Alienists

Blue Birds in the Tree-Scottie Wilson ca 1960

Sometimes I am overcome with the suspicion
That I am a stranger on this earth
Descended from a peripheral order of beings
An alien on this planet come from a distant star,
Faraway galaxy, parallax dimension
Some shape of a castaway, convict or changeling
Perhaps just a forgetful idler who slept passed their stop
And shuffled off at the end of the line

But the trick is to be at ease

Of course I have on occasion demanded to see the manager
But that was met with shrugs and sighs conveying
Studied confusion, blank indifference or downright hostility
Nobody seemed to know anything and cared even less
Initially I thought well what is the point of them?
But maybe they were feigning ignorance
Covering their tracks, keeping secrets, hiding truths
About myself however banal they turned out to be

Surely you realise that this is not the way to go about things
I think we may have a situation
You are clearly not at ease with yourself and your surroundings

Surrounded by screens bombarded by images and text
Deluged with data indices statistics and factoids
Which I passively absorbed hoping to later sift and sort
Through the theories ideologies conspiracies and revelations
Perhaps somewhere in this sewer of misinformation
I can decipher a message from a distant dimension
A faraway star, a parallex galaxy my lost
Home that I fell from those forgotten aeons ago

You know we have ways of making you feel at ease
And you have, despite our repeated warnings
Persisted in persisting
You leave us no choice so…
You are at ease
You are at ease in yourself and your surroundings
You are at ease
You are at ease in yourself
You are at ease in your surroundings
You are at ease
You are at ease in yourself and your surroundings
You are at ease in yourself
You will be what we want you to be
Feel what we want you to feel
Say what we want you to say
Think what we want you to think
Be what we want you to be

You are now at ease in yourself and your surroundings


As long as I do not remember certain moments
Incidences or sensations that elicit strong reactions
Then I will be alright, I will be at ease with myself
I doubt it ever happened that I shot my cuffs,
Lifted my finger signaling for you to come over,
Bend over my knee and lift up your skirt
That only happened in my non-existent home
Vanished star, imploded galaxy, voided dimension

They have promised me that when I feel completely
At ease in myself and my surroundings
That I will be granted a vision of the birds of paradise
Descending down from the vast unreachable heavens
Onto these somnolent suburban streets and gardens
Setting hearts and minds ablaze with motion and colour
To carry us away toward a richer more vibrant realm
A distant galaxy, faraway dimension, parallax star.

Sens-Plastique

Malcolm de Chazal
Malcolm de Chazal

Born into a wealthy colonial  family with roots in the French aristocracy and which included several Rosicrucians and Swedenborgians, the writer, painter and visionary Malcolm De Chazal (1902-1981) spent his whole life on the island of Mauritius, with the exception of six years in Baton Rouge, where he completed his secondary education before attending Louisiana State University as an engineering student. Upon his return to the island he worked as an agronomist in the sugar plantations before quitting the field after he published a scathing critique on the methods and economy of the industry. He then worked as a civil servant before retiring at the age of 55. From 1940 however he increasingly dedicated himself to writing and later painting.

His most famous work is Sens-Plastique, a collection of thousands of aphorisms. The work was suggested after a visionary encounter with an azalea. While out for a walk, de Chazal observed the flower and then realised that the azalea was looking at him. He was then struck with the revelation that: “I became a flower while being myself all the time“, and that everything in the universe, be it animal, vegetable, mineral or human, was analogous. The aphorisms is Sens-Plastique are a riot of poetic analogy and concrete, visual metaphor.  It was hailed by the Surrealists; Andre Breton, Jean Paulhan, Georges Bataille and the originator of the term Art Brut, Jean Dubuffet all lauded de Chazal as a genius. Outside of French artistic circles the poet W.H Auden also championed Sens-Plastique.

In the 1950’s De Chazal took up painting at the suggestion of Georges Braque. His paintings are charmingly emblematic images of the landscape, flora and fauna of his beloved island home, the bold colours blazing with a visionary intensity.

An early supporter of Mauritian independence and the dismantling of a racial caste system that allowed vast inequalities to exist, de Chazal also wrote a ‘spiritual history’ of the rocks and mountains of the island. He became increasingly reclusive in his later years

Below are a selection of aphorisms from Sens-Plastique and a slideshow of his fauvist flavoured paintings.

Sens-Plastique

A fish in fear of its life turns into water. In the mutual pursuit of sexual pleasure—the fear of joy and the joy of fear—our bodies liquefy each other in the waters of the soul, becoming so spiritual that hardly any corporal self is left. When we wake up after love, we look around desperately for our lost body.

If our five senses didn’t serve as brakes to slow us down and filter our sensations, sexual pleasure would strike us like lightning and electrocute our souls.

We see a friend’s eye as one and indivisible. A stranger’s eye we take in part by part: the white, the iris, and the pupil.

Silence is a lawyer who pleads with his eyes.

A flowing river is an infinity of superimposed production belts.

The sunflower keeps its eye on the sun with its back turned to the shade. We die facing life with our backs to death, as if we were walking out of a room backwards.

Petals are a plant’s eardrum. Distant sounds make them quiver like the needle of a seismograph.

The kiss ends at the point of a needle. Sex ends fanning out. The kiss is an arrow. Sex is a fountain.

All the colours ‘rot’ in maroon, the rust of all rusts, the putrefying corpse of all dead colours, the sun’s humus, earth-color, resurrection’s winding-sheet, the shroud of life itself, the mound of eternity, the tomb of Light, Eternity’s burial vault.

Look too intensely at blue and your eye sees indigo. Look too intensely at red and you see garnet. If you look too intensely at yellow it turns green. A hypnotic stare injects blue into everything.

Water meanders on a completely smooth surface and toboggans down the glossiness of leaves.

The idealist walks on tiptoe, the materialist on his heels.

Ah is the shortest of human cries, Oh the longest. Man is born in an Ah and dies in an Oh, for birth is immediate and death is like an airplane taking off.

I am the owner of my shoulders, the tenant of my hips.

No matter how much leaves are fixed face to face they always look at each other aslant, whereas all fruits end up head-on however carelessly jumbled. A bunch of flowers is a house of coloured cards. A heap of fruit is a hive of coloured bees.

The flower has no weekday self, dressed as it always is in Sunday clothes.

The light would reach us more quickly in the morning and fade more slowly at night if the whole earth were divided into vast flower beds that called forth the light at dawn and clutched it longer at nightfall. Nature instituted summer for flowers long before man took summer over for his own uses.

To ‘hang on every word’ means to suck the eyes of the speaker.

The diamond scintillates less brilliantly when the fingers move rapidly than when they undulate and pivot. Glossy leaves throw off less light in a high wind than under the calm wavering of a breeze. Brusque movements of the eye cast a single gleam, and slow movements add a thousand others.

from Sens-Plastique

Malcolm de Chazal 1947

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Piranesi’s Imaginary Prisons

Piranesi-Carceri d'invenzione (Imaginary Prisons)-1745-1761
Piranesi-Carceri d’invenzione (Imaginary Prisons)-Title Plate-1745-1761

In the mid-eighteenth century, the would be Venetian architect, etcher of Roman views and manufacturer  of hybrid artefacts, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, produced a remarkable series of prints entitled Carceri d’invenzione (Imaginary Prisons). The Imaginary Prisons can be classed as capricci, architectural fantasies, however these astounding visions would have an impact far beyond the narrow limits of this particular genre.

The first plate of fourteen prints was published between 1745-1750 and later revised with two additional etchings in 1761. It’s most obvious and immediate influence was upon the craze for the Gothic novel that swept throughout Europe in the late 18th Century. The Prisons would also exercise a considerable hold upon the imagination of the English Romantics. Not only do we find the two original gentleman junkies, Thomas De Quincey and Samuel Coleridge, discussing Piranesi at length in De Quincey’s classic autobiography and drug memoir, Confessions of an English Opium Eater, but De Quincey’s entire writing style can be seen as an attempt to replicate Piranesi within literature. Critics have found echoes of the Prisons in the works of Byron, Shelley and Victor Hugo.

In the 20th Century, the Surrealists saw in the Imaginary Prisons a visual metaphor of the mind and hailed them as an important precursor of their own explorations of the unconscious. Aldous Huxley linked Piranesi to Kafka and certainly such stories as In the Penal Colony seem to be set in the world of the Prisons.

In the visual arts Piranesi direct heir was M.C Escher, complete with paradoxical geometry and labyrinthine structures that offer a vertiginous glimpse of an infinity that may well also be infernal. For the most terrifying aspect of Piranesi’s Imaginary Prisons, is the suggestion, re-enforced by the fact that we are only seeing a section of the whole and that the buildings are never fully enclosed, that the portrayed Prison is conterminous with the world, or indeed the universe.

Piranesi-Carceri II-The Man on the Rack 11745-1761
Piranesi-Carceri II-The Man on the Rack 11745-1761

Piranesi-Carceri III-The Round Tower
Piranesi-Carceri III-The Round Tower-Second Plate 1761

Piranesi_-Carceri IV-the Grand Piazza 1761
Piranesi_-Carceri IV-the Grand Piazza 1761

Piranesi-Carceri V-the Lion Bas Relief-1750
Piranesi-Carceri V-the Lion Bas Relief–First Plate-1745-1750

Piranesi-Carceri VI-The Smoking Fire-1761
Piranesi-Carceri VI-The Smoking Fire-1761

Piranesi-Carceri VII-The Drawbridge-1745-1750
Piranesi-Carceri VII-The Drawbridge-1745-1750

Piranesi-Carceri VIII-The Staircase with Trophies-1761
Piranesi-Carceri VIII-The Staircase with Trophies-1761

Piranesi-Carcerri IX-the Giant Wheel-1750
Piranesi-Carcerri IX-the Giant Wheel-1750

Piranesi-Carceri-X Prisoners_on_a_Projecting_Platform-1761
Piranesi-Carceri-X Prisoners-on-a-Projecting-Platform-1761

Piranesi-Carceri XI-The Arch With the Shell Casement
Piranesi-Carceri XI-The Arch With the Shell Casement

Piranesi-Carceri XII-The Sawhorse
Piranesi-Carceri XII-The Sawhorse

Piranesi-Carceri XIII-the Well
Piranesi-Carceri XIII-the Well

Piranesi-Carceri XIV-the Gothic Arch
Piranesi-Carceri XIV-the Gothic Arch

Piranesi- Carceri XV-the Pier with the Lamp
Piranesi- Carceri XV-the Pier with the Lamp

Piranesi- Carceri XVI-the Pier With Chains
Piranesi- Carceri XVI-the Pier With Chains

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Postman Cheval’s Ideal Palace

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Le Facteur Cheval-Max Ernst 1932
Max Ernst’s 1932 collage Le Facteur Cheval is a homage to the extraordinary creator of the Ideal Palace, that marvellous folly that the Surrealists so loved: Ferdinand Cheval.

Born in 1836 in the Drome departement of France, approximately 30 miles south of Lyon, Ferdinand Cheval left school at 13 with an apprenticeship to a baker, however he eventually became a postman. One day in 1879 while doing his 18 mile round in the small village of Hauterives where he lived, Cheval in his haste stumbled over a stone. Stopping to examine the cause of his trip, Cheval was stuck by the strange shape and beauty of the stone and it reminded him of a dream that he had fifteen years previously and which he had almost forgotten. In the dream, which he found hard to express in words, he had built a palace or castle or caves. He had told nobody about this dream for fear of ridicule, it felt ridiculous to himself. However the stone had brought back the dream and he put it into his pocket to examine at leisure.

The next day he returned to where he found the stone and to his delight he found many more stones even stranger and more beautiful than the cause of his near fall. Cheval said that the stones “represents a sculpture so strange that it is impossible for man to imitate, it represents any kind of animal, any kind of caricature. I said to myself: since Nature is willing to do the sculpture, I will do the masonry and the architecture.”

For the next thirty-three years Cheval built his Ideal Palace, pushing a wheelbarrow on his postal rounds to carry all the stones he collected. He frequently worked late into the night with the aid of a oil lamp, binding the stones together with lime, mortar and cement. The images of exotic locales that he saw on the postcards and illustrated magazines he delivered on his route inspired his imagination and found expression in the eclectic mix of architecture of the Ideal Palace, where Hindu Temple, Arabic Mosque and Swiss Chalet (among others) styles somehow form a unified whole.

Cheval, as he feared, was scorned by the local community, and his visionary Ideal Palace was derided as the work of a madman. This changed however when the project was featured in national newspapers and tourists started visiting. In 1905 a tourist register was opened. Cheval declared the Ideal Palace finished in 1912 and inscribed on the building ,”The work of one man.” He also stated his desire to be buried underneath the Ideal Palace.

Although Cheval comes across as a charming eccentric he was obviously a man of dogged determination, so when he learnt that French law strictly forbade his burial upon the grounds of the Ideal Palace, he set about building his own mausoleum, at the age of eighty. He spent the next seven years building another fantastical and beautiful structure. One year  after its  completion Ferdinand Cheval died and was buried in the mausoleum that he had constructed.

As well as the Surrealists, who would often embark on pilgrimage to a site which they considered to be a monument to naive art and the transformative powers of the imagination, the Ideal Palace was much admired by Picasso and Anais Nin, who published an essay on Cheval. In 1969 the Minister of Culture, the novelist Andre Malraux declared the Ideal Palace a cultural landmark and later in 1986 the Facteur Cheval was featured on his own postage stamp: a touching and luminous irony.

Today the Palais Ideal Du Facteur Cheval Monument Historique receives 120,000 visitors yearly and is considered one of the most outstanding examples of Art Brut/outsider art in the world.

facade-est[1]
Ideal Palace
palais-ideal-facteur-cheval-4956_w1000[1]
Ideal Palace
facade-sud[1]
Ideal Palace
cheval_exterior1[1]
Ideal Palace

Ideal Tomb
Ideal Tomb

Visionary Noir

gr194-odilon-redon-1840-1916-i-saw-above-the-misty-outline-of-a-human-form-1896[1]
Haunted-Odilon Redon 1896
From 1870 to the turn of the century the French Symbolist artist Odilon Redon worked almost exclusively in the medium of charcoal drawing and lithographs. Redon called this extraordinary body of work his noirs. Throughout his career Redon’s expressed intent was to place ‘the logic of the visible at the service of the invisible’,  an aesthetic doctrine that strongly resonated with the Surrealists. Straddling that perilous hinterland between dream, hallucination and otherworldly visions, the noirs present a haunting, nocturnal world that is forever sliding into nightmare.

It was the publication of the bible of Decadence A Rebours by JK Huysmans  in 1884 that Redon found fame. The archetypal world-weary Decadent Des Esseintes collects and describes in great detail Redon’s lithographs. After 1900 Redon turned to pastels and oils in paintings that reflected his interest in Buddhism and Japanese art and that became increasingly abstract in his latter years.

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