Monday, 25 April 2011

Only To Slowly Fade

The Threepenny Opera was an ‘occasional’ work claiming an anti-establishment leftist agenda that, to tell the truth, never convinced anybody at the time – on the other hand it has been correctly observed that the implications of its form have not been fully digested, even today. The cynical tone of the songs and the cavalier disregard for highbrow/lowbrow distinctions permeating the work as a whole opened up a new approach to the theatre that proved problematic for subsequent generations. Few are prepared to admit that, in 1928 at the Theatre am Schiffbauerdamm, ‘serious’ art music and opera died an inglorious death. Artistic forms and modalities have a mortal inner life, they evolve through time – they follow a hyperbolic evolutionary curve, reaching a peak of development, only to slowly fade as they are superseded by other diversions. The political spasms of the twentieth century, together with the rise of the mass media, still obscure the passing of nineteenth century aesthetic categories, including the avant-garde and the seriously experimental – the radicalism of the Second Vienna School notwithstanding.
The Munich Opera House was destroyed in October 1943, prompting Richard Strauss to draft several bars of music ‘in mourning’. Listening to the final work, Metamorphosen, one senses not just the horror of those ‘dark days’ but also, in its tenuous echoes of Tristan and ‘Eroica’, an act of mourning for the end of an entire phase of European musical sensibility.

Published in The Supplement Issue 26 Jan 2006

Illustration: Montage II Only To Slowly Fade, 2006

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Stray Sunlight

Stray Sunlight

Because of our dreams we like to shine,
In our sparkly suits and velvet silence,

And yet, my friends, this is an understanding
That nothing is deeper than nothing:

Eye-popping skulls, poetry of the absurd,
Stray sunlight gleaming, diffuse halo.

Your true thoughts are so deadly,
I dare not write them here.

Published in Decanto Issue 53 June 2011
Illustration: Psychic Astral,1994

Open Realism

An aesthetic perspective where 'realism' is defined as a Quality of Perception, and where the word ‘open’ stands opposed to any ‘closed’ teleological worldview. For example, mono-causal creationism is a ‘closed’ explanation of ‘origins’ in conflict with the obviously non-teleological character of existence. Counter-intuitive, aleatoric, absurd and indeterminate phenomena are a consequence of non-teleological conditions, leading to the transgressive or perturbing nature of Open Realist works – works that, in an age beyond satire, will always manifest the forgotten, ironic, paraxial, chaotic spirit of the Post-surreal.


The idea of a 'typical post-Surrealist viewpoint' is mentioned by Lucy R Lippard in her discussion of the art of Valerio Adami, a body of work, focused on the principle of metamorphosis, that also draws upon the world of advertising.To quote Adami himself, advertising is a 'a language that assails you wherever you go'. He said his aim was to realise a condition where 'time and space spread out into a new psychic action'. (in Lucy Lippard, Pop Art, 2001)

The term open realism (realisme ouvert) is cited by Andre Breton in the text 'Limits Not Frontiers of Surrealism', given as a lecture at the Burlington Galleries in London on 16 June 1936, subsequently published in the Nouvelle Revue Francaise (48:1 Feb 1937): ' realism or surrealism which involves the ruin of the Cartesian-Kantian edifice and seriously disturbs the sensibility.' Open Realism is a purely nihilist, materialistic, aesthetic concept and has no connection with any other uses of the phrase, such as the 'philosophy' of Bernard D'Espagnat or others.

However, the usage by Bonnie Marranca in relation to the plays of Sam Shepard is worthy of note:

'open realism exists in a dramatic field composed of events not scenes, of explosions and contradictions not causes... It is characterized by disruption not continuity, by simultaneity not succession; it values anomalies not analogies. In other words, it captures a reality that disregards realism’s supposition of the rational. It praises the differences and irregularities between things, and can accommodate the simultaneity of experiences in expanded time/space.' (American Dreams, 1981)

Illustration: Aeternae Veritates I, 2002

Friday, 15 April 2011

The Fear Of The New

Walter Benjamin argued that mass dissemination always depreciates the quality of works of art, that ‘technologies of mass reproduction’ deprive art of a unique aura. It is true that this process partly accounts for the fading dynamism of the avant-garde – we now live in a post avant-garde era – as well as the democratisation of many forms of ‘art’ hitherto the exclusive sphere of privilege and wealth. Can it be that this ‘aura’ is not the aura of aesthetic qualities, but more a patina of ‘value’ that nowadays no one believes in, because everyone can see that ‘high culture’ was a propaganda machine for a wealthy elite of prelates and princes? Is it really the case that a good reproduction of the Mona Lisa is always a poor substitute for the original? Does the reproductive process really strip a masterpiece of its ‘aura’? One cannot fail to detect a certain taint of snobbery in all this. It is the same line of thinking that lead Clement Greenberg to contrast a poem by T. S. Eliot with a Tin Pan Alley song, before attempting to define the role of the avant-garde as protecting ‘culture’ from Capitalism. Heidegger maintained that scientific rationalism and industrialisation has destroyed the basis of art – he called this ‘the death of art’ – because the primordial national culture of olden days can no longer sustain itself, has sunk into a new age of darkness.
There is a fear behind these concerns – an apocalyptic fear – and a fear of The New.

Illustration: Montage I Fear Of The New (Neophobia), 2006

Sunday, 10 April 2011

White Magic


Live a life ulterior
A distant back-story
That shatters illusions
Of the way the world might be.

Live a life in the shadows
Where a mystery hides
In the name of this Truth
That cannot be found

But only shown.

Illustration: White Magic Mystery, 2003

Friday, 8 April 2011


This Spirit teacheth unto you the Creation of the Souls of Men, and what they really are; as also their estate after Death. When you cause these Spirits (under Aratron) to come unto you, see that you remain not long in their company. They will also tell you by writing, that which you desire no know.

The Grimoire of Armadel (trans Mathers)

Illustration: Aratron II, 1981

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Stride Interview

Rupert M Loydell interviews A C Evans, January 1985

You describe your work as hermetic art; can you enlarge upon that?

For me the term ‘hermetic’ has three meanings. In general usage it has the sense of ‘obscure’ or ‘impenetrable’, as in the phrase ‘hermetically sealed’. In literature the term 'Hermeticism' was used by the Italian critic Francesco Flora, with reference to the work of Ungaretti. He was placing Ungaretti in the French poetic tradition of Valery, Mallarme, Rimbaud and their precursors, Nerval and Baudelaire. Mallarme was the supreme master of hermetic poetry in this sense. Then, of course, there is the original sense, referring to the Corpus Hermeticum, the philosophy of Hermes Trismegistus, which in the context of traditional alchemy gave rise to a pejorative use of the word to mean a sort of willful obscurantism. Both Mallarme and the Surrealists have subsequently seen poetry as a mode of psychological purification akin to what is known as ‘spiritual alchemy’. I would be quite happy to apply all these definitions to my own work both graphic and poetic - I use the term hermetic to refer to the fact that I do not feel the reader/viewer is obliged to ‘read’ my works searching for ‘meanings’ in the narrow sense. I would hope my work effects people in a surreal, non-rational way. 1 think one has to recognize that any valid modern artwork is only ‘meaningful’ to the artist himself - solipsism is intrinsic to the modernist position, and the prime objective of pure artistic activity should be personal self-transformation, not inter-personal communication.

What physical process do you use to draw?

For equipment I use Rotring Rapidograph needle tip pens of a number of grades ranging from 0.1 which is very fine to 0.5 which is quite broad. I just use a pencil, these pens and some reasonably good quality drawing paper. If I need to work with non-linear black masses I use an ordinary felt-tip pen. I use the Rotring pens to create a number of different effects. The needle tips scratch the surface of the paper making broken lines, as in the drawings ‘Stigma III’ and ‘Vectors of Hate’, which remind me very much of photos of particle tracks taken in cloud-chambers. I can also use them to generate cloudy masses of dots and stippling which can be elaborate, as in ‘The Astral Widow’ (Exosphere frontispiece). I like the harsh machine lines of these pens; they suit the general tone of alienation that characterises my pictures.

How about ideas? What are your Inspirations?

I feel bombarded with ideas all the time. I’m often inspired by words and phrases like ‘freezing fog’ or technical terms like ‘xerosere’. Words like this may conjure up an image or spark off a chain of word associations, which become the basis of a poem. I have drawn inspiration from scientific photos from the extreme ends of research - high-energy astrophysics, astronomy. Often a poem or picture will relate to a specific historical or political idea, like ‘The Cathedral of the Future’, which was a kind of warning - I hope not a prophecy. Other artists often inspire me, and some poems relate directly to my emotional life - drawings rarely do.

The drawings seem connected, have you created a mythical world or is it just style?

Most of the drawings are interconnected. I often work in cycles of related motifs. To begin with this is just a stylistic exercise and the interest lies in manipulating the same motif in different contexts.
I regard this as a form of unconscious scanning; it’s rather like looking down a microscope, watching related images float into and out of view. The procedure then becomes more developed. Certain motifs remain with me for a long time and operate like a form of pictographic language. These interconnections do become the basis for, what could be called, a ‘private mythology’. Sometimes this mythology appears to take on a life of its own, with named characters (Xezbeth, Nyktikorax, Scabra Sanguinea, Tzeth, Nuigh) and places (Jet City, Metacropolis, Nylokeras Charontis) providing the setting of the poems - for example ‘Jet City’ and ‘Mock Transcendental Notes’. All of this should be distilled in order to avoid direct, literal interpretations.

Do you use things symbolically or allegorically in your work?

Both: in a drawing like ‘The Cathedral of the Future’ almost all the motifs are allegorical - the monumental tower is an ‘allegory’ of theocratic oppression, and refers to a Tarot card - but I try to preserve a form of ambiguity which gives the entire picture a ‘symbolic’ aura. Again I do not think the viewer needs to realise all this - although it is interesting - it is all a tactic, a technique, to create the ‘hermetic’ effect.

Do you regard your work as frightening, eerie?

I rarely set out to create horrific effects. However I am aware that the reader/viewer may react as though I have set out to do just that. ‘The Astral Widow’ has been used in Dark Horizons (British Fantasy Society Magazine) to illustrate a horror story, and also a drawing called 'Le Grimoire' - these are examples of overtly weird/macabre images finding their rightful homes. I think it is true to say that all my work is imbued with an atmosphere of unease or the uncanny. I have occasionally produced brutal images, which some people may find repellent. If someone found my work frightening I would say that it is because I use material which is ambivalent and borders on the non-human. My own term for this type of effect is ‘grotesque’.

Is the work negative or is there a hope lurking somewhere?

If you are suggesting that there is a spirit of hopelessness in my work I would say that this should be seen as more a sense of outrage - I view the entire human condition with a sense of outrage. But I think the negativity of this can be mitigated by humour - black humour as in Beckett or Andre Breton.

Stride only ever sees photocopied work ready for use, what size is the original work?

Almost always A4 size, or smaller. Large works are difficult to store.

Do you sketch different versions of the same picture?

A visual work may exist in a number of different versions. Usually it starts off as a pencil sketch - sometimes a naturalistic life study, sometimes a quasi-automatic calligraphic expression of a non-naturalistic idea. Some drawings like ‘The Tapestry of Life’ are based on collages. Most drawings are pieced together from different sketches that come together by chance – ‘Atavism’ for instance is a combination of three different sketches.

How long would one piece take on average?

An elaborate piece can take a number of days. Simple linear compositions can be completed in a few minutes.

Do you exhibit the originals?


Does your writing relate very closely to your drawings? The poems often have picture titles within them.

Yes. I regard prose writing as a sort of dredging, trawling exercise; a way of sorting out my aesthetic ideas. I will often use lines from poems as picture titles, or incorporate picture titles into poems in an aleatoric way. A good example is ‘Filigree Paintings Explode’. The collage was made at least two years before the text was written but seems to illustrate it quite well. The poem itself is a cut-up. This sort of intersection is the Burroughs-Gysin ‘Third Mind’ effect. I am extremely interested in the borderland between writing and drawing - the two activities overlap in areas like callig¬raphy, glossolalia and ‘nonsense’ poetry. I quite often use a form of calligraphic automatism that can be a sort of half-writing, half-drawing.

What are your literary tastes?

I like Burroughs, Beckett, Borges and Pynchon. On the whole I find the English tradition rather tedious, although I greatly admire Lewis Carroll and Thomas De Quincey. I am much more at home with Mallarme, Rimbaud, Artaud and Baudelaire - I read them all the time. I also read quite a lot of literary criticism and non-fiction.

Do they effect your visual and written work?

Yes. Direct influences are Huysmans, Baudelaire, Mallarme and Antonin Artaud. Also Andre Breton and the poems of Max Ernst. I am very interested in the Dada and Simultaneist poets.

What about your tastes in the art world?

Many artists I like are direct influences - the Surrealists: Matta, Tanguy, Ernst and Hans Bellmer. Bellmer particularly. I am also interested in the contemporary Fantastic Realists, like Ernst Fuchs, or H. R. Giger, who did the designs for the film Alien. Other art historic influences would be Bosch, Schongauer, Durer and earlier, medieval Gothic artists like Villard de Honnecourt who made beautiful drawings for the cathedral-builders. My earliest influence was Aubrey Beardsley. The drawing Sphinx in Exosphere is a Beardsley tribute. I am very at home with fin-de-siecle artists like Toorop, Klimt and A. O. Spare.

Do you see illustration as separate from fine art?

I find the term ‘fine art’ unacceptable. It relates to what I would call the ‘art industry’, an institution based on obsolete concepts of art trading and co1lecting. ‘Illustration’ can be stimulating. Beardsley was an ‘illustrator’ though Wilde didn’t think his Salome designs were literal enough. Wilde’s definition of ‘illustration’ was rather limiting. I rarely produce illustration from specific works and if I do they tend to be disastrous. But I am always very happy for my pictures to be related to other people’s stories, poems, tapes etc. This often generates unforeseen interconnections of word and image. The drawing ‘Stigma II’ was used in Velocities (a US magazine), in conjunction with a poem by Ivan Arguelles containing the lines:

names scattered in the perfumed air shining like the lights
used to code the various ancient constellations

For me this sentence matched/illustrated the picture perfectly - but who is illustrating who? Third Mind effect again.

Any artistic aspirations?

My overriding artistic aspiration is to be as hermetic as possible.

What are you working on at present?

I am working on a set of collage-poems in the wake of ‘Random 1/Random 2: The First Hermetic Poem’ (Stride 19), trying to assemble an anthology of pictures and texts which has the working title Ambiguous Signals and I’m writing some poems - of which ‘Filigree Paintings Explode’ is an example - under the general title Ethos Mythos. No drawings for 1985 yet...but I have some ideas.

You worked on the artwork for the last Stride compilation cassette; does music interest you, or inspire your work?

I am and have been influenced by music - although I have a very ambiguous attitude towards it - sometimes I think we live in a society of melomaniacs. In the field of ‘classical’ music I like Olivier Messiaen, Schoenberg, Webern, Debussy, Wagner and Scriabin, among others. ‘Word Music’ was a tenet of late nineteenth century hermetic symbolism, of course. I think most of my poems use words in this ‘musical’ sense, they can have an incantatory quality and are intended in many instances to be read out loud (by someone other than myself, I hasten to add!) I listen to a lot of rock. I’m totally addicted to Bowie and always have been - he’s head-and-shoulders above all other chart-orientated performers. I also like all the early Roxy Music albums and anything by Brian Eno...other likes would include The Banshees, Bob Marley, or jazz musicians like Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington. I find rock lyrics very inspiring: almost any line from a song by Lou Reed, for instance, is streets ahead of conventional poetry.

Do you want to be famous?

If I became famous I hope I would take it in my Stride.

Interview from Stride 20, 1985

Illustration: Hopes Lurking Somewhere, 1985