The Flowers of Evil: The Balcony

800px-bazille_la_toilette1
Frederic Bazille-La Toilette 1870

It is impossible to overestimate the influence  of Charles Baudelaire upon modernity. The entire Symbolism/Decadent movement that so dominated the 19th Century fin-de-siecle in Europe owed its very existence to Baudelaire.

Baudelaire’s importance extends  far deeper that the creation of one transitory artistic school however. Although he didn’t invent the concept of dandyism (that honour belongs to Beau Brummel), his example gave it a wider cultural currency that eventually resulted in the carefully constructed persona of the ultimate aesthete and wit, Oscar Wilde. His wanderings around the Parisian streets led to Walter Benjamin formulating a new type of man, the flaneur. The figure of the flaneur  recurs frequently in Benjamin’s massive, unfinished magnum opus The Arcades Project. The spirit of the Baudelairean flaneur guided the Surrealists in their impromptu flea-market jaunts and nocturnal adventuring. The Situationist International (see Moving Images) took the flaneur a step further and the central tenets of the SI, Unitary Urbanism and psycho-geography are based upon the needs of this recently evolved city-dweller.

Beyond shaping some of the major artistic and intellectual currents of the 19th and 20th Century, Baudelaire presence can be felt in Punk (with his dried green hair and urgent provocations) and dominated Goth (Dreams of Desire 5 (That Look).

His influential art criticism (and the inspiration he provided to visual artists, see The Sleepers) and his re-definition of the poet as cultural agitator and arbitrator paved the way for Guillaume Apollinaire (In The Zone) and Andre Breton (The Pope of Surrealism).

Baudelaire’s fame largely rests upon his volume of poetry, Le Fleurs Du Mal. First published in 1857 it immediately caused a scandal. Baudelaire’s originality lay not in the versification (which is traditional) but in the explicit, morbid subject matter.

Below is a translation of one of his finest love poems, Le Balcon, inspired by his muse and mistress of twenty years, the ‘Venus Noire’, Jeanne Duval (she was a Creole of Haitian-French heritage).

The Balcony

Mother of memories, mistress of mistresses,
you who are all my pleasures and all my duties,
you will remember the beauty of our caresses,
the sweetness of the hearth, the charm of the evenings,
mother of memories, mistress of mistresses.

On evenings lit by the glowing coal-fire
and evenings on the balcony, veiled with pink mist,
how soft your breast was,
how kind to me was your heart!
Often we said imperishable things
on evenings lit by the glowing coal-fire.

How beautiful the sun is on warm evenings!
How deep is space! How powerful the human heart!
As I leant over you, oh queen of all adored ones,
I thought I was breathing the fragrance of your blood.
How beautiful the sun is on warm evenings!

The night would thicken like a wall around us,
and in the dark my eyes would make out yours,
and I would drink your breath, oh sweetness, oh poison!
And your feet would fall asleep in my brotherly hands.
The night would thicken like a wall around us.

I know how to evoke the moments of happiness,
I relive my past, nestling my head on your lap.
For why would I seek your languid beauties anywhere
except in your dear body and your oh-so-gentle heart?
I know how to evoke the moments of happiness!

Will those sweet words, those perfumes, those infinite kisses
be reborn from a chasm deeper than we may fathom
like suns that rise rejuvenated into the sky
after cleansing themselves in the oceans’ depths?
Oh sweet words, oh perfumes, oh infinite kisses!

 

Translation Peter Low 2001

Dadamax

The Punching Ball or The Immortality of Buonarroti-also known as dadafex maximus. Self Portrait of Max Ernst-Max Ernst 1920
The Punching Ball or The Immortality of Buonarroti-also known as Dadafex Maximus. Self Portrait of Max Ernst-Max Ernst 1920

The German artist Max Ernst who has been the subject of a number of posts here, was one of the key figures linking Dada to Surrealism. A founding member of Cologne Dada in 1919 Ernst titled himself Dadafex Maximus; Dadamax for short. Ernst experimented with photomontage during this period, the favoured medium of the Dadaists, before switching to collage and painting. Moving to Paris in 1922 he was a prime mover of the transitional period between the dissolution of Paris Dada and the start of Surrealism proper in 1924 with the publication of the First Surrealist Manifesto, known as the mouvement flou.

Above and below are works created in the Dada period, including The Elephant Celebes of 1921, a painting that combines the dreamlike composition of De Chirico with Dada collage techniques and thus anticipating the style so favoured by later Surrealists.

The Elephant Celebes-Max Ernst 1921
The Elephant Celebes-Max Ernst 1921
Little Machine Constructed by Minimax Dadamax in Person,  Max Ernst 1919-1920
Little Machine Constructed by Minimax Dadamax in Person, Max Ernst 1919-1920
The Word or Woman-Bird-Max Ernst 1921
The Word or Woman-Bird-Max Ernst 1921
The Hat Makes the Man-Max Ernst 1920
The Hat Makes the Man-Max Ernst 1920
Physiomythological Diluvian Picture, 1920-Max Ernst & Hans Arp
Physiomythological Diluvian Picture, 1920-Max Ernst & Hans Arp
Oedipus Rex-Max Ernst-1922
Oedipus Rex-Max Ernst-1922
At the First Clear Word-Max Ernst 1923
At the First Clear Word-Max Ernst 1923

Interior Mysteries

Le Sabbat-Jean-Marie Poumeyrol
Le Sabbat-Jean-Marie Poumeyrol

After graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Bordeaux, Jean-Marie Poumeyrol taught mechanical draughtsmanship before being let go from this occupation for failing to pass the nude drawing exam, receiving an ‘F’ in this subject at the same time that his disturbing and morbid erotic paintings were becoming highly prized collectors items.

Allied with the artists of fantastic realism, H.R Giger and Sibylle Ruppert are two notable examples of the style that I have previously written about, Poumeyrol developed his style away from erotica, painting mysterious  interiors devoid of human beings but filled with the ghostly traces of absent inhabitants, noticeably numerous fetishistic drawings adoring the walls. The hushed surroundings are bathed in a peculiar pellucid light; gradually the hint of horror that these paintings undoubtedly contain reveals itself  in the eerie calm of these meretriciously rendered spaces

Below is a selection of paintings covering various stages of his career. Information is rather scarce regarding dates and titles, surprising for such an excellent artist of singular vision, however that is the vagaries of reputation and fame.

Ballardian Visions

Le Reve-Henri Rousseau 1910
Le Reve-Henri Rousseau 1910

I have previously highlighted the influence of the Surrealists and Pop Artists upon J.G. Ballard, one of the few modern writers whose name is now an adjective; the word Ballardian conjures up visions of dystopian modernity, denuded man-made landscapes, the all-consuming nature of mass media, entropy, psychological withdrawal and anomie.

This most visual of writers has been a source of inspiration to artists in his turn, either directly referencing his work or by touching upon Ballardian themes.

I have taken liberties with this selection of ‘Ballardian’ imagery. Obviously Rousseau pre-dates The Drowned World and Warhol is directly stated by Ballard as an influence in The Atrocity Exhibition, but in some sense they seem to me Ballardian. The unconscious forms its own connections, there are no accidents and there are no coincidences.

Wittgenstein in New York-Eduardo Paolozzi-1965
Wittgenstein in New York-Eduardo Paolozzi-1965
Spiral Jetty-Robert Jetty 1973
Spiral Jetty-Robert Smithson 1973
JG-Still-Tachita Dean-2013
JG-helmut newtonTachita Dean-2013
Peter Klasen-The Fire Mouth 1965
Peter Klasen-The Fire Mouth 1965
Jackie-Andy Warhol 1964
Jackie-Andy Warhol 1964
Crashed Cars Exhibition-J.G Ballard 1970
Crashed Cars Exhibition-J.G Ballard 1970
Orange Car Crash-Andy Warhol 1963
Orange Car Crash-Andy Warhol 1963
Westway
Westway
Balfron Towers
Balfron Towers
Autopia 2-Dan Holdsworth
Autopia 2-Dan Holdsworth
Bergstrom Over Paris-Helmut Newton 1976
Bergstrom Over Paris-Helmut Newton 1976
T.V Murder, Cannes-Helmut Newton 1975
T.V Murder, Cannes-Helmut Newton 1975
Scenes From the Passion:The Hawthorne Tree-George Shaw 2001
Scenes From the Passion:The Hawthorne Tree-George Shaw 2001
Someone else's House-George Shaw 2018
Someone else’s House-George Shaw 2018
Peter Klasen-Blue Dream 2018
Peter Klasen-Blue Dream 2018

 

 

 

Advertiser’s Announcement by J.G. Ballard

Does the angle between two walls have a happy ending?-J.G Ballard 1967
Does the angle between two walls have a happy ending?-Advert by J.G Ballard 1967

Between 1967 and 1970 J.G. Ballard placed five ‘advertiser’s announcements’ in Ambit, New Worlds and various continental alternative magazines. Although he was the editor at Ambit and heavily involved in New Worlds he paid the going rates out of his own pocket. Ballard stated that he wanted to eventually place them in Vogue, Paris-Match and Life magazines and even applied for an Arts Council grant to provide the necessary funding, but the idea was summarily rejected by the council. Ballard believed that the refusal was occasioned by their sniffy attitude towards advertising as an art-form: still the hesitancy to pony up public funds is understandable on several counts. Would those august publications have published the adverts considering their bizarre and controversial nature? Is advertising a suitable area for an Arts Council grant? And most pertinently of all, what exactly is Ballard selling?

The adverts feature a black and white image of a woman; the first and final photographs are of his partner Claire Churchill, later Walsh, the second is a still from Steven Dworkin’s film Alone about a woman masturbating, the third is a photograph of a woman in bondage gear that his friend the British Pop Artist Eduardo Paolozzi took and the fourth is by Les Krims; with accompanying text taken and on occasion somewhat re-worked from various chapters of The Atrocity Exhibition. As always with Ballard the motivation and effect is ambiguous. The use of the Situationist International technique of détournement would appear to place them as satires, but Ballard always had a tendency to embrace what was commonly held in contempt by the establishment. Regardless of their overt meaning we can be sure that their latent manifestation is of a deeply subversive nature.

Homage to Claire Churchill-J.G. Ballard 1967
Homage to Claire Churchill-J.G. Ballard 1967
Does the angle between two walls have a happy ending?-J.G Ballard 1967
Does the angle between two walls have a happy ending?-J.G Ballard 1967
A Neural Interval-J.G.Ballard 1970
A Neural Interval-J.G.Ballard 1970
Placental Insufficiency-J.G.Ballard 1970
Placental Insufficiency-J.G.Ballard 1970
Venus Smiles-J.G.Ballard 1970
Venus Smiles-J.G.Ballard 1970