Days and Days

Salvador Dali-The Eye of Surrealist Time 1971
Salvador Dali-The Eye of Surrealist Time 1971

There are days and there are days,
Days like this, days like that,
The long ago and barely remembered
Days of wine and roses:
Slow kisses beneath a soft spring sky
Your look spells out a symphony
A communiqué from a soul
That holds out the possibility
Of untying this knot of inarticulate
Longing and overwhelming desire
That strangles all my attempts
At communication, at establishing
A rapport or just being
On the same page for once.

There are days and there are days,
Days like that, days like this,
The burning urgent and hotly evocative
Days of anger and wrath:
When in my primal rage
I scream out at the roiling sun
Why did you have to do me like that?
I gave you everything I had to give,
But you didn’t need anything from me
And haughtily rejected my heart
Laughing as you turned away in disdain,
So I tend and fuel this boiling hate,
Waiting for an other to inflict
The same wounds upon and so taste my pain.

There are days and there are days,
Days like this, days like that,
The oh-so awaited and rapturously received
Days of retribution and judgement:
The end is nigh, thank God for that
Who in their right mind would want to miss
The cinematic descent into chaos,
The unleashing of pandemonium,
Slights are revenged with vig on the vig,
Enemies crushed and ground to dust,
Free from stricture, desire is unbound,
The orgy to end all orgies, everything goes,
Make haste on this day of days
For the righteous are crowned only in heaven.

Un Chien Andalou

French Poster for Un Chien Andalou-1929-Luis Bunuel & Salvador Dali
French Poster for Un Chien Andalou-1929-Luis Bunuel & Salvador Dali

In 1929 the young Spaniard Luis Bunuel, who was working in Paris as assistant director to Jean Epstein met with his compatriot and Madrid University friend, the painter Salvador Dali. Over lunch Luis Bunuel recounted a dream he had about a cloud slicing through the moon like a razor blade slicing through an eye. Dali in turn told about his dream of a hand crawling with ants. Instantly inspired Bunuel stated to Dali, “There’s the film, let’s go make it.”

While they worked on the script, Bunuel and Dali had only one rule: “No idea or image that might lend itself to a rational explanation of any kind would be accepted.” The resulting film Un Chien Andalou (The Andalusian Dog) has been called the most famous silent movie ever by Roger Ebert. Its influence upon music videos and low budget independent films is immeasurable.

Un Chien Andalou was immediately successful, (though it led to an irreparable break  with their friend, the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who took the title and the movie as a personal affront). Both Bunuel and Dali were admitted to the Surrealist movement who enthusiastically welcomed the film’s Sadean shock tactics and unfettered automatism, which were in keeping with the stated aims of the movement. Georges Bataille unsurprisingly,  given his own obsession with the symbolism of eyes recounted at length in the elegantly horrific L’histoire de l’oeil (The Story of the Eye), mentioned the controversial opening scene in his article on Eyes in Documents, under the subtitle Cannibal Delicacy. On a more practical level Bunuel and Dali gained the financing for their next movie from the Vicomte and Vicomtesse De Noailles, two of the most important avant garde art patrons of the interwar period. The resulting film  L’Age D’or was even more of a succès de scandale, leading to right wing riots in protest and its withdrawal from commercial distribution and public exhibition for over forty years. Most of the shocked reaction was to the infamous coda featuring Jesus Christ as one of the four libertines of the Chateau de Silling, the setting of the Marquis De Sade darkest novel, 120 Days in Sodom. Incidentally the Vicomtesse De Noailles was a descendant of the Marquis and the couple possessed the original manuscript of 120 Days which they kept in a specially designed phallus shaped box.

Here is a link to the complete movie with the original score featuring two tangos and Wagner’s Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. Interpretations are always welcome.

The Lugubrious Game

The Lugubrious Game-Salvador Dali 1929
The Lugubrious Game-Salvador Dali 1929

Salvador Dali’s breakthrough Surrealist work of 1929, The Lugubrious Game (also known as the Dismal Sport) was the subject of a long, laudatory mediation by Georges Bataille, published in the seventh issue of Documents. Bataille declares that he lifts his heart to Dali as his paintings causes the viewer to grunt like a pig.

In many respects Dali was a perfect fit for Documents and Georges Bataille. In his early work Dali dredged his unconscious with its scatological and masturbatory obsessions and combined them with his pathological need to shock to create an over-lit nightmare world riddled with anxieties and phobias. However Dali, always with a keen eye for self promotion, defected over to the Breton camp of official Surrealism, for a while at least.

The titles of the painting is a reference to masturbation, a recurring theme of this period for Dali. Also featured below is The Great Masturbator and the later Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by the Horns of Her Own Chastity.

The Great Masturbator-Salvador Dali 1929
The Great Masturbator-Salvador Dali 1929
Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by the Horns of Her Own Chastity-Salvador Dali 1954
Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by the Horns of Her Own Chastity-Salvador Dali 1954

Illustrating Alice

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John Tenniel-Through the Looking-Glass
And what is the use of a book, thought Alice, without pictures or conversation?’ Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 

It would indeed be hard to imagine the Alice books without illustrations. Lewis Carroll himself illustrated the original handwritten manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground that he gifted to Alice Liddell. However for the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Carroll approached the political cartoonist for Punch, John Tenniel. Tenniel proved to be an inspired choice and his illustrations for Alice’s Adventures and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice FoundThere have shaped the perception of Alice in the popular imagination to this day, the only serious rival being the Disney animated movie Alice in Wonderland from 1951.

Although Tenniel’s illustrations are iconic, it hasn’t stopped illustrators and artists in attempting to re-imagine Alice. With the lapsing of British copyright in 1907 saw thirteen editions with newly commissioned illustrations alone. While most did little more than update the dress of Alice to reflect the looser fashions of the day, Arthur Rackham watercolours did genuinely try to break with Tenniel’s imposing precedent.

The Surrealists adopted Alice as a patron saint of the movement. In their radical re-design of the traditional playing card deck Le Jeu de Marseille, Alice is the Siren of Stars. Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning are among the many Surrealists who produced works obviously inspired by Alice. It is barely an exaggeration to suggest that Balthus‘s entire oeuvre seems to implicitly reference the Alice books. In 1969 Salvador Dali produced 12 heliogravures for the Maecenas Press edition of Alice Adventures in Wonderland, which has since become a highly collectable item.

Among the other notable 20th Century versions of the Alice books is Mervyn Peake’s rather sinister Gothic interpenetration: Ralph Steadman who brings the savage lunacy of Wonderland to the forefront and  Tove Jansson’s delightfully whimsical rendition.

In the run-up to the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland there was a fresh slew of editions, the most notable being the British illustrator John Vernon Lord who also illustrated James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, a novel heavily indebted to the Alice books.

Here are some examples of Alice illustrations and other Alice inspired art work. I hope you will find them, as I do, a feast for the eyes and a chance, as Grace Slick so memorably sang, to ‘Feed Your Head’

Mad Tea Party
John Tenniel-A Mad Tea Party

Tenniel-Jabberwock[1]
John Tenniel-Jabberwocky
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Arthur Rackham-Rose Bushes 1907

Max Ernst-Alice in 1941
Max Ernst-Alice in 1941
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik 1943 by Dorothea Tanning 1910-2012
Dorothea Tanning-Eine Kleine Nachtmusik 1943
Balthus-The Street 1933
Balthus-the Street 1933

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Salvador Dali-Who Stole The Tarts? 1969
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Salvador Dali-Down The Rabbit Hole 1969

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Mervyn Peake-Chesire Cat 1946
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Ralph Steadman-Alice 1972

Down the rabbit hole
Ralph Steadman-Alice 1972

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Tove Jansson-Alice In Wonderland 1966
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John Vernon Lord-The Caterpillar 2009
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John Vernon Lord-Cheshire Cat 2009

The Phenomenon of Ecstasy

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Phenomene de l’extase -Salvador Dali 1933
Salvador Dali’s arresting photo-montage The Phenomenon of Ecstasy which features the photographic studies of Charcot’s female hysterics, originally accompanied the artist’s essay on the irrational aspects of art nouveau architecture; in particular the buildings of fellow Catalan Antoni Gaudi, in the magazine Minotaure. His contention that “the repugnant can be transformed into the beautiful” through an ecstasy achieved by continuous erotic activity and that the sexual abandon resulting from hysteria leads to a transformation of perception in art, architecture and indeed modern life markedly shows the influence of the Symbolist and Decadent movements of the latter 19th century upon the Surrealists.