Archive for June, 2011

BASQUIAT

26 June 2011

[Pic of Andy Warhol with Basquiat both weating boxing gloves]Jean-Michel Basquiat just amazed me to be frank.  He was almost the same age as me, but his life couldn’t have been more different; his life was complicated and truly deserves the description, “amazing”.

He died of an heroin overdose in 1988, and I heard the news when I was in London.  As a tribute, a bunch of us trekked around the rougher parts of town to look at the graffiti. It was one of the most bizarre nights of my life — but I won’t go into that here and now.

They said that Basquiat never got over the death of Andy Warhol the previous year. And although we didn’t know it at the time, but Keith Haring was to die of AIDS in the next few years.

[Picture of Samo graffiti by BVasquiat -- on cancer testing on animals]For me, rightly or wrongly, Basquiat and Haring represented street art elevated to “high art”.  What was happening with dance seemed to be echoed in art.  Break dancing and body popping on the street gained international recognition along with BMX bikes, skateboarding and — finally — proper graffiti.

It was the next big thing in the art world. And it represented a break from the tradition of education and established art world. This remains the case today; many professional and acclaimed artists have no formal training.

Basquiat (as SAMO) was a black impoverished going-nowhere fast kid in New York who started spraying graffiti — and it got noticed by the TV stations.

[Colour painting by Basquiat for gallery]Basquiat went from a homeless, abandoned street urchin who had been run-over and left for dead, to a feted neo-expressionist artist and mate of David Bowie and Andy Warhol. Jeeezo — he even dated Madonna!

The branded suit was discovered in the early 1980s , and Basquiat used to paint in a very expensive Armani suit, getting it covered in paint, and still wear it out to clubs! Brilliant.

Basquiat was rich, successful, famous, and of his time.  We were all getting on with our brick-sized mobile phones, shoulder pads and talk of “loadsamoney”.  It was excessive, and Basquiat died from overdosing, some say from his lifestyle.

I was not really a fan of his work (I much preferred Haring’s), but I recognised the importance of the man in raising graffiti to an artform.  Without Basquiat, we would not / could not have Banksy.

[ Samo graffiti -- confusing life]

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PATRICK WOODROFFE

19 June 2011

[Patrick Woodroffe's book cover for his book Mythopoeikin]The end of the 1970s was an amazingly creative time.  A lot of genres were mixing together, and mixing with new technology too.  County music went electric and gave birth to Country Rock, Jazz fused with world music and synthesisers — and so boundaries were challenged and blurred.  Music and art became one in the album cover, and there was a great new interest in graphic design, logos, typefaces and fonts.  Yes had Roger Dean, Hypgnosis had Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead had Mouse and Rick Griffin.

Punk used strong imagery too — ransom note styles and punk fashion thanks to Malcolm McLaren. Comic book covers were getting sophisticated with fantasy art images by the likes of Boris Vallejo.

In those few short years at the end of the 1970s, the creative arts exploded.

And in 1978 I bought Mythopoeikon by Patrick Woodroffe, and my mates and I tried to copy the fantasy styles of Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo, Roger Dean and Patrick Woodroffe as we experimented with air brushing art onto vans and hairy bikers’ leather jackets.

Fantasy was a brand new genre at the time, and offered an escape from the bleak economic climate, nuclear cold war and doomsayer inevitabilities. Woodroffe was a Big Star at the time.

The Big Image for me at the time was a book cover for The Billion Year Spree by Brian Aldiss as it was photo-realistic art — but it was nevertheless eyes on lighted candles. The wax drip runs resembled tears, and somehow it was an image that endured in the mind. Of course it made no actual sense, nor was it making any philosophic point. But still.

I found that, on his website, Patrick has this image as an album cover by the Strawbs:

[Art of eyes as candles by Patrick Woodroffe]

We LOVED Woodroffe’s  Budgie and Judas Priest covers — and of course, his famous Greenslade ones.  You know, we actually bought records because of the artwork! This is something lost when the music business switched to CD — and now that this is broken, people can just download MP3 files.  maybe they should bring back the art?

But the link to fantasy is the strongest with Woodroffe for me.  I read a lot of fantasy at the time, including The Lord of The Rings, but also the newer stuff — one that stands out in my memory is The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever (by Stephen R Donaldson). The first of the trilogy came out in the late 70s, and we had to wait until the next one was written and published, and again.

This period was like that; we were always waiting for the next release or publication — magazines, comics, books, albums, books, movies — you name it , things were in a series and fans were “locked in”.

You were always on the look-out for sub-cultural references, and cross-pollination, so there was a great delight to discover that  Jaco Pastorius played for Weather Report — but also played on Joni Mitchell albums, or that a browse around a second-hand book shop would unearth a book with a cover by Woodroffe — such as I did with The Seedbearers by Peter Valentine Timlett:

[Woodroffe book cover The Seedbearers]

I loved Mythopoeikon — and still have it.  It was my very first “coffee table book”, my first “art book”, and I have travelled with it as a very important part of my youth when I have sold or given away an enormous amount over the years.

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OLLY MOSS

12 June 2011

[Dirt Harry Movie Poster by Olly Moss]At he time of writing, Olly Moss has no entry on Wikipedia, and I am not up to the task.  Perhaps someone out there could make the effort? He is certainly deserving.

Olly is a young graphic designer with a good eye. I first saw evidence of this with his “Dirt Harry” movie poster. Clint Eastwood’s face or a smoking gun. That’s pretty clever I thought.

Then I saw a similar work of his. This was every more amazing, but the same type of graphic illusion, it was the poster for the movie, “American Werewolf in London“.

[Movie Poster by Olly Moss of American Werewolf in London]

Come on, how clever is that image? Apart from the loss of A Country The Size of Wales, or as in this case, Wales itself, it is still a map of Britain, and it takes a minute to see the wolf.  Sublime.

He really is worthy 0f anyone’s attention.  there are loads of posters, book and Nintendo and Playstation games covers and much more on his website at ollymoss.com. Please check out his work, and spread the word.

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MILGRAM

5 June 2011

[Picture of Stanley Milgram]I first came across mention of Stanley Milgrams famous experiment from Peter Gabriel of all people.  I was at a Peter Gabriel concert, and Peter sat at his piano and took time to explain The Milgram 18 Experiment to us.

He told us that this was the meaning behind his song “We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37)” from “So, 1986”, which needed an explanation as the lyrics are very brief!

I remembered this when I did some sociology and criminology modules at Open University.

Pioneering social psychologist, Stanley Milgram, did a very controversial and famous experiment in the 1960s. It was designed to determine just how far ordinary people would go in obeying people in authority. “Following Orders”. Milgram was Jewish and wanted to understand how Germans could have persecuted the Jews and other groups during WWII.

A volunteer was wired up in a room, and in an adjoining room was a device that administered a varying electric shock to the volunteer.  Subjects were asked by researchers to administer the shock each time that the volunteer failed a word association test. The Subjects did not know that the shocks were fake and that the volunteer doing the word association tests was in fact an actor.

Over 65 per cent of the subject followed orders, even to the extent of delivering potentially lethal electric shocks “Carrying Out Orders“.  They simply felt that the moral responsibility did not lie with them, but with the authority figure telling them to do it.

It was all about who had the ultimate responsibility, and that each of us has a far greater capacity to be evil if the circumstances are right, and where there is a recognised hierarchy, or a clear ringleader.

The Milgram Experiment has had a profound effect ever since.  It means that we each have to be watchful of the context in which we act.  I am amazed at how often Milgram crops up in my life.

Not long after Milgram‘s experiment, Philip Zimbardo set up a new experiment where female subjects were asked to monitor a task and to give electric shocks to those who failed, but half of the female subject were dressed in normal clothes, the other half were in a disguise that rendered them anonymous. Those who could not be identified gave stronger and longer shocks.

Zimbardo showed that people are more viscous when masked, in disguise, unidentifiable, in a crowd, in a car, on the telephone, or through the internet. Anonymity is incredibly important, and when mixed with Milgram, such as with the army, or police force, where anonymity and authority / abrogated responsibility come into play, the de-individualisation and dehumanisation is maximised.

 

Ordinary, nice people can carry out acts of violence or cruelty that they would never believe themselves to be capable of.

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