Friday, April 13, 2018

Stunning, Sensual Illustrations for a Rare 1913 Edition of Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’ by English Artist Margaret C. Cook

Stunning, Sensual Illustrations for a Rare 1913 Edition of Walt Whitman's 'Leaves of Grass' by English Artist Margaret C. Cook
// Brain Pickings

"Thoughts, silent thoughts, of Time and Space and Death…"

Stunning, Sensual Illustrations for a Rare 1913 Edition of Walt Whitman's 'Leaves of Grass' by English Artist Margaret C. Cook

When thirty-six-year-old Walt Whitman self-published Leaves of Grass in the summer of 1855, having poured the whole of his being into this unusual and daring labor of love, it fell upon unreceptive and downright hostile ears — a rejection that devastated the young poet. But over the coming decades, largely thanks to Emerson's extraordinary letter of endorsement and encouragement, it became one of the most beloved books in America — a proto-viral masterpiece that forever changed the face and spirit of literature, bold and fresh and replete with "incomparable things said incomparably," creaturely yet cosmic, bridging the earthly and the eternal yet larger than both.

Twenty-one years after Whitman's death, Everyman's Library series creator J.M. Dent published what remains the most beautiful edition of the Whitman classic — a large, lavish tome bound in green cloth, with the title emblazoned in gilt. But the crowning curio of this rare, spectacular 1913 edition — a surviving copy of which I was fortunate to acquire at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair — are twenty-four color plates by the English artist Margaret C. Cook.

"Two fishes swimming in the sea not more lawless than we"

Cook's stunning illustrations, shockingly sensual against the backdrop of Puritanism against which Whitman staged his rebellion in verse, bear something of William Blake — particularly his engravings for Paradise Lost; something of Maurice Sendak (who was, of course, shaped by Blake) — particularly his forgotten sensual illustrations for Pierre by Whitman's contemporary Herman Melville.

"You sea!… I behold… your crooked inviting fingers…,
I am integral with you, I too am of one phase and of all phase"
"We found our own, O my Soul, in the calm and cool of the daybreak"
"Whose happiest days were far and away through fields, … he and another wandering"
"How calm, how solemn it grows to ascend the atmosphere of lovers"
"Living beings, identities now doubtless near us in the air that we know not of"

Radiating from Cook's drawings is Whitman's insurgent insistence, as a queer man and a lover of all life, that romantic and erotic love transcends the tight parameters of the heteronormative — that the heart, too, contains multitudes.

"I will sing the song of companionship"
"The sun and stars that float in the open air,
The apple-shaped earth and we upon it, surely the drift of them is something grand,
I do not know what it is except that it is grand, and that it is happiness"

Most spectacular are Cook's nocturnal scenes, fusing the sultry with the celestial — a consonant complement to Whitman's lifelong fascination with astronomy, which would prompt him to write in Specimen Days a quarter century later:

To soothe and spiritualize, and, as far as may be, solve the mysteries of death and genius, consider them under the stars at midnight.

"Thoughts, silent thoughts, of Time and Space and Death"
"Give me nights perfectly quiet… and I looking up at the stars"
"The tender and growing night"
"The night follows along, with millions of suns, and sleep, and restoring darkness"
"We have voided all but freedom and all but our own joy"
"I see… great cloud-masses…
With at times half-dimm'd sadden'd far-off star"

I have digitized and restored Cook's striking illustrations, and made them available as art prints, all proceeds from which will help support The Universe in Verse.

"The sleepers are very beautiful as they lie unclothed,
They flow hand in hand over the whole earth from East to West"
"I will confront these shows of the day and night;
I will know if I am to be less than they,
I will see if I am not as majestic as they"
"They are calm, clear, well possess'd of themselves"
"I see my soul reflected in Nature,
As I see through a mist,
One with inexpressible completeness, sanity, beauty,
See the bent head and arms folded over the breast, the Female I see"
"The soul has that measureless pride which revolts from every lesson but its own"
"I too with my soul and body,
We, a curious trio, wandering on our way,
Through these shores amid the shadows, with the apparitions pressing"
"I musing late in the autumn day"
"The merriment of the two babes that crawl over the grass in the sun, the mother never turning her vigilant eyes from them"
"The yellow half-moon enlarged, sagging down, drooping, the face of the sea almost touching,
The boy ecstatic"
"I have taken my stand on the basest of peninsulas and on the high embedded rocks, to cry thence:
'Salut au monde!'"

For other stunning illustrations from special editions of literary classics, devour Ralph Steadman's illustrations for Orwell's Animal Farm, Aubrey Beardsley's gender-defying illustrations for Oscar Wilde's Salome, Harry Clarke's haunting illustrations for Goethe's Faust, and Salvador Dalí's paintings for Cervantes's Don Quixote, Dante's Divine Comedy, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and the essays of Montaigne.

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Homework examples

Stunning Photogram Portraits of Yoga Positions

Stunning Photogram Portraits of Yoga Positions
// Fubiz

Rob and Nick Carter, a husband and wife artistic duo, portray a range of traditional Sanskrit yoga postures in their series Yoga Photograms. The model's weight and pose are imprinted onto a large photographic paper via their movement across the light in a darkroom. And the results are as stunning as the process (a series of eight life-size portraits that are compelling, imaginative and unforgettable) just like the rest of Rob and Nick's projects and artistic vision. Discover more of their work here and on Instagram.


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Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Robots of Mahlon Blaine

The Robots of Mahlon Blaine
// Black Gate

Mahlon Blaine, Cowering Nude With Robot detail

Mahlon Blaine was born in 1894 and was blind in one eye. People have been writing his biography since the 1920s and that's about all they can verify. He provided the cover art, a faceless figure carrying a sword and spear, for Sir Hugh Clifford's The Further Side of Silence. When asked for a few words about his life, he provided these:

Mahlon Blaine has illustrated these Malayan dramas with the magic of his own experience. A New England Quaker descended from staunch old New Bedford Whalers, Mahlon Blaine went to sea at fifteen and sailed before the mast in one of the last of the old wind-jammers. Then under steam he commuted from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic, to the Mediterranean, to the Arctic to all of Kipling's Seven Seas where a merchantman seeks cargo. It is such eastern ports as Macao, Port Said, Hongkong, Pearl Harbor, that have given him his gallery of wicked, twisted Oriental faces and the museums of the world that have been his art schools. He has sailed up the Congo to make a collection of African masks, rescued fellow countrymen from jails in Indo-China, and nosed into many a Malay river for strange cargo and shipped many a Malay crew. He thinks that Sir Hugh Clifford has an uncanny knowledge of native psychology and can substantiate many of the stories by his own experiences.

Not one word is true, except possibly for the last sentence and "he."

Normally, a liar of that magnitude would be destined for pulp magazine covers but he veered into the world of high art, only occasionally dropping into our world of f&sf, most notably for the cover of Prime Press' translation of Alexandre Dumas' The Wolf Leader in 1950

Mahlon Blaine cover of Alexander Dumas The Wolf Leader2

and a series of Burroughs' reprints for Canaveral Press in 1962. Canaveral didn't have to go far to seek him out. Blaine literally lived upstairs of their offices. Starving artists of the world, take note.

Mahlon Blaine cover of Burroughs The Land That Time Forgot > Mahlon Blaine cover of Burroughs Pellucidar

(Blaine also did the interior art for Here Comes Somebody in 1935, not fantasy but notable for being written by Ben Hur Lampman, whose real name was Ben Hur Lampman. I will pause the column here for you to check the veracity of that statement.)

Robots might rank eleven hundredth on a list of plausible subjects for a man with those tastes in art, but the 1930s were the decade of technological futurism invading high art and Blaine apparently got caught up in the excitement. He came to the attention of Paul R. MacAlister, an up-and-coming star of modernist interior design for the superwealthy. He was the kind of guy who not only had an office in the then-brand new and elite Rockefeller Center but "conceived and directed a display of furnishings for decorators' use known as the Permanent Exhibition of Decorative Arts and Crafts, which occupied an entire floor in the main office building."

One just wasn't a somebody in the 1930s without walls covered in murals, so MacAllister commissioned Blaine for an epic set. Blaine responded with robots, and gargoyles, and nudes, in pulp terms a blend of covers from Astounding, Weird Tales, and Spicy Stories. These are three out of a total of ten original concept paintings, titled Nude Dancing with Robot, Feeding the Man, and Cowering Nude with Robot.

Mahlon, Blaine, Nude Dancing With Robot
Mahlon Blaine, Feeding the Man
Mahlon Blaine, Cowering Nude With Robot full

The other seven contain more nudes, mechanical birds, giant Rube Goldberg gadgets, and Daliesque imagery aplenty. Those futuristic gargoyles, already made obsolete by modern skyscrapers, would have been instant tourist attractions for anyone brave enough to attach them to a retro structure. For unknown reasons Blaine used the pseudonym G. Christopher Hudson (and signed the gouaches with a "G") and for equally unknown reasons MacAllister never went through with the project. The artwork survives and can be purchased for slightly less than a mint first edition of I, Robot. Up to you.

Steve Carper writes for The Digest Enthusiast; his story "Pity the Poor Dybbuk" appeared in Black Gate 2. His website is His last article for us was Axle and Cam on the Planet Meco.


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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Black: The art of Gerardo Zaffino

Black: The art of Gerardo Zaffino
// Muddy Colors

  As I often do in my posts, I'd like to introduce the work of a fellow colleague from my city, and if you like powerful, rough inks, you're going to love Gerardo's work.   Variant cover for Rumble! – Art by Gerardo Zaffino, Colors by Dave Stewart Many of you had probably heard of him already. In the past few years he's been doing interiors for Marvel, in the "Karnak" series, and for Vertigo,…

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Friday, March 23, 2018

Tips for Painting Lamplight

Tips for Painting Lamplight
// Gurney Journey

Jeff asks: "Any tips for conveying the effects of candlelight or lantern light in a painting?"

Jeff, yes, let's take a look at Viggo Johansen (1851-1935). He was a Danish painter in the Skagen group, and like his colleague Krøyer he loved to paint gatherings of friends around the dinner table. His painting Evening Talk includes a lantern on the table and two candles on the piano.

Viggo Johansen, Evening Talk, 1886
Johansen does a few things to make the effect of light convincing. 
1. The areas of dark are large and simple. Note how in the lower part of the picture, it's very hard to make out the details of the chairs and table legs.
2. The edges between forms in the outer areas are kept soft. Note the way he paints the framed canvases on the wall. They're quite blurry and out-of-focus.
3. The fall-off rate of the light roughly follows the inverse square law.
4. The effect area under the lantern is small, crisp, and detailed: lots of dots and sparkles.
5. The area of the lantern itself is a flat, warm white, with more or less glow or halation around it depending on the amount of smoke in the air.

Viggo Johansen, An Artist's Gathering, 1903
Wikipedia Viggo Johansen (1851-1935)
More in my book: Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter (James Gurney Art)(Amazon), or Color and Light (Signed on my website)
Previously on the blog:

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