The Sign of the Black Sun

Black Sun-Toyen 1951
Black Sun-Toyen 1951

My thoughts and as a consequence my dreams have been occupied by Prague lately, (a place I have never visited, incidentally), the city of Emperor Rudolf II with his court of alchemists, magicians, scientists and artists; where Dr John Dee and his medium Edward Kelley conjured up a vast array of angels in a Aztec obsidian mirror and Guiseppe Arcimboldo painted his bizarre composite portraits of visages made of fruit, branches, flowers and books. The city (fast forwarding three centuries) of Meyrink and his Golem haunting the ghetto; of Kafka and his monstrous metamorphoses, bewildering reversals and byzantine bureaucracies. The city of the incomparable Toyen.

Toyen’s phantasmagorical art is filled with images of transformation, of women becoming animals or vice versa, of sudden and terrifying shifts in size and scale, of spectral figures in the process of materialisation, of impossible desires becoming reality. Sometimes it seems that the decidedly ambiguous Toyen was channeling the entire occult and magical history of Prague.

The paintings that Toyen produced in the 1950’s onward, after Surrealism had shifted decidedly from revolutionary politics and towards the occult, frequently point towards the signs of Alchemist Alley, now Golden Lane. The black sun is the first stage of the magnum opus and also refers to the dissolution of the body and hence the ego.

I have included a selection of Toyen’s magnificently compelling paintings of metamorphosis and phantasmal  figures.

All the elements-Toyen 1950
All the elements-Toyen 1950
They Rise at Dawn-Toyen 1950
They Rise at Dawn-Toyen 1950
In Slow Motion-Toyen 1954
In Slow Motion-Toyen 1954
Fire Smoulders in the Veins-Toyen 1955
Fire Smoulders in the Veins-Toyen 1955
Seven Swords-La Belle ouvreuse-Toyen 1957
Seven Swords-La Belle ouvreuse-Toyen 1957
Vigilance in the Mirror-Toyen 1959
Vigilance in the Mirror-Toyen 1959
Toyen-Dream 1964
Toyen-Dream 1964
Toyen-Secret Room 1966
Toyen-Secret Room 1966
Toyen-New World of Year 1968
Toyen-New World of Love 1968
At the Castle Silling-Toyen 1969
At the Castle Silling-Toyen 1969
Reflection flow Out-Toyen 1969
Reflection flow Out-Toyen 1969
Elective Affinities-Toyen 1970
Elective Affinities-Toyen 1970
The Trap of Reality-Toyen 1971
The Trap of Reality-Toyen 1971

 

 

 

 

The Radiant Nowhere

Voisin Plan
Voisin Plan

Incarcerated within these four walls,
though God only knows my crimes,
she’s not the only judge these days.

Sometimes I feel there is some hope
however it’s never for us my love,
the radiant nowhere is for others.

The upright citizens of island utopias,
constructing ziggurats to the Sun,
expanding across the Voisin Plains.

Outlining heavenly harmonics,
devising pure driven ideals for living,
building towards a total perfection.

A monumental brutalism designed
to imprison, degrade and monitor
the remnants of the un-engineered soul.

So that now whatever freedom
we possess is limited, maybe illusory.
But what’s life without secret, lies and sin?

After the Falls

Grosz-Ecce-Homo
Grosz-Ecce-Homo

After, (for there is always an after, the story goes on, there is neither resolution or finality, even death is only a pause, a quick breather in-between, a brief respite, a stage), the unstable reality of Eden Falls had been snuffed out like a candle-flame, the Melancholy Lieutenant had found himself, in a certain sense only because he knew that he was well and truly lost, on the streets of some Northern city in winter. He didn’t look at all out of place though, the avenues and boulevards were crowded with shell-shocked and war-wounded soldiers just returned from some calamitous battle; hungry, cold and bitter their talk was all of sedition, revolution, uprisings and coup d’états.
After the third night of rioting the authorities had cracked down and began to round up suspected trouble-makers and imposed a curfew at nightfall. The Melancholy Lieutenant was caught up in the dragnet and taken to a grim faux Gothic government building that had been converted into a temporary prison to deal with the influx of detainees. He was put inside a small room along with four other morose veterans.
Time passed by slowly, nobody spoke or moved, apart for the times somebody had to relieve themselves in the bucket wedged into the corner. Occasionally a guard would open the door, point toward someone and signal for them to follow. The person never returned to the room, instead a new inmate would take their place.
After three others had left the room with the guard it was his turn. He walked a short distance behind the guard, up narrow stairs and through dusty corridors that contained numerous offices. The guard stopped before a wooden door that had been painted a dim shade of burgundy sometime in the last century and searched through the numerous keys on the ring attached to his belt. He opened the door for the Melancholy Lieutenant and closed it immediately behind him.
He was alone, though he guessed this is where he would be questioned, perhaps interrogated. There were no windows, naturally, and the bare room was devoid of furniture apart from a flimsy trestle table and three rickety looking wooden chairs. The only light source was an old fashioned lamp, without a shade, that rested on the floor. Somehow the dull light emitted seemed to intensify the sombre gloom rather than dispelling it, which was obviously the intention of the police or the secret services or whoever was running the show here.
Though he doubted that a cat could find comfort in this derelict hole he was truly exhausted so he sat himself down in one of the two chairs facing the door. Obviously the single chair facing the wall was where he was meant to sit, but the hell with that. Sleeping with his eyes wide open he waited for his accusers to make their grand entry.

(This is the further adventures of The Melancholy Lieutenant, a recurring figure in my fiction. The previous installments are Eden Falls and X Marks the Spot. To make matters even more confusing these are just part of a larger series of loosely linked experimental surrealistic science fiction noirs starting with Showtime, though there can be read in any order.)

ID 23

Toyen-The Unfolding Screen
Toyen-The Unfolding Screen

I recently suggested to Miss Heart of House of Heart that we collaborate together on a particular hare-brained idea. I am delighted to say that the gracious Miss Heart agreed to indulge my whim and displayed not inconsiderable patience with so idle and tardy a rogue. The result is the following poem, one half written by the vastly talented Miss Heart and the other part by myself. Like any work of the imagination it can be read in a number of ways or fashions. Suffice to say that there are many conflicting versions of events, that the same incidents can recur in different locations with a varying cast of characters and that all you may surmise doesn’t necessarily dispel the mystery.

ID 23

2

The autumn leaves have begun to fall.
Late October London is covered in hues of orange and purple.
On my bench by the river I daydream that I am
an adolescent reptile escaped from Kafka’s Die Verwanlung,
Laid back, baking in the sun.

My nostrils absorb layers of perfumes,
but women are for later, for now I am content to observe.
To my advantage I know all about the ladies
but they know so little about me.

Thinking of you against my wishes,
Dying just a little, dying and dead all sweet hope
of our dream never realised.
I imagine my earthly body padded sat beside yours on a grassy knoll
to breathe in the scent of lilac and the mossy green River Delta.

In the dark I am nude but for a shadow across my torso.
You are so near and to distract my self from the honey of desire
I distract my mind with “In A Dark Time” by Roethke.
You plead and to make me stay burn your breast with my cigarette.

By chance we meet years from now at the Cafe Rouge Et Noir.
You are so fragile, your eyes the soft halo of sunflowers.
In my arms you sway like a young birch in a summer tempest.
I am reminded of yesterday when we gave away what we had already lost.
We sing sad songs and hold each other, knowing love has died and we with it.

3

Can we ever escape the past?
Changing the scene, mood and direction,
Demolishing those very tender memories
Guilty yet again by this sense of omission,
Just leave the ruins intact, buried deep down.

The stratum of history juts all around here,
A nightmare but not my own, belonging to these others
That press against me in these antique streets
Desperately pretending that they are in fact alive.

Sometimes I catch myself wishing you were here
To guide me, hold my hand, stroke my hair,
Soothe me after the storm has subsided
That glint in your eye, the passion causing
My insides to unfurl like a flower seeking the sun

Can the colour of love transform this gray
Brutalist cell into the vivid fan of a peacock
Strutting through a mescaline paradise?
Only your intensity can grant this miserable miracle.

But in a future as yet undefined
I know we will meet again once more
By chance, of course, and we will dance together
At the Cafe Rouge et Noir, torn between
Hate and love and a fierce unquenchable desire.