Harry Crosby’s Black Sun

Harry Crosby and unidentified woman, Four Arts Ball, Paris

“Yet it was precisely in his character … to invest all his loyalty and energy in magic: at first the approved magic of established religion; later the witchwork of poetry and sun worship; finally the black mass of violence” -Geoffrey Wolf, Author of Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby

Harry Crosby – self indulgent socialite, tortured poet, wealthy mystic …. a playboy who lived his life with reckless abandon – was a man both adored and reviled. He has been described by some as “a representative figure of the so-called Lost Generation”, the bohemian 1920s.

A godson of J.P. Morgan Jr., Harry was a Harvard graduate and a decorated war veteran, who had left school to become an ambulance driver in France with his upper-crust chums during World War I. He ended up with the Croix de Guerre for valor and, after a few frustrating years back in Boston, fled to Paris for the rest of his short life. Married in 1922 to Mary Phelps Jacob, known as “Caresse”, they lived the “ultimate Bohemian lives as poets, artists, and patrons in Paris in the 1920’s. To every adventure their answer was always ‘yes’.” Harry once sent a telegram from Paris to his father, the quintessential sober, patriarch, which read, “Please sell $10,000 worth in stock. We intend to live a mad and extravagant life.”

While living and writing in Paris Harry Crosby founded The Black Sun Press, one of the “finest small presses of the twentieth century”.   In 1924, the Crosbys went public with their first book. The following year, they each published their first collections of verse. Harry commissioned Alastair – a “spectacularly camp” German creator of beautifully decadent and Gothic fantasies – to illustrate his second collection, Red Skeletons.  Soon they were issuing works by other writers, including Poe, James, Wilde, Joyce and D. H. Lawrence.

Color plate from Red Skeletons, by artist Alastair

On December 10, 1929, Harry was found in bed with a .25 caliber bullet hole in his right temple next to his mistress, the newly married Josephine Bigelow who had a matching hole in her left temple, in an apparent suicide pact. Harry’s toenails were painted red and strange symbols were tattooed between his shoulder blades and on the soles of his feet. A lover of dark mysteries to the last, he left no suicide note. London’s Daily Mirror speculated on psychological motives, while New York’s Daily News blamed poetry and passion: “Death itself had been the motive, others speculated, just as aspiring poet Harry’s life had been his greatest artwork.”

Coilhouse recently caught up with Erik Rodgers, founder of String and a Can Productions, and director of The Black Sun: The Life and Death of Harry Crosby, who provides his own insight into Harry Crosby’s strange, short life and speaks to what makes the man such a fascinating study.

Coilhouse: How did you come to decide Harry Crosby might make good material for a play – what it was about him or his life that inspired you, or what aspect of him you were hoping to shed more light on? How did you come across him to begin with?

Erik Rodgers: I actually came upon Caresse first, while developing a project on Salvador Dalí.  [My business partner] was intrigued by the idea of such an accomplished and independent female from that era, and started researching her life.   Of course as soon as she began reading about Caresse, she discovered Harry as well.  Their story captured her imagination, and she began relating to me some of the details as she read them. We both felt there was something vital and overlooked in their story, something that had been obscured by all the scandal and negative criticism.

Coilhouse Kindred Spirt: Yaso Magazine

Some more Serious Journalism from my time in Japan (see also: cat cafes). I previously mentioned Yaso Magazine in a post about Neon O’Clockworks – as promised in that post, here are some snapshots of Yaso for you to see! It’s a beautiful, hefty magazine with themed issues, published and distributed almost exclusively in Japan. I took some photos of three issues with the following themes: Vampire: Painful Eternity / Heartrendingness, Victorian: Influences & Metamorphoses of Victorian Culture in Today’s Japanese Sub-Cultures, and Sense of Beauty: Japanese Aesthetic. Other themed issues I didn’t get my hands on: Svankmajer (yes, an entire Svankmajer-themed issue), Gothic, Monster & Freaks [sic]. I also had a fourth issue called Doll, but gave it away to Ross because he is a doll fancier before I got a chance to snap some photos.

It’s a stunning magazine. Paging through it feels like like falling into a paper-fetish world that’s at once completely alien and intimately familiar.

The small pictures don’t do it justice, so click on through to the Coilhouse Flickr Set to see the full, annotated collection of images. This magazine cost around $15 in Japan, but I’m only finding it priced at $35 for those of us living in the US or in Europe. I’ve even seen copies appear and disappear for about $45 on Ebay. The magazine is almost entirely in Japanese, as is their site.

We are so inspired to see others publishing the kinds of things that we love, all over the word. We don’t know the people who do Yaso, but we are so, so grateful for them.

Fantastical Morphology: The Art of Richard A. Kirk

Botanica” by Richard A. Kirk.

The artwork of Richard A. Kirk is delicate, dense, mysterious, formidable. Rendered in ink, graphite and silverpoint, his most successful pieces conjure echoes of everyone from Rackham and Froud to Yerka and Barlow and Beksinski; everything from the The Garden of Earthly Delights to The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke to Haeckel’s monographs; yet the overall aesthetic is very much its own thing, and still evolving.

Chimera” by Richard A. Kirk.

Kirk’s done illustration work for China Mieville and Clive Barker, and shares Strychnin representation with Coilhouse faves like Madeline von Foerster, Chet Zar and Natalie Shau. In other words, he is a badass. Keep an eye on him.

A few more pieces after the jump. Click their titles to see higher res versions. Also see previous Coilhouse coverage of:

Friday Afternoon Movie: 4 Oscar Nominated Shorts

It’s one of those Fridays. Nothing going on; nothing doing. Sitting at your desk, playing FreeCell, only stopping to see how far the hands on the clock have progressed. Then to see if the clock is slower than your computer. Then to check your watch, just to be sure. Maybe they’re all wrong; better check your phone. Damn.

Well, as a personal service to you, please allow the FAM to distract you for a number of minutes. Don’t worry, you can always go back to FreeCell. In the meantime let us present to you three of the animated shorts nominated for Academy Awards this year. Yes, I realize that the Academy Awards have already been handed out, thereby robbing these of a modicum of suspense, but I’m sure you’ll survive.

First up is Fabrice O. Joubert’s French Roast, the story of a less than agreeable gentleman who seems to have left his wallet in his other trousers. And just what is the deal with that nun?

Next is Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty, directed by Nicky Phelan. It is perhaps best to not let a bitter, elderly woman read fairy tales. She may very well color the story with her own, distinct outlook.

Thirdly: Javier Recio Gracia’s The Lady and the Reaper, the story of a young doctor’s battle with Death over the fate of an elderly woman whose only wish is to be reunited with her departed husband. It’s a fate that she alone will decide.

And lastly we have Logorama directed by François Alaux, Herve de Crecy, and Ludovic Houplain. Police drama! In Los Angeles! A Los Angeles comprised of corporate logos! Will the Michelin Men be able to apprehend Ronald McDonald or will an earthquake kill them all!? Watch and see!

And so today’s FAM draws to a close. For those of you wondering, the fifth and final nominee was Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf or Death from Nick Park which is not on YouTube because the BBC have just a few more lawyers than these other guys. The award this year went to Logorama.

Now, what time is it…

Getting Out of Bed with Richard Foreman

Film courtesy of Syndicate of Human Image Traffickers

Storytelling is, among other things, the art of regulating the flow of information shared with an audience. Playwright Richard Foreman is a foremost master of this art, withholding much that makes our world familiar and meaningful.  In his plays, we are thrust into a room – perhaps suggestive of the human psyche – where information circulates without context, and language often appears to lose its capacity to bear information or even conjure words.  Characters inhabit situations and events transpire, but usually without the problem resolution endemic to most fiction.  Ultimately, we never know whether what we have witnessed is satirical, psychological, resolutely absurdist, or somehow all three concurrently.  Enduring such a bewildering circumstance, the audience is challenged to find or impose order and meaning – never knowing which they are doing.  As you may well imagine, this is not easy art.  It may leave the theatergoer uneasy – even queasy – amid buzzers, flashing lights, warped music, and the voice of un-reason.  One may even wonder whether it’s akin to what Jeremy Bentham said of natural rights: “nonsense upon stilts.”  If, however, the official tastemakers are to be believed, this is theatre operating at a high degree of abstraction, offering sly humor and curious insight into our social and inner worlds.

Richard Foreman’s Ontological-Hysteric Theater made its debut in 1968 – a year redolent with meaning for alternative culture – and his plays have been a mainstay of the weird and wonderful (and wise?) ever since.  He has written, directed, and designed more than fifty plays, received five “OBIE” (Off-Broadway) Awards for Best Play of the Year, the Literature Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, a Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, the PEN Club Master American Dramatist Award, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, was elected officer of the Order of Arts and Letters of France, and his direction of the 50th anniversary production of The Threepenny Opera was nominated for both T.O.N.Y. and Grammy Awards.

Foreman directs at Tanglewood, 1968.

For nearly 20 years Foreman has launched his plays from a little theater on the grounds of the historic St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery in New York City’s East Village.  For those of us for whom an annual trek to Foreman’s demented dimension provides regular respite from worlds we are otherwise doomed to inhabit, I bear bad news: this year’s play is slated to be his last.  And for those new to Foreman, or without the ability to see one of his plays in New York or when they tour Paris or Los Angeles or Berlin, there is good news: he will now be turning his prodigious talents exclusively to film making.

A blinkered guest in Foreman’s book, art, and technology engorged SOHO loft – one of the original lofts designed by George Maciunas – I feebly tossed feeble questions before the “Genius” himself.  Despite his telling me that he “didn’t like people,” Foreman was a good sport, ruminating on whether alternative- and counter-cultures have futures, the keys to a vital art scene and to becoming an artist, the meta-politics of theatre, and his mystical yearnings.  Alas, I still don’t understand why existentialists get out of bed in the morning.  The Syndicate of Human Image Traffickers maintained surveillance (see above) and the remainder was captured by my electro-ear (see below).

COILHOUSE: What first brought you to lower Manhattan?
RICHARD FOREMAN: I moved to lower Manhattan because, in the middle 1960s, I got friendly with Jonas Mekas, who was head of the underground film movement, and a close friend of his was George Maciunas, who was the head of Fluxus.  At a certain point, George made his art setting up artists’ coops.  It was totally illegal.  I was coming down all the time to look at underground films.  At one point, I told George that I was ready to take the risk and move downtown, and he got ten people to buy a building together.  Starving artists did all the work of converting the manufacturing lofts into living lofts.  I was going to films Jonas was showing all the time and, at one point, I dared to tell him that I was writing plays. I showed him a play. He allowed me to show it at his theater when the fire department closed it after they said that he didn’t have a proper license to show films, since it was a play.

Photo via Real Time Arts.

Ron Pippin’s Biomechanical Menagerie

In a earlier, simpler time I would describe Ron Pippin’s work as “steampunk” for featuring as it does, bits and baubles comprised of brass and glass, replete with olde looking labels. No! That is wrong. We don’t do that anymore.

That said, Pippin’s work is bad-ass, featuring as it does evil looking machinery bonded to animals, turning them into bizarre and beautiful biomechanoids; cyborg mammals found wandering through steel forests. His portfolio also happens to feature a fair number of complex and mysterious specimen boxes which one can never have too many of.

The Horror Of Nature: The Slingjaw Wrasse

Nature is a cruel, twisted bitch; the overseer of a vast menagerie of strange and awful things. These creatures were put on this Earth to inhabit our nightmares. Witness then, the horrible distended jaws of the appropriately named Slingjaw Wrasse, filmed in excruciating slow motion so that one may fully appreciate the powerful thrust of this fish’s disgusting (or, perhaps, just lazy?) eating habits. Yes, for now they are feeding on insects, but it is only a matter of time (or a matter of a massive dose of radiation) before they develop a taste for the human brain. Evolution will take care of the rest, no doubt bestowing upon them appendages not unlike our own legs, allowing them to walk upon the land — looking every bit like a Hieronymus Bosch creation come to life — if only for long enough to crack open the soft, eggshell-like skull of a child and slurp out its contents like so much jelly. Mark my words: The time is nigh; best to wipe them out while they can only swim!

BTC: Russkie Ragamuffin Rokk n Rollink


If there is indeed a heaven, treatment and Hasil Adkins and Lux Interior are hanging out together on some leopard-print porch swing up there, how much do you want to bet they play “rock, paper, shotgun” every morning to decide who gets the honor of guardian angel duty for this fella?

The Friday Afternoon Movie: The Grandmother

Today the FAM presents David Lynch’s 1970 short film, The Grandmother. The heart warming story of a boy who — neglected and abused by his family — grows a kindly old lady to provide with the affection he craves. A silent film, the characters interact with abstract soundtrack cues. It’s strange and undeniably artsy; artsy enough to be mistaken as a parody of an artsy movie. And yet, whether for its brevity or Lynch’s youth, it is most certainly one of his most straightforwardly discernible films, devoid of the extraneous imagery woven throughout his later films, confounding and misdirecting the audience at every opportunity. Whether that is counted as being a good thing or not depends, I suppose, on how much of a David Lynch fan you are.

Graham Annable’s Short Masterpieces

Graham Annable’s work exemplifies the best in animation. Devoid of dialogue, his films rely solely on the ability of their characters to convey emotion; their stories told with moving images, sometimes in conjunction with music. It’s animation distilled down to its most basic elements, devoid of the extra trappings that at best get in the way of story and at worst promotes plain old laziness.

In other words, Annable’s work is really good. You should take a look.