- Sherman Alexie chose a poem by Yi-Fen Chou, a Chinese American, for this year’s Best American Poetry anthology. But Yi-Fen Chou was a pseudonym, it turned out, for Michael Derrick Hudson, a white guy. Now that he’s elected to include the poem anyway, Poetry Twitter is inflamed. But “I did exactly what that pseudonym-user feared other editors had done to him in the past,” Alexie says: “I paid more initial attention to his poem because of my perception and misperception of the poet’s identity. Bluntly stated, I was more amenable to the poem because I thought the author was Chinese American.”
- Arthur Heming, the Canadian “painter of the great white north,” was diagnosed as color-blind when he was a kid; this motivated the strange palette of black, yellow, and white he used for most of his career in the early twentieth century. “Thematically, he worked with scenes whose colors were appropriately blanched: winter hunting and trapping expeditions that he took for the Hudson Bay Company and alongside people of the First Nations. His narrow focus in painting mirrored his work as a traveler, novelist, and illustrator, and the commercial nature of his output certainly influenced the mixed reception he received in the art market. In Canada he existed as an outsider of both the trapping communities he traveled with in the north and of his peers in the fine art world.”
- Rob Chapman’s new cultural history of LSD reminds us that psychedelia’s day in the sun wasn’t just some trippy bullshit in a kandy-kolored vacuum—it was a short-lived, potent moment with lingering political aftereffects. “Chapman insists that Hendrix, far from wandering up his own psychic fundament, ended up directing psychedelia’s transformative sonic potency against the state. ‘After Woodstock [in 1969], the atrocities of carpet-bombing and village burning were soundtracked by the symbolic flag-shredding that takes place during Hendrix’s extraordinary rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” ’ ”
- And maybe, for a later generation, early video games were just as mind shattering as a tab of good acid: “I think Super Mario World was altering our perception long before acid or psilocybin mushrooms … the player irrevocably changes the landscape of Super Mario World. Empty space becomes solid matter, and you can access new parts of the game. Within the blink of an eye, the world, as well as the player’s view of the virtual world, transforms … Thirteen years later, I’d discover that LSD could similarly expose sediment layers of reality that I didn’t previously know about, thereby changing my perception in both immediate and permanent ways.”
- In 1906, a New Yorker named Julia Rice founded the Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noise, one in a continuing line of noble but ill-advised measures against the sounds of the city. In this case, the culprit was tugboat noise. “The campaign was related to the idea of a neurosis called ‘Newyorkitis’—an illness that arose from an unhealthy addiction to noisy environs. Her campaign was crowned with success: in 1907 Congress signed a law reducing the frequency of ships’ whistles in federal waters … However, Rice seems to have enjoyed quite a bit of noise in her life: her six children played instruments and the family allegedly kept a number of cats and dogs.”
Victor Moscoso has, as he says, always ridden two, if not three, horses at a time. As an art student, he made fine-art paintings and did “art jobs,” such as hand-painting grocery signs. Later, he made paintings and posters, and then paintings, posters, and comics. He was one of the “big five” of design in the sixties—with Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, Wes Wilson, and Rick Griffin—and has been one of the Zap Seven since 1968. Yet Moscoso is every bit his own man.
Born in Galicia, Spain, in 1936, he emigrated with his family to Brooklyn when he was three. From there, he went on to study art at the Cooper Union, Yale University, and the San Francisco Art Institute. In San Francisco, he began making psychedelic posters for the burgeoning music scene—for groups such as the Who and Big Brother and the Holding Company and for venues such as the Shrine Auditorium, the Matrix, and the Fillmore. He borrowed from Art Nouveau, Vienna Secession, LSD trips, and contemporary commercial packaging and rendered his elaborate, frequently abstruse compositions in hot, vibrating colors. These designs helped define the psychedelic era.
In 1968, Moscoso, Griffin, and S. Clay Wilson joined Robert Crumb on the third issue of Zap Comix. When Crumb founded the magazine, there was nothing else like it, and its seven contributors produced stories so bawdy and rowdy and inventive that comics would never be the same. Moscoso’s work for Zap is formally innovative as well; many stories are told by way of nonlinear, surrealist dreamscapes in which the imagery morphs and folds back onto itself. Moscoso made three wraparound covers for the magazine, the most famous of which appeared issue no. 4: an eye-bending, joyously vulgar transformation of a dancing Mr. Peanut into a dancing phallus. It is a masterpiece of graphic art that, as Gary Panter has put it, “will represent the twentieth-century imagination for centuries.”
Last year, Fantagraphics gave Zap Comix the deluxe treatment, reissuing the magazine’s four-decade run in a six-volume box set. And this month, a show of Moscoso’s drawings from 1967 to 1982, including his preparatory work for Zap comics and covers, opened at Andrew Edlin Gallery, in New York. Moscoso spoke with me over the phone last month from his studio in Marin County, California, about learning to make art and then having to unlearn it all.
Are you on a cell?
They’re very convenient. Especially the ones with cameras on them, man. That is dynamite. I don’t have one, but my wife does. It’s a marvel. This may be before your time, but there was this comic strip called Dick Tracy, and he had this wrist radio with a little picture on it and a wire running up his arm.
Where did the wire go?
Underneath his garments, so that when he was getting dressed, he’d get the wire on. And he could talk to headquarters at any time.
I remember the wristwatch, but I didn’t know he had a wire running up his arm.
That was a detail kids like me were really interested in. And here we are. Jesus Christ, I’m living in a comic strip. Except everybody’s got ’em. Not just the cops. In fact, the cops gotta watch out.
Did you read Dick Tracy for the story or the art?
Mainly the art, because that was before I could read. Comics was one of the places where I learned to read, because the pictures interested me.
I remember at the age of three and half watching Hoppity Goes to Town, which I saw in Spain. I was blown away, as a little child, with the fact that drawings—I could tell the difference between drawings and live action—were moving. I saw that drawings were coming to life. I think that is when I decided, without realizing it, that that was what I wanted to do. Later on I saw comics, in particular Walt Disney comics. There is one artist in there whose name is Carl Barks—he was on design at Walt Disney, and he was an excellent storyteller. I used to wait every month for the new issue of that comic book to come out.
Eventually I went through all the comic books at the time, and I came upon the EC comics, and in particular, Mad. Read More
From Oguz Uygur, a Turkish filmmaker, comes this video on ebru, or marbling, a design style in which artists create intricate patterns using floating, vividly colored inks and then transfer them to paper. Uygur’s parents are skilled marblers—they’re the ones you see here—and his video gives a sense of the patience and precision required to bring off such impressive patterns as “the nonpareil marble,” “the peacock marble,” or “the entwined comb marble.”
In order to make the colors “float,” you’ll need a bed of viscous mucilage, known as size. You can make this from moss or seaweed extracts—you know, whatever you have lying around the house. Once that’s in place,
The colors are then spattered or dropped onto the size, one color after another, until there is a dense pattern of several colors … Each successive layer of pigment spreads slightly less than the last … Once the colors are laid down, various tools and implements such as rakes, combs, and styluses are often used in a series of movements to create more intricate designs.
Rookie has a helpful guide to do-it-yourself marbling (no viscous mucilage required—just turpentine). For truly dedicated autodidacts, there’s Josef Halfer’s The Progress of the Marbling Art: From Technical Scientific Principles, an 1894 manual that goes into exhaustive (and perhaps exhausting) detail on every facet of the art. Its distinctions are fine: Halfer reminds that the gray snail marble is not to be confused, for instance, with the common greenish-gray snail marble, or the grayish-green snail marble. They’re different.
Skip Spence’s “music from the other side.”
Skip Spence is known for his work in Moby Grape, a seminal psych-rock outfit, and for his only solo album, Oar (1969), which has one of the most gloriously unhinged creation myths in the history of popular music.
In ’68, Spence—who would be, coincidentally, sixty-eight today—was cutting a new Moby Grape record in New York. The city was not bringing out the best in him. One night, as his bandmate Peter Lewis tells it, Spence “took off with some black witch” who “fed him full of acid”: not your garden-variety LSD, mind you, but a powerful variant that supposedly induced a three-day fantasia of hallucinations and cognitive haymaking. The result? “He thought he was the Antichrist.”
Spence strolled over to the Albert Hotel, at Eleventh and University, where he held a fire ax to the doorman’s head; from there, he negotiated his way to a bandmate’s room and took his ax to the door. The place was empty. So he hailed a cab—you know, with an ax—and zipped uptown to the CBS Building, where, on the fifty-second floor, he was at last wrestled to the ground and arrested. He did a six-month stint in Bellevue, where he was deemed schizophrenic. “They shot him full of Thorazine for six months,” Lewis said. “They just take you out of the game.”
But Spence wasn’t out of the game. The same day they released him from Bellevue, he bought a motorcycle, a fucking Harley, and cruised straight on to Nashville, where he planned to record a series of new songs he’d written in the hospital. He was clad, legend maintains, only in pajamas. Read More
You may never have heard of the Small Faces—and that’s perfectly acceptable. There’s a terrible, thirty-minute documentary about the band that you can watch on YouTube, but I don’t recommend it. However, any music fan will tell you that they were one of the greatest and most underrated bands in the history of rock and roll. At their loudest, the Small Faces could rumble and crash even better than the Who. At their slyest, they could preen and knowingly wink with the best of the Rolling Stones. And underneath it all was an intelligence and creative streak that was downright Beatles-esque.
Plus, they had Steve Marriott’s lead vocals, which in the late sixties (before they were later wasted in Humble Pie) were perhaps the best and most evocative instrument in rock and roll this side of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar. Needless to say, this all added up to quite a formidable group, one that was capable of making unique and memorable music, which is exactly what the Small Faces did in the spring of 1968 when they released their psychedelic masterpiece, Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake. Read More
I have always been a poor visualizer. Words, even the pregnant words of poets, do not evoke pictures in my mind. No hypnagogic visions greet me on the verge of sleep. When I recall something, the memory does not present itself to me as a vividly seen event or object. By an effort of the will, I can evoke a not very vivid image of what happened yesterday afternoon, of how the Lungarno used to look before the bridges were destroyed, of the Bayswater Road when the only buses were green and tiny and drawn by aged horses at three and a half miles an hour. But such images have little substance and absolutely no autonomous life of their own. They stand to real, perceived objects in the same relation as Homer’s ghosts stood to the men of flesh and blood, who came to visit them in the shades … This was the world—a poor thing but my own—which I expected to see transformed into something completely unlike itself.
So wrote Aldous Huxley just before an afternoon mescaline trip, his first, in 1954. The psychedelic sixties would take Huxley’s message to heart, opening new doors of perception while under the influence. But for graphic designer Heinz Edelmann, Huxley’s journalistic exploration was mescaline enough. After reading the British novelist’s account, Edelmann thought, “Well, I don’t need mescaline. I can do that stone cold sober.” If you don’t know who Edelmann is, have a look at Yellow Submarine: he created the look of the film and designed all the characters.