What we have instead is the distillate of dozens of summers spent dreaming in baseball diamonds, redolent not of beer and nuts but of Wonder Bread and whole milk and Jerry Mathers as the Beaver.

Or so it seems. Turns out the Baseball Joe books had some dark subplots, though you’d never know it to look at their publisher’s catalog, which supplies breathless titles with curiously terse synopses: Read More »

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Some Pulp

May 27, 2014 | by

Dashiell Hammett, born today in 1894, found a home for a lot of his fiction in Black Mask, one of America’s great bygone pulp magazines. Raymond Chandler, Carroll John Daly, and other masters of detective fiction all placed their work in Black Mask, which first published Hammett in 1922, and which serialized The Maltese Falcon in 1929. The magazine had high-minded origins—H. L. Mencken cofounded it in 1920 as a lucrative companion to his more literary (read: less profitable) journal, The Smart Set, which also published Hammett, though later he decided to slum it and began to appear solely in Black Mask. Mencken and his partner sold the pulpier magazine only eight issues into its run; I guess they thought they’d made enough money on it by then. Tant pis—The Smart Set (“A Magazine of Cleverness”) met its demise in 1930, when Black Mask had a circulation of 130,000.

Alack, the forties saw a decline in fortune, as a fan’s history of Black Mask explains:

By 1940 circulation had dropped ... and the owners decided to sell Black Mask to their competition, Dime Detective. A new editor tried to make the magazine tough again and brought in new writers, but the problem was no longer the magazine. The technology of entertainment was changing. Readers had taken up comic books and mass-market paperbacks during the Depression, and by 1940 radio was also taking away audience. These media were, variously, either cheaper or more durable or resalable or more immediate. Its days numbered, Black Mask staggered on, using lurid covers of sex and violence, featuring espionage stories during World War II and finally cutting back to fortnightly publication. The magazine’s size was reduced, the price raised—nothing helped. The last issue appeared in July 1951. After thirty-one years of publication, Black Mask folded: it had printed over 2,500 stories by some 640 authors and been the dominant magazine in hard-boiled fiction.

It was Black Mask, particularly the aforementioned grotesqueries of its later years, that inspired Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, and the covers here offer images out of a Tarantino wet-dream: unabashedly titillating, chock full of lantern-jawed private dicks and glinting gunmetal and doe-eyed doll-faced dames who like to leave messages in lipstick (or blood). Serialized novels were called novelettes, not novellas (“The Flying Hearse: A Cellini Smith Novelette”); headlines ran to all shades of yellow and purple. “Leaving Killings to the Cops.” “Let’s All Swing Together.” “The ‘Phantom Crook’ Returns in ‘Tommy Talks.’” “And a Little Child Shall Bleed Them.” “Alcoholics Calamitous.”

Of course, Hammett’s frequent appearances in these pages might imply that he was just part of the hard-boiled schlock-peddling machine, and I suppose he was. But all you do have to do is read a few lines of dialogue from The Maltese Falcon to see why he outlasted his contemporaries—there was no tough-as-nails before Sam Spade was tough-as-nails.

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A Rookery of Pterodactyls

May 22, 2014 | by

In celebration of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s birthday, have a look at these illustrations from the original serialization of his novel The Lost World, which appeared in The Strand Magazine from April through November of 1912. Conan Doyle’s novel tells of an expedition to South America, where—wouldn’t you know it?—dinosaurs still roam the earth. Everyone associates Conan Doyle with Sherlock Holmes, but The Lost World also left its mark on popular culture: though Conan Doyle borrowed a large part of its conceit from Jules Verne, it remains the paradigm for a sort of swashbuckling supernatural adventure, full of bumbling professorial types and out-of-their-depth journalists and strapping, granite-abdomened men in pith helmets. It’s served as the source material for everything from The Land That Time Forgot to Land of the Lost and plain old Lost, and, of course, for Michael Crichton’s The Lost World, the sequel to Jurassic Park.

This is no country for Jeff Goldblum, but these illustrations, full of terror and adventure, do seem like the sort of thing Steven Spielberg and George Lucas might have hanging in their offices—and there’s definitely something of that Industrial Light & Magic awe in Conan Doyle’s vivid description of a pterodactyl nest:

Creeping to his side, we looked over the rocks. The place into which we gazed was a pit, and may, in the early days have been one of the smaller volcanic blow-holes of the plateau. It was bowl-shaped, and at the bottom, some hundreds of yards from where we lay, were pools of green-scummed, stagnant water, fringed with bulrushes. It was a weird place in itself, but its occupants made it seem like a scene from the Seven Circles of Dante. The place was a rookery of pterodactyls. There were hundreds of them congregated within view. All the bottom area round the water-edge was alive with their young ones, and with hideous mothers brooding upon their leathery, yellowish eggs. From this crawling flapping mass of obscene reptilian life came the shocking clamor which filled the air and the mephitic, horrible, musty odor which turned us sick. But above, perched each upon its own stone, tall, grey, and withered, more like dead and dried specimens than actual living creatures, sat the horrible males, absolutely motionless save for the rolling of their red eyes or an occasional snap of their rat-trap beaks as a dragon-fly went past them. Their huge membranous wings were closed by folding their forearms, so that they sat like gigantic old women, wrapped in hideous web-colored shawls, and with their ferocious heads protruding above them. Large and small, not less than a thousand of these filthy creatures lay in the hollow before us.

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