There, among the canals, every twist and turn Leads to the unexpected, yet another splendour, Riot of decadence, symbolic decay, hinting at danger; Look upward though at the sun illuminating the water Flowing past the grandeur hidden in vaults Towards the ever present Island of the Dead, Flooding the damned Cities of the Plain Further still rushing beyond the Pure Land To cascade inexorably onto the Other Shore. Here, in this place's essence of impermanence, I taste eternity.
The surface of the canal is stilled momentarily Glass like textured colour of perfected clarity Drifting pellucid azure and liquid wisps of white The grey of gargoyles on the bridge where I’m standing Looking into depths of this quicksilver mirror Marvelling at the pastel vision of innocence Decadent dream of a long vanquished Empire My reflection stares back past and beyond A transitory tranquillity falls like water into water.
The elaborate and enigmatic drawings of the Milan based artist Marco Mazzoni are created entirely by coloured pencils. Drawing on Sardinian folklore of an underground matriarchal culture of witches and herbalist healers, his drawings frequently feature a female face surrounded by, (with the eyes always obscured), finely detailed studies of variegated flora and fauna. Combined with an undisputed mastery of chiaroscuro the effect is seductively disturbing with an undercurrent of bewitching danger and riotous decadence.
My elder sister, perturbation,
heedless and headless
rushing towards paradise,
sinister utopia, blissed out
We call to St. Satan Esq: among others,
Prince of Liars, Lord of this World and all its Works,
louche lounger, adolescent rebel par excellence,
horny old goat stroking your neatly trimmed beard,
He who comes and goes, ever toing and froing:
to grant us a show of a little sympathy.
Walking down the avenue,
only a few more
blocks to cross:
but these streets are constantly changing,
losing my bearings,
I call out, where have you gone?
There is a way if you have the requisite will,
dive deep, immerse yourself in the elements,
there is freedom in surrendering to immensity,
being your virgin canvas, empty page, tabula rasa
onto which you scrawl all your needs, wants and desires,
fill the void inside with a phantom of substance.
Swamp of dreams,
Paris, Rome, Toyko, maybe London,
of eternal decadence:
what a rotten tooth is to love are
you to me.
Parabolas, delirious paranoid constructions,
the sweep and curve of vast cosmic conspiracies.
Something’s not right, something is askew and aslant,
counterfeit currency passed along in a dream,
unveiling the secrets of a banal mystery
ultimate truth is vicious, yet deeply inane.
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).
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