Maurice Sendak 1928-2012


Maurice Sendak Via]

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“I said anything I wanted because I don’t believe in children, I don’t believe in childhood. I don’t believe that there’s a demarcation. ‘Oh you mustn’t tell them that. You mustn’t tell them that.’ You tell them anything you want. Just tell them if it’s true. If it’s true you tell them.”

~ Maurice Sendak

With this post I run the risk of turning the top of Coilhouse into a memorial to my youth, but there’s really no helping it, I suppose. More sad news then, as it has been reported that author and illustrator Maurice Sendak died today, at the age of 83 due to complications from a recent stroke. Sendak was perhaps best known for his 1963 book Where the Wild Things Are. The book not only made his career but earned him the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 1964.

Mr. Sendak’s work was a staple of my childhood. I learned to read with the help of the Little Bear Books (written by Else Holmelund Minarik). My first exposure to Grimm’s fairy tales was through my mother’s copy of the collection he illustrated and I had a copy of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Nutcracker which featured his artwork. His Mouse King terrified me.

And that is, above all, what I remember and respected most about his work, his willingness to scare the crap out of kids. There is a darkness and danger in his books, the same kind found in the stories of greats like Carroll and Baum, which seems mostly lacking from children’s literature now, something that Mr. Sendak seemed keenly aware of. Sendak wrote books that treated children like adults, like equals. Speaking to The Guardian last October, he said “I refuse to lie to children. I refuse to cater to the bullshit of innocence.” This refusal to sugarcoat his work was, undoubtedly, his greatest asset. It will be missed.

R.I.P. DICK CLARK, VIVA SPARKS.

It’s hard to believe Dick Clark is gone. Is it safe to surmise that secretly, many of us kids who grew up watching him on the boob tube decided long ago that Clark (or, at the very least, legions of indiscernible vat-grown clones of Clark kept in a top-secret underground facility located a few miles beyond the city limits of Fresno) would be Rockin’ our Eves for centuries to come? Alas.

But the beat must go on. Perhaps… in hologram form?

In (somewhat oblique) honor of the departed (and because NO halfway decent excuse to feature the Mael Brothers on Coilhouse should ever be passed up) here’s a fabulous performance of “Pulling Rabbits out of Hats” by Sparks on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand in 1984, followed by a unexpectedly sweet and silly “interview” between three very disparately distinguished gentlemen. SO GOOD.

Previously on Coilhouse:

Greta Alfaro's "In Ictu Oculi" and Other Works

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“In ictu oculi” is a somewhat loaded Latin phrase that translates roughly as “in the blink [or twinkling] of an eye”. It’s also the title of a famously (and beautifully) grotesque Baroque painting created in Spain in the 1670s by artist Juan de Valdés Leal. Said painting depicts a skeletal Death, coffin tucked under its arm and clutching a scythe, hunched gleefully over a smorgasbord of earthly spoils.

With her video/photo-documented installation by the same name, modern-day Spanish multimedia artist Greta Alfaro –seemingly familiar with the layered meanings of the Latin shorthand and well-aware of the ensuing painting– has found an elegant, rather startling way to revisit many of the same themes Leal did. Alfaro was hidden from view mere meters away as she shot this footage of vultures descending on a feast she had prepared for them.

Alfaro has crafted several video/photo-documented installations in recent years, all of them fastidiously produced, to stark and haunting effect. She states:

“I work about the hidden and the unexpected. We live our lives governed by rules created in order to control chaos and vulnerability, but I am interested in the facts we try to hide or repress, in the differences between the private and the public, in the visibility of our everyday life hypocrisy.”

Via Aaron Diskin / Triangulation Blog. A couple more of Alfaro’s videos after the jump.

“That Heartbreaking Invisible Place”

“She makes visible that heartbreaking invisible place between the appearance and the disappearance of things,” wrote Richard Avedon about photographer Lillian Bassman, who died at 94 in her home at Manhattan last week.

Like her contemporary Irving Penn, who passed away last year at age 92, Bassman worked on her art until the very end of her life. The photo above, titled “It’s a Cinch,” was taken for Harper’s Bazaar in 1951. At that time, model Stella Tennant, who appears in the shot below (part of this shoot for Vogue Germany), wasn’t even born yet – and wouldn’t be born for another 19 years.

Bassman lived an extraordinary life. The daughter of bohemian Russian-Jewish immigrants living in Brooklyn, she moved in with her husband, fellow artist Paul Himmel, when she 15. Together they survived through the Great Depression: Bassman worked as an artists’ model, while Himmel taught art. They were involved in political strikes of the era, and Bassman once picketed in the nude to protest arts financing cuts. Soon, she got a job co-art-directing Junior Bazaar, one of the most creative and experimental teen girl magazines that ever existed. Junior Bazaar failed because it was too out-there, but it launched Bassman’s fashion photography career, landing her gigs for Harper’s Bazaar.

Over the years, Bassman’s painterly, impressionistic style fell out of fashion.  Harper’s Bazaar editor Carmel Snow  famously said to her during a shoot, “I didn’t bring you to Paris to make art; I brought you here to do the buttons and bows.” Fed up with fashion photography, Bassman famously destroyed most of her negatives in the 60s. It wasn’t until the early 90s that a fashion historian urged her to revisit the few negatives she had left. Bassman began experimenting anew, and re-emerged as a force in fashion photography. She embraced new technologies, discovering Photoshop when she was 87.

After the jump, a collection of Bassman’s work, past and present.

“My work is about leaving the door open to the imagination.” -Dorothea Tanning (1910 – 2012)


Sleeping Nude (1954) by Dorothea Tanning. Oil on canvas.

And she did. Countless others have walked through that door behind Dorothea Tanning– fellow iconoclasts and creative powerhouses (many women, but surely, many not) who might never have pursued their work otherwise.

Her independence, her intelligence, and her centenarian resolve to lead an extraordinary life no matter what, should be as central to her legacy as her art and writings. Tanning died in her sleep last night at the age of 101…

“…and pieces of history die with her. Artist, poet, wife of Max Ernst from 1946 until he died in 1976, and (along with Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington, Kay Sage, Lee Miller, Maya Deren, Remedios Varo, and Leonor Fini) one of a group of great women Surrealists, she was at the center of a movement that was a vicious mill for women. Among the surrealists, females — while ‘allowed’ to be artists — were often also relegated to the sidelines of neglected or beset mistresses, muses, and madwomen.” ~Jerry Saltz (for New York Magazine)


Birthday (1942) by Dorothea Tanning. Oil on canvas.

Her advice to younger generations: ”Keep your eye on your inner world and keep away from ads, idiots and movie stars.”

R.I.P. Eiko Ishioka, July 1939 – January 21, 2012


Eiko Ishioka, Motoko Narsue, Kyoko Inui, poster 1979. Photographed by Kazumi Kurigami.

One of the world’s greatest costume designers, Eiko Ishioka, died today at age 73. Ishioka’s work spanned genres and continents; she is best known for her costume design on Dracula, The Fall and The Cell, as well as her collaborations with Bjork, Grace Jones and Cirque du Soleil. From the New York Times:

Ms. Ishioka won an Academy Award for costume design in 1992 for “Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula,’ ” directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Her outfits for the film included a suit of full body armor for the title character (played by Gary Oldman), whose glistening red color and all-over corrugation made it look like exposed musculature, and a voluminous wedding dress worn by the actress Sadie Frost, with a stiff, round, aggressive lace collar inspired by the ruffs of frill-necked lizards.

These typified Ms. Ishioka’s aesthetic. A deliberate marriage of East and West — she had lived in Manhattan for many years — it simultaneously embraced the gothic, the otherworldly, the dramatic and the unsettling and was suffused with a powerful, dark eroticism. Her work, whose outsize stylization dazzled some critics and discomforted others, was provocative in every possible sense of the word, and it was meant to be.

Ms. Ishioka was closely associated with the director Tarsem Singh, for whom she designed costumes for four films. In the first, “The Cell” (2000), she encased Jennifer Lopez, who plays a psychologist trapped by a serial killer, in a headpiece that resembled a cross between a rigid neck brace and a forbidding bird cage.

“Jennifer asked me if I could make it more comfortable,” Ms. Ishioka told The Ottawa Citizen in 2000, “but I said, ‘No, you’re supposed to be tortured.’ ”

Eiko Ishioka worked until the very end of her life. Her latest works can be seen in Tarsem Signh’s Immortals (2011) and Mirror Mirror (2012). After the cut, more images of Ishioka’s work throughout the ages, as well as recent video of her talking about her work on Immortals.


Costume design from The Fall


Costume design from The Cell

“Cupid and Centaur” by Joel-Peter Witkin (1992)

(un)Naturally, we can’t have Centaur Week without posting one of Joel-Peter Witkin‘s most famous works, riffing off the classical Greek “Kentauros & Eros” motif…


“Cupid and Centaur” by Joel-Peter Witkin (1992)

(Preaching to the choir, here, but) Is there another photographer living whose sublime darkroom necromancy conveys quite the same level of beauty, horror, ferocity, compassion, grace and grotesquerie as Witkin’s? Doubtful.

Buy his books:

World AIDS Day

In 1985, when Coil recorded this cover of the Gloria Jones tune (not long after Soft Cell), frank and open discussion of the HIV/AIDS crisis was still considered taboo. Many media sources were too uncomfortable with/outright offended by Peter Christopherson‘s “Tainted Love” music video (featuring partner John Balance as a dying man, and Marc Almond as the Angel of Death) to acknowledge its existence.

Coil’s Scatology single Panic/Tainted Love was, in fact, the very first official AIDS benefit music release, with all profits from sales donated to the Terrence Higgins Trust. Coil’s following full-length release, Horse Rotorvator, is also steeped in themes and emotions engendered by several AIDS-related deaths in Christopherson’s and Balance’s circle of friends. (HR is arguably the most influential record Coil ever made– as bleak, fearless, and uncompromising as they could get… which is really saying something.)

Today, Coil’s “Tainted Love” music video is widely considered a creative and cultural watermark on humanity’s ongoing battle against AIDS, and has been put on permanent display at The Museum of Modern Art in New York.

It’s all-too-easy in 2011 to take it for granted that candid discussion of HIV/AIDS is not only acceptable, but encouraged. And yet, we’ve still got a long way to go.

On a more personally related note, a longtime carnival chum, supporter of Coilhouse, and fellow alt-culture editor (of the splendid Culture Flux Magazine), kSea Flux, is at this moment in the ICU of San Francisco General Hospital, fighting the fight of his life. Please keep him in your thoughts. (Should you feel moved to, you can also donate to kSea’s health-care fund by using PayPal: ksea@culturefluxmagazine.com.) Lots of love, kSea.

Our mutual friend Whitney Moses, whose name you may remember from this blog post, will be pedaling from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the 2012 AIDS/LifeCycle ride in honor of kSea and other loved ones, in memory of her father, and to raise more money and awareness in the ongoing battle against the disease. She says:

“Being a rider is a big challenge for me as I’ve never been much of a cyclist, but it’s worth it. This fight is important to me for so many reasons. From losing my father to AIDS as a child, to witnessing friends suffer now with this disease, it has been a major player in the lives around me for most of my life. Every little bit helps.”

She will ride with Coilhouse’s financial support, and hopefully that of some of our readers. Thank you, Whitney!

RIP, Ken Russell (1927 – 2011)


Photo via Cinebeats. (Source, anyone?)

“Reality is a dirty word for me, I know it isn’t for most people, but I am not interested. There’s too much of it about.” ~Ken Russell

Thanks for keepin’ it unreal, good sir. Thank you for everything.

RIP Hans Reichel


Composer/inventor/sculptor/designer Hans Reichel, 1949 – 2011. Photo by Marc Eckardt.

East Village Radio (via Tiny Mix Tapes, via Rob Schwimmer) reports this sad news:

Hans Reichel—the criminally under-appreciated German experimental guitarist—passed away in his hometown of Wuppertal yesterday at the age of 62, according to a West German newspaper. Virtually unknown on this side of the Atlantic, Reichel was a self-taught guitarist who may be best remembered for his radical homemade guitars and his invented instrument, the Daxophone.

Picking up music at an early age by teaching himself violin, Reichel (like just about everybody else) became enamored with rock music in the ‘60s, picked up a guitar and played in various blues-based groups before all but abandoning music to study graphic design (Reichel would go on to be a fairly well known typesetter). Reichel returned to music in the early ‘70s with his folky and unpretentious improvisational approach to the guitar differentiating him from the field of European improvisers at the time. His idiosyncratic take on the guitar drew the attention of legendary German avant-garde label, FMP, who would go on to release the majority of his work—much of which has never seen proper North American distribution. Reichel collaborated with a wide range of like-minded players, including cellist Tom Cora and guitarist Fred Frith.

Though he will never be a household name, Reichel’s contributions to the avant-garde are considerable and will be sorely missed by fans of forward-thinking music. Fare thee well, Hans.

It’s a huge and unexpected loss.

Thank you, Hans Reichel, for bringing so much joy, beauty and oddness into the world.

Click here to read previous Coilhouse coverage on Reichel’s wonderfully strange creation, the Daxophone.