I met a woman who met Man Ray

Man_Ray_1934Another in the series “I once met” and the sub category “I once danced with..” used when the meeting was only with someone who knew the person (almost always famous.) This is a reference to the popular song “I danced with a man who  danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales.” An earlier Jot concerned a meeting with a doctor who had worked with Wittgenstein when he was a hospital porter at Guy’s in WW2.

In the 1990s I knew a dealer in modern first editions who had known Man Ray in the 1960s. Her name was Elizabeth Spindel and she sold books from her Canonbury home in North London. She said he made jokes but could not remember any. I asked what his friends called him (he was born Emmanuel Radnitzky) and she said “Man.” This was amusing as in the 1960s, especially amongst hipsters, everyone was known as “man.”

A piece from the Fresno Bee in 1990 by his brother-in-law Joseph Browner has a good insight on the great surrealist: “Man Ray..was a kind of short man who looked a little like Mister Peepers, spoke slowly with a slight Brooklynese accent, and talked so you could never tell when he was kidding.”

 

The Bruno Hat hoax 1929

13883Found – Society Racket: A Critical Survey of Modern Social Life (Long, London 1933) by Patrick Balfour (Baron Kinross) – a journalist. At the time of this book he was ‘Mr Gossip’ at the Daily Express and the character Adam in Waugh’s Vile Bodies was probably partly based on him (Adam becomes ‘Mr Chatterbox’ at the ‘Daily Excess’.)

Balfour covers the 1929 hoax surrealist exhibition at the Guinness’s house in Buckingham Gate SW1:

‘Then an invitation was sent out to a “First exhibition of Pictures by Bruno Hat” in Mr and Mrs Guinness’s house. It was accompanied by the following biography:

Mr Bruno Hat came to England with his father in 1919 from Lubeck. After having lived in this country a short time, Mr Max had married an English woman, and bought a general dealers shop in Sussex, where he lived until he died in 1923. The shop is now managed by Mr Bruno Hat with the help of his stepmother.

Mr Bruno Hat is now 31 years of age. Apart from some two months or so at a Hamburg art school, he is entirely self-taught. In frequent visits to London, exhibitions provide him with little little more than a glimpse of contemporary movements in painting. He has never, until now, exhibited a picture. A month ago, however, several examples of his work were taken to Paris, and the opinion there was so immediately favourable that successful arrangements have been made for an exhibition there In the early winter. Continue reading

King Kong – a poetic film

kingkong33newposterFound– a one page ‘flyer’ put out by a surrealist group in Leeds for a season of ‘Surrealists go to the Cinema’ held at Bradford cinemas in November 1994. It reprints a 1934 review of the 1933 King Kong directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. The review was by Jean Ferry a French writer and later ‘pataphysician’ who saw it as a poetic film ‘heavy with oneiric power’ but, curiously, he does not attribute this to the makers of the film… It reads:

I had so definitely given up the idea of seeing a poetic film that, beside any attempt at criticism. I cannot help reporting the appearance of that rare phenomenon, greeted as you would expect by howls of derision and contempt. I hasten to add that what gives this film value in my eyes is not at all the work of the producers and directors (they aimed only at a grandiose fairground attraction), but flows naturally from the involuntary liberation of elements in themselves heavy with oneiric power, with strangeness and with the horrible. … It appears, finally, that the tallest King Kong, for there were many of them, as you may have guessed, was but a metre high. But you see we knew it already. And this is why I think the inept laughter of the public is only a defence mechanism to force itself to think that this is only a mechanical toy and, having succeeded in this, to escape the feeling if unheimlich, of disquieting strangeness, that we cherish and cultivate, for our part, so carefully, and which nothing brings to life as readily, and rightly so, as being in the company of automata. I think that the film would be no less moving, no less frightening, if it was not about a supposedly living beast but an automaton of the same height making the same movements. In any case, whether the monster is real or false, the terror he provokes takes on no less of a frenzied and convulsive character through its very impossibility. Continue reading

IMG_0370

New Movements in Art 1942

Found - a folding 6 page art catalogue/ booklet for an exhibition in wartime Leicester June 1942. Artists included John Tunnard (who provides the image on the cover) John Piper, Ivor Hitchens, Graham Sutherland, Frances Hodgkins, Edward Wadsworth, Ben Nicholson, Naum Gabo, Barbara Hepworth, Hans Erni, Paul Nash, Kurt Schwitters, Eileen Agar, Ithell Colquhoun, Ceri Richards, Michael Ayrton,  John Buckland Wright ,Cecil Collins, Leslie Hurry. Top price was £150 for Two Serpents by Paul Nash. The 3 Schwitters were all less than £30..The curator and writer of the introduction (below) was Trevor Thomas - the subject of another Jot entry, as 21 years later he was the last person to see Sylvia Plath alive. He wrote a slim book on this called Sylvia Plath: Last Encounters (Privately Published, Bedford 1989.)

New Movements in art exhibition: 23 May to 21 June 1942: Leicester Museum and Art Gallery

Trevor Thomas, Curator.

By way of introduction.

The contention that "every picture tells a story" is now recognised as a popular fallacy, just as, Hollywood excepted, nobody now believes that "every story makes a picture." In this way free from the necessity for literary associations, we can approach such an exhibition as this with unfettered intelligence and liberated imagination.

Continue reading

SimonWatsonTaylorpic

Simon Watson Taylor: surrealist, pataphysician & cabin steward

The death in 2005 at the age of 82 of aged hippy and anarchist Simon Watson Taylor went almost unnoticed in the Arts pages and it was left to his friend and former house-mate George Melly to supply an obituary in the Independent in which he pointed out the major contributions of the writer and translator of Alfred Jarry to the Surrealist and Pataphysics movements in Europe during the fifties and sixties. On a personal level, Melly also alluded to his friend’s ‘acid humour ‘, his delight in confronting and dispatching the pretensions of the bourgeoisie, and a determination to remain free of encumbrances. At one point in his early life we are told that he took a job as an airline cabin steward in order to travel the world.Indeed, among all his friends who had some way embraced aspects of the bourgeois life- style, Melly claimed that Watson Taylor stood out as a man ‘truly free’.

Continue reading

article-2092039-11770F9F000005DC-272_634x472-1

I once met…Desmond Morris

A book dealer I knew mentioned in passing that the author of The Naked Ape and Manwatching was a passionate collector. But no-one had prepared me for what I encountered when I rang his doorbell in leafy North Oxford.

This zoologist was not a collector—he was a bibliomaniac! He admitted to visiting book fairs, second-hand bookshops, junk shops and auctions. At one time he mistakenly bought copies of books he already owned, but remedied this error by always carrying around a laptop containing a disk that listed  all the books in his library. And what a library ! He had had it built as an annexe to his large Victorian house and it was absolutely crammed with books, floor to ceiling, and a few of his own paintings were also displayed. He, of course, was a sort of Abstract Surrealist, strongly influenced by Miro. There was a lot of ethnographical art too—mainly pots and animal inspired pieces.

We talked for over three hours—some of the conversation was off the record. He told me that he came from a village near Swindon and as a youth had gone out with Diana Dors, whose real name was Diana Fluck. Books were part of his DNA. Morris’s great great grandfather had been a bookseller in old-town Swindon, while his great-grandfather, one William Morris, was a well known local historian and naturalist in Wiltshire. It was a book, Grew’s Comparative Anatomy of Stomach and Guts, which the zoologist later inherited from his library, that inspired him to study animals. From such an eclectic pedigree of learning arose  Morris’s extraordinary range of knowledge—which encompasses a range of art-related disciplines, of which Surrealism and ethnography was two, and a variety of scientific subjects, the most prominent being zoology. Whole stacks were devoted to two main interests—dogs and primates, but human psychology was strongly represented too. There was also a fair-sized section on English poetry and here Morris revealed that in the late 1940s he had met Dylan Thomas, who had shown a strong interest in one of the younger man’s own paintings that he happened to be carrying. Thomas offered to strike a deal. He would swap a manuscript of a poem he had recently written for this painting. It must have been a good painting (or a poor poem), because Morris declined the deal. Thomas died just a few years later at the height of his fame and Morris told me that he has regretted that mistake ever since.[RR]

photo-1

Paul Nash bookplate for art collector Samuel Courtauld

Found - a loose bookplate by Paul Nash  for the industrialist and art collector Samuel Courtauld. Produced around 1930, it measures a sizeable 13 by 9.5 cms, probably intended mainly for art books and livres d'artistes. The writer and broadcaster Lance Sieveking writes in his autobiography The Eye of the Beholder (Hulton Press, London, 1957) -'Sam Courtauld and Paul met at a dinner party I gave at Number 15 The Street, and Courtauld persuaded Paul to design a book plate for him. The result was one of the most charming he ever made.' The engraving is said to be the only one initialled by Paul Nash on the block. The bookplate is quite scarce as, presumably, it is mostly found in books held at the Courtauld Institute; few have entered the used book trade.

The woodcut is British Surrealist in style with an echo of Cubism and Vorticism - both movements had earlier attracted Nash. Samuel Courtauld's family fortune came from the textile industry (rayon), hence the bobbin and threads. The French flag refers to the origins of the name Courtauld, a French Huguenot family whose early descendant was the celebrated goldsmith Augustine Courtauld. The Courtauld textile industry was based in Braintree and Halstead in Essex. The view through the frame shows what appears to be a Martello Tower - these are closely associated with the  East Anglian Coast.