The Road is Wider than Long

One can so easily become indifferent to Surrealism. It has lost its power to shock.

Perhaps I've grown up looking at too many poor imitations on 1970s prog-rock album sleeves, but even Salvador Dali or Rene Magritte look like 'commercial' artists to me now!

But I do like me some MAX ERNST or MAN RAY. I think those artists were closer in spirit to the dADa//mErZ of the sainted Kurt Schwitters. You can't beat a good collage (or photomontage) for creating a REAL surREAL image. Sir Roland Penrose (1900-1984) worked closely with these artists.

Looking at this show, much of his own work left me fairly cold, for the above reasons. Sorry, but all I saw were album sleeves! I did enjoy his collage pieces, but only because they were so clearly 'influenced' by Ernst and Schwitters. I think it is as an art CATALYST he deserves to be remembered. As coordinator of the First International Surrealist Exhibition of 1936, he was responsible for bringing surrealism to this country for the first time. He studied with and befriended many of the greats (Picasso, Man Ray, Miró, Eluard, Ernst) and brought their influence to the "English" school. He wrote the "Home Guard Manual of Camouflage". He founded the ICA (Institute for the Comtemporary Arts, in London). He curated the Tate's Picasso exhibit in 1960. The Sussex farmhouse he shared with LEE MILLER (an influential figure in her own right), became a meeting place for some of the key protagonists in 20th century art. He wrote the definitive biographies of Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. It is for these reasons that he is IMPORTANT, rather for the quality of his own work.

In fact the most fascinating part of the show were the PHOTOGRAPHS: some of them recording the artist himself at work; some delightful 'snaps' of the visiting artists letting their hair down; some pictures that would later inspire larger works; some photographs that were ART in their own right. Penrose and Miller were both very good photographers indeed (aah! black and white!) and had picked up a few tips from Man Ray along the way. Lee Miller had been a fashion model before turning to photography herself, eventually becoming Man Ray's pupil and lover in Paris. (I would like to cover this page with examples, but there are copyright restrictions. Many of the photographs in the show can be seen on the websites linked here.)

Other artists represented in the show included Eileen Agar, Cecil Collins, Merlyn Evans, Ceri Richards, John Tunnard and Paul Nash. Of the paintings in the exhibition that I thought still stand the test of time, I liked the organic looking pieces by Edith Rimmington, including her "Prophylactic Sea-Mouth", Conroy Maddox' Dali-inspired works (these still look like they belong on Italian record sleeves, mind you) and the cute little Miró-esque "biomorph" creatures depicted by Dr Desmond Morris. I especially liked the big blue triptych "The Gathering", in which a variety of little critters do exactly that.

In this country, 'those of a certain age' will best remember Morris as the zoologist who presented teatime telly's "Zoo Time" in the early 60s. But he was an important figure in British art, having been director of the ICA. He was responsible for showing the collection of Max Ernst sketches and drawings in 1976(?), a show that I well remember visiting when I was at art college. He is also famous for his work with the chimpanzee artist Congo, whose paintings were shown at the ICA and even found their way into Picasso's own collection. A video of Congo at work, and several of his pieces, occupied a small room at this gallery.



All veeerrrry interesting of course... but no visit to Southampton would be complete without spending a while immersed in the Pre-Raphaelite collection for which the City Gallery is so rightly acclaimed. Currently they are showing some BIG pictures by Edward Burne-Jones - his series depicting The Story of Perseus, (click that link for a website-full of nice reproductions) suitably exhibited in the Baring Room, a sombrous, oak-panelled Victorian gallery. Yummy.



Whoops-a-daisy! Here's an oldie-but-goody I missed out when I was compiling my 1972 LIST a while back...

The Swedish collective ÄLGARNAS TRÄDGÅRD (meaning Garden of the Elks. Oh yes.) released their only* album in 1972. Its title was (and let me make sure I get all the right Swedish accent characters here:) "Framtiden är ett Svävande Skepp, Förankrat i Forntiden" (and that means "The future is a hovering ship, anchored in the past").

IT IS WONDERFULLY, DELICIOUSLY MAD.  If you have any interest at all in psychedelia, krautrock, psych-folk, progressive rock, space rock, RiO, or any other sub-genre of EARLY-70s LISTENING MUSIC, then you should endeavour to hear this semi-forgotten classic at least once in your lifetime. "A veritable testimony to the halcyon days of hippiedom...", wrote one reviewer when the album finally got a digital beef-up. Except that suggests that it might be all "Hello Flowers Hello Trees". This sure ain't.

Comparisons might be made to ASH RA TEMPEL, POPOL VUH, PINK FLOYD's soundtrack work, pre-"Phaedra" TANGERINE DREAM (with whom they share a knack for long contrived titles), early GONG, or "Future Days" period CAN. Ticks all the right boxes for me! But they also inject a goodly dose of folk music from Scandinavia and Elsewhere: a particularly spacy passage might suddenly stop and be interrupted by something that sounds like a maypole dance - very "WICKER MAN" indeed!

They also use unusual 'folk' instruments alongside the standard 'rock' pallette - at various times you will hear rebecs, zithers and cellos and all manner of other WOODY things lurking amidst the electric mayhem, VCS3 bleeps and atmospheric sound effects. The vocal arrangements also have a 'medieval' air about them - sometimes a pretty 'folk song', sometimes a Gregorian chant, always kinda spooky!

The album main meat course is the magnificent sidelong sequence that is "TWO HOURS OVER TWO BLUE MOUNTAINS WITH A CUCKOO ON EACH SIDE OF THE HOURS" > "THERE IS A TIME FOR EVERYTHING" - there! I warned you about the titles, didn't I? - during which you will hear church bells, acoustic guitar melodies, long S-L-O-W  D-R-A-W-N  O-U-T krautrock dirges, fuzzy guitar freakouts, a wee jig or two, dark and gothic choral passages, squeaky doors and horses' hooves, all in quick succession.

I have to confess, I've never caught a glimpse of a REAL LIVE copy of this album. I knew it via a third generation tape given to me by a chum. Later it appeared on a naughty diskload of MP3s given to me by another chum. I eventually bought it as a download from iTUNES. It HAS had a CD release on Silence Records [Silence SRSCD3611], but I haven't stumbled over a copy at a record fair as yet... Which brings me to that asterisk in the first paragraph, when I mentioned that this was their 'only' album. After Silence released this on CD (and vinyl) in the late nineties, they followed it with the 'lost' second album "DELAYED" [Silence SRSCD3626], an anthology of other recordings made by the band circa 1973-74.


Oooh, they were using LANGUAGE!

I've posted this before on one of my blogsites or another, but I thought it worth sharing again here.


STOP PRESS - This just in, link courtesy of CC!
A complete website full of neologisms and etymological throwbacks!