Sunday, June 15, 2014

John Lennon Drawings (at auction)

As the song and legend goes…It was twenty years ago today that Sargent Pepper taught the band (The Beatles) to play. It was just prior to that he (or someone) taught the band’s leader John Lennon to draw and to write. He did it all with an impeccable style and humor. The ability to see the drama and pains of life while recognizing the element of humor was always a part of Lennon’s life and work. He expressed it beginning in his child-hood and it sustained him as it did his career and prodigious creativity.    

 Lennon is universally known for his achievements in music both as a collaborator and soloist. His drawing and writings are to be noted as well. Sotheby’s just days ago sold eighty nine lots exclusively of Lennon’s manuscripts and drawings.  The manuscripts: “In His Own Write” and “A Spaniard in the Works” were the center pieces. The books were published at the height of The Beatle’s popularity and the song “Paper Back Writer” was another humorous reflection of Lennon’s writings and life at that time. Like the best artists Lennon’s works were inspired by his own experiences.

The drawings were illustrations, random cartoons and whimsical musings largely done for himself, family and friends. Lennon’s drawings are on a par with other of the most popular cartoonists and illustrators of his time. Jules Feiffer, Ralph Steadman and Shel Silverstein all come to mind when looking at Lennon the cartoonist/illustrator. Lennon’s work stands up with the greats of the field.

Another of Lennon’s seminal works was the song “Nowhere Man.” He reflected on the writing of it:

“I was just sitting, trying to think of a song and I thought of myself sitting there, doing nothing and getting nowhere. Once I thought of that it was easy. It all came out. No, I remember now. I’d actually stopped trying to think of something. Nothing would come. I was cheesed off and went for a lie down, having given up. Then I thought of myself as Nowhere Man-sitting in his nowhere land”
                                                                                                   John Lennon

In the animated film “Yellow Submarine” the Nowhere Man is a curiously drawn, genius of sorts. He is a master of philosophy, the sciences and the arts. The self-absorbed creature paints on canvas as he calculates complex mathematical problems. He even reviews his own novel as he writes the foot-notes with his own foot; no less. The Nowhere Man inhabits a blank world surrounded by nothingness and no other beings. The life of the creative individual can metaphorically be much like that. Lennon’s song is telling. His wit and honesty; a constant, his true genius, undenied in everything he attempted and in all he achieved. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Santana Abraxas

There was a time (really not so distant) that music was pre-packaged and sold in physical stores. Some of these stores were large chains while others were smaller specialty shops. The music was actually cut into large black vinyl discs. To transfer and replay the original music a sharp metal stylus was placed directly onto the disc as a device rotated it at a prescribed speed. The information relayed from the intricate indentations cut into the surface grooves became electronic signals.  The sounds (vibrations) were projected through speakers as remarkable; exacting and sometimes beautifully enhanced versions of the music. Generations were delighted to listen to music in this manner and were not in the least bothered or unhappy to pay reasonable prices for the privilege.
The packages for these collections (albums) were decorative, intricate and witty compositions. They ranged from professionally designed original works to reproductions of popular art and many times photographs. Often the recording artist themselves displayed their own art or those of their friends and colleagues. The images would often wrap around the flat square shaped objects into mural like extravagances. The inner folds of the packaging contained along with the vinyl discs; information, lyrics, notes, poetry, photographs and posters. 
The second album for the now immortal rock band “Santana” was memorable both for the remarkable, visionary music and it’s daring, innovative packaging. The cover was the creation of artist Mati Klarwein. It was a wrap-around reproduction of a biblical event “The Annunciation.” Klarwein chose to depict the virgin as a nude Black woman and the angel Gabriel as a red and blue winged, tattooed herald. The painting of Klarwein was so dense with images and detail that it could be studied many times over as it engaged and challenged the viewer.   What was the symbolism? What were the subliminal messages? The questions remain and are subject to continuing interpretations and discussions. There was also a poster included in the first pressings of the release that was to adorn many a dormitory and bed room wall. The title of “Abraxas” was adopted from the Hermann Hesse novel “Demian.” A line from Demien was inscripted on the cover:

“We stood before it and began to freeze inside from the exertion. We questioned the painting, berated it, made love to it, and prayed to it: We called it mother, called it whore and slut, called it our beloved, called it Abraxas…”
                                                                                                         Hermann Hesse


             “Santana Abraxas” was an event; an enduring treasure, a cherished thing.