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‘Out There’: The Transcendent Life and Art of Burt Shonberg

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Scene: A medical facility in California, December 1960. Dr. Oscar Janiger, a research professor at the University of California-Irvine, carries out a series of investigations into the impact of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide 25, or LSD to you and me, on the creative processes. Janiger enlisted a variety of artists, writers, and actors as test patients, tasked with discovering the drug’s potency. Among those who signed-up for the trials was an artist named Burt Shonberg who had two sessions with Janiger. During his first session, Shonberg received an injection of 100ml of LSD. This led him to see a hidden structure to the universe where “Humanity is literally hypnotized by the Dream Reality of momentum caused by life (meaning external influences).”

There is an illusion of movement in life which is not the truth. This all relates to so-called time. Time is motion—is evolution. One might say that the Big Criminal in all this is identification. To be apart from the form is the answer to real vision—consciousness. To be awake is to be really alive—to really exist.

March 1961: Janiger carries out a second experiment with Shonberg upping the dose of LSD to 150ml. At first, the artist didn’t think the trip was working but suddenly he was propelled into an experience that led him to believe he had left the clinic and had witnessed an undiscovered world where giants danced in the sky. He quickly understood that this “psychedelic experience” could “possibly reach to actual magic and beyond.”

There are, of course, certain things that one experiences in the transcendental state that are not possible to communicate in the usual way, so new types of parables would have to be created to get the message through. These discoveries I refer to could be insights or revelations into various aspects of the world we live in, nature, the mind itself, the universe, reality, and God.

The experiments radically altered Shonberg and his approach to painting. He continued his own experiments with LSD which eventually led him to believe he was, in fact, a living embodiment of Baphomet—“a divine androgyne, a unification of light and darkness, male and female and the macro and microcosm,” or Aleister Crowley’s pagan, pre-Christian deity, or “the Devil in all his bestial majesty.”
 
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‘Waking State Consciousness’ (1965).
 
Burt Shonberg was born on March 30, 1933, in Revere, MA. He had a talent for art and started his artistic studies before enlisting in the U.S. Army. After his discharge in 1956, he continued his studies at the Art Center of Los Angeles. He had interest in the occult, UFOs, and horror movies, in particular, Frankenstein’s monster which was a suitable avatar for his life and work as a creature made from disparate elements with no understanding of his true significance. His paintings drew various admirers including Forrest J. Ackerman who signed him to his talent agency and introduced him to the film world. He gained respect and began painting murals for a selection of hip nightclubs and coffee houses including Theodor Bikel’s Unicorn Cafe, the Purple Onion, the Bastille, Cosmo Alley and Pandora’s Box, eventually opening his own venue Café Frankenstein in 1958 at Laguna Beach, CA, where he decorated the walls and windows with startling imagery of his favorite movie monster.

As his reputation grew, Shonberg started a relationship with Marjorie Cameron—widow of the notorious rocket pioneer, occultist, and Crowley-devotee Jack Parsons. Cameron believed she was Babalon incarnate and initiated Shonberg’s interest in magick and the occult. Together they started an artist’s colony called ERONBU—a name composed from “camERON+BUrt.” But Cameron was a “Lady Macbeth figure, with hooks in Burt that penetrated deep,” and their relationship was doomed to failure.

His mural work drew the attention of independent movie-maker Roger Corman who hired Shonberg to paint the family portraits for his film version of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher starring Vincent Price. Corman and Price (an avid art collector) were deeply enamored of Shonberg’s work, which led to more movie, magazine, and album cover commissions in the sixties and seventies.
 
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Vincent Price in front of two of Shonberg’s portraits for Roger Corman’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher.’
 
Biographer Spencer Kansa was hipped to Burt Shonberg when writing his biography of Marjorie Cameron. Kansa is an acclaimed novelist, writer, and outsider maverick who is ideally positioned to write the first major biography of Shonberg, Out There: The Transcendent Life and Art of Burt Shonberg.

Spenser Kansa: I discovered Burt’s work while I was researching my biography of Marjorie Cameron, Wormwood Star, in Los Angeles in the mid-2000s. I knew they’d been lovers but I got to meet two of Burt’s chums who raved about him and showed me some examples of his incredible artwork. And the more I got to know about him, the more I realized I just had to chronicle his life story once the Cameron biography was completed.

DM: Why do you think Shonberg is important?

SK: Firstly, he’s the pre-eminent psychedelic artist of the 1960s. Plus he’s an intriguing figure who straddles a mid-century cultural nexus that encapsulates the rise of alternative religions, the UFO phenomenon, the Beat Movement, the popularity of monster movies, sixties counterculture and psychedelia. 

DM: How did he meet Marjorie Cameron?

SK: My educated guess would be that they probably met at the Unicorn, L.A.’s first beatnik-era coffeehouse, which stood next door to what became the Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip. Burt designed its décor and menu and Cameron was known to frequent the place, as well as the bookshop upstairs.
 
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‘Self Portrait’ (1958).
 
DM: What was Shonberg’s relationship to drugs? How important were they to him?

SK: His mural work was often quite time-consuming and laborious, and amphetamines helped fuel the necessary energy he needed to complete such undertakings, without losing his concentration. He would stay up for days at a time working on pieces, and his speed usage helps explain why he was so industrious and prolific. His use of hallucinogens, firstly, peyote then LSD, sparked his inner visions, and on canvases like “Seated Figure and a Cosmic Train,” he captured his transcendent state in such a moving and powerful way that many of his contemporaries, who’d also experienced such altered states, instantly related to it. Also, it’s important not to forget that he was able to translate onto the canvas, not only the occult and Crowley-inspired themes he’d been exposed to by Cameron but some rather weighty metaphysical concepts, particularly those deriving from his deep interest in Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way system.
 
More from Spencer Kansa talking about Burt Shonberg, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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02.22.2018
12:40 pm
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‘Re-Animator’: Get a Herbert West action figure with bonus dead cat and Dr. Hill’s head
02.16.2018
09:58 am
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I’ve never been a huge fan of comedic horror, but there are three movies (all from the ‘80s) that I think got the formula unquestionably right: Street Trash (1987), Brain Damage (1988) and the best one of all, 1985’s Re-Animator.

Re-Animator, based on H.P. Lovecraft’s short story, Herbert West - Reanimator, has stood the test of time and maintains a solid cult following. It spawned two sequels, Bride of Re-Animator and Beyond Re-Animator and even an outrageously campy (and extremely bloody) musical, directed by the film’s creator, Stuart Gordon. Arrow Video has recently released some absolutely incredible special edition Blu-rays of both Re-Animator  and Bride of Re-Animator that get my highest recommendation. You can tell a lot of love went into those reissue packages.

You can also tell a lot of love went into the newly announced Re-Animator action figure which will be released by NECA this summer.

The set contains an eight-inch retro-style action figure of Herbert West as well as a bottle of reagent, a bloody shovel, Rufus the (un)dead cat, and Dr. Hill’s undead head in the metal tray.

NECA’s official announcement indicates that the clothed figure will come in resealable clamshell packaging.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a Re-Animator action figure. Amok Time put out a 3.75 inch Herbert West figure a couple of years ago which is still available. It’s not nearly as cool as this one though:


 

 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Christopher Bickel
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02.16.2018
09:58 am
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I was a teenage Goth, Punk, Hesher, Hip-Hop, Raver: Photographs of fashionable youth from the 1980s
02.15.2018
11:46 am
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The 1980s encapsulated in one photo.
 
If you remember the eighties, you were probably there. Big hair, bad music, and terrible fashion. Or was it so bad?

This was the decade when no one dominant musical trend dictated the terms—as say the Beatles did in the sixties or as heavy metal, prog rock or punk did in the seventies. Pop culture atomized into many different groups and subcultures. New wave, new romantics, punks, mods, goths, emos, hip-hop, rap, and eventually acid house and rave—which symbolically broke music down into euphoric repetitive beats with little reference to song, substance or subtlety.

Everything was considered equally valid, equally worthy, equally saleable, yet completely disposable.

Pop music was a teenage rite of passage; an entertainment business that vied with rudimentary computers and video games for attention. The revolution was no longer about class war it, was televised concerts to raise money to feed the world and discussions about what kind of trainers to wear. There was nothing to fight for. Affluence was king, feigned poverty was chic (ripped jeans for $100), gangster culture fashionable, and existential angst labored under a ton of makeup and hairspray. The eighties were all about dressing up and having fun which is kinda borne out by these photographs of youngsters from the decade.
 
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Does my hair look big in this?
 
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It’s all about… me.
 
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The pained look of teenage angst.
 
More teenage fashion victims (and a few fashion victors, too) after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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02.15.2018
11:46 am
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The Surrealist Pop Art of Till Rabus (NSFW)
02.13.2018
09:20 am
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‘Crânerie n°2’ (2012).
 
Till Rabus is a Swiss artist who uses his work to ask questions about our existence. His paintings suggest it is no longer possible to solely rely on Descartes’ proposition “I think therefore I am.” We are more complex. We are what we do and what we have. Rabus fills his canvases with the detritus of our existence—discarded toys, plastic bottles, used condoms, garbage sacks—and asks how these objects represent us and what these objects say about our relationship to the world.

Rabus often “eradicates any signs of human presence in his paintings.” When he does paint the human form it is cropped or presented as a collage of limbs and movement engaged in a sexual act. These images relate to pornography and how intimate personal moments can become so overly objectified with their original meaning lost.

Rabus is the son of two artists. Born in 1975, he originally trained as an engraver of pocket watches before gradually moving towards a career in painting. His style developed more fully after he saw an exhibition of work by American Pop Artist James Rosenquist in 2004. Rosenquist had earned his living as a billboard painter. He went on to paint collages of consumer goods, iconic film stars and politicians on large canvases in a powerful graphic-style that helped define much of Pop Art.

Another influence is British artist Sarah Lucas who uses found objects to create sculptures such as “Au Naturel” (1994) which consisted of a mattress, a water bucket, melons, oranges and a cucumber, or “Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab” (1994) which were used to suggest a female form.

With his paintings, Rabus collects together the various artifacts he intends to depict. Once composed as an image he takes a digital photograph which he then uses as the basis for his pictures. Rabus has been described as:

...a hyperrealist with a keen eye for the beauty of banality. His subject matter ranges from fast food to porn, but all his works refer to, and are firmly based in Art history. … These playful pieces celebrate the seductive surface and almost convince the viewer to disregard their darker themes such as overconsumption, objectification and the steady dilution of local culture into global uniformity.

The resulting paintings are beautiful, surreal, make reference to art history, and strangely disconcerting as they ask more than they answer. See more of Till Rabus’ work here.
 
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‘Cadavre exquis n°1’ (2016).
 
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‘Cadavre Exquis n°2’ (2016).
 
Much more after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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02.13.2018
09:20 am
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Alice Cooper was in a long forgotten rock opera with members of The Who, Roxy Music & Moody Blues

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Around 1974, Alice Cooper fully morphed from a group’s name to that of a solo artist. While Cooper’s fellow bandmates moved on to various solo ventures—guitarist Michael Bruce working on the album In My Own Way and drummer Neal Smith recording Platinum Gods—Cooper planned his own solo extravaganza Welcome to My Nightmare set for release in 1975. He was drinking heavily and getting a “buzz on” with the likes Harry Nilsson, Micky Dolenz, Keith Moon, John Lennon, and lyricist Bernie Taupin. This little group of legendary drinkers was known as the “Hollywood Vampires” due to their nocturnal drinking habits at bars and clubs along Sunset Strip in L.A. Being slightly inebriated might explain how Cooper became involved with a space-age rock opera called Flash Fearless and the Zorg Women Parts 5 & 6.

The title alone should have been fair warning that this might be a tad sub-par compared to his own classic work but something or someone—if only Cooper could remember exactly what or who?—led the singer to sign-up for the starring role as Flash Fearless. Perhaps it was the host of big name artists who were also happily roped into the project like the Who’s John Entwistle, who played bass on every track; or maybe boozing buddy Keith Moon who had a minimal speaking role as pirate Long John Silver; or perhaps Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues who played guitar; or maybe Elkie Brooks formerly of Vinegar Joe who (rather confusingly) sang vocals as both Flash’s crew member/girlfriend Dulla and head of the evil Zorg Women; or maybe Eddie Jobson of Roxy Music, or Jim Dandy, or Frankie Miller (who didn’t appear on the US album version), or Bill Bruford, or Kenney Jones, or Maddy Prior, or any of the highly respected talents who gave their name and time to the album.

Flash Fearless and the Zorg Women Parts 5 & 6 was the brainchild of Canadian songwriters/musicians Steve Hammond and Dave Pierce with contributions from Bonnie Pierce, Rick Jones, and Terence Hillyer. The musical was a parody of those 1930-style film serials like Flash Gordon. Pierce had been toying with the idea of a space-rock musical since around 1970 when he was writing songs in Canada with Rick Jones. Described as a “nostalgic musical of the 24th-century,” Flash Fearless   “follows the soft-porn adventures of a spoof 1940s sci-fi superhero, Flash Fearless, on a planet inhabited by a race of Amazons, the Zorg Women’ who keep men enslaved and milked them for their seminal fluid. The story seemed a neat fit to the mood of the time with the hit musical The Rocky Horror Show, Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, Glam Rock, the spoof sex movie Flesh Gordon, and even the Who’s star-studded misfire production of Tommy with the likes of Peter Sellers and Rod Stewart in the cast.
 
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Flash Fearless and the Zorg Women Parts 5 & 6 was recorded in London and Los Angeles (Cooper’s tracks) in 1974 and released to much fanfare in 1975. This included a full-color comic strip published in the NME. Entwistle described the album to Melody Maker as “a breath of fresh air in rock music.” Fuck knows what the Ox was breathing in before but this wasn’t fresh air. It was great talent and production in search of good material. The album bombed.
 
More of Alice Cooper, John Entwistle and ‘Flash Fearless,’ after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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02.12.2018
10:04 am
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Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture


 
Recently I have become rather mopey and down-in-the-mouth, to be quite honest. No, it’s not politics and it’s not due to some dumb horrible break-up either. It’s simply due to the realization that I will never have the chance to live my best life and rock out to bands like Wild Asparagus or The Ding Dings. I will never be able to see shit go down at The Sound Spot or The Stomp House.

These things have been keeping me up at night. It’s just not fair. Why can’t I go back in time to the East Village and have a drink with Beebo Brinker? And why the fuck isn’t North Beach in San Francisco as steamy, sexy and crime-laden as it used to be? I wanna get myself a grumpy-ass detective man who hates hippies and reluctantly gets dragged into investigating a drugged-out cult killing. I never got my shot to take up with some doped-up horn player who lives in a jazz club and parties until dawn, dammit.

Is nothing sacred anymore?

Ever since I read the shatteringly great Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980, I am a mess! If I was once nostalgic for a past I wasn’t even alive for, I am now pining for characters and circumstances that never happened at all! Editors and authors Iain McIntyre and Andrew Nette have created something unbelievable with this volume. Something that seems almost unthinkable: it is a reference book for pulp work written in a pulp-style. What I mean by this is that it is addictive, a quick read, and it leaves you wanting more.

All pulp is of the “betcha can’t eat just one” variety and so is this book. You can’t just read the chapter on 1960s British Youthsploitation Novels and you can’t just read the bits on early juvenile delinquent pulps. It’s simply not possible with this book. The way that Girl Gangs infiltrates your senses could easily be equated to the experiences of the characters in the counterculture pulps it documents: the volume starts slow like a neatly rolled joint, then kicks off mad like a killer acid trip and doesn’t let go until the contributors page and acknowledgements, at which point you find yourself the last person to leave the party, saying: “That’s it? No more? Should I just start it again from page one? I probably missed something. Okay. Here goes!” Drop that tab. Just smoke that bowl. There’s many layers to this book. It goes down just as smooth the second time around.

There are many writers who attend the Girl Gangs shindig, and every one of them should be well praised for their hard work. On a personal note, the inclusion of the YA fiction work at the close was so brilliant as there is an entire world of literature that I treasure that (apparently) only the writers of this book and perhaps a few others have recognized as pulpy, dangerous, subversive and REAL. And no, I’m not talking about Go Ask Alice (although that is one of the books discussed).

What makes McIntyre and Nette’s book such an achievement is the fact that not only does it include actual passages from extremely difficult and impossible to find pulp novels, many works are not US-based. Due to the fact that many of the contributing writers are UK or Australian-based, this book has one of the most uniquely international looks at pulp I have ever come across, period. It is glorious.

I have seen plenty of coffee table books on pulp cover art, academic publications, and merchandising galore (who hasn’t seen the card holders/compacts/cigarette cases for Don Elliot’s Hot Rod Sinners or Edward De Roo’s Go, Man, Go!) but I have never met a book that is as pleasingly exhaustive as Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, And Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980. I have never been so aware of Australian crime, women pulp writers, queerness in pulp and the influence of social/political events on the genre. I was well aware of how subversive the genre was, but the interviews with authors floored me and the amount of deep research in this book on a rather obscure literary genre blew my mind.

I don’t care who you are you this book will thrill you. It’s a bookcase necessity. If you have any interest in rock ‘n roll, lesbians, cult murder, car racing, leather jackets, skinhead violence, surfing spies, girl gangs or adolescents trying pot for the first time, THIS IS YOUR BAG, BABY. You will not get most of this material anywhere else. Trust me, I’ve looked. I have a list now of the things I want to read/find but I know I will be screwed when it comes to getting them. Most of them are either out of my price range collectibles or simply nowhere to be found except in the hands of exceptional weirdo wonderfuls like Iain McIntyre, Andrew Nette and their fearless crew. As an archivist, I trust them with these treasures implicitly. And await their next title with bated breath!
 

 

 

 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Ariel Schudson
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02.05.2018
10:30 am
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Send in the Clones: Photographs of extreme Cure, Motörhead, Bjork, Sex Pistols, & Dolly Parton fans
02.05.2018
07:35 am
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Cure fans.
 
The first time I saw someone dressed-up to like one of their cultural idols it was a young lad, no more than fifteen, wearing white denim, white shirt, red braces, a bowler hat, with a natty black umbrella parading with a swagger and a menace outside the ABC Cinema, Lothian Road, in Edinburgh, where they were screening A Clockwork Orange. He was obviously a fan of Alex, or maybe one of his droogs. Within a few months of this, and on the same stretch of road, came a gaggle of female Bay City Rollers fans stomping in their six-inch platforms decked out in white half-mast bags with tartan trim and white short-sleeved shirts with similar plaid detail, holding scarves above their heads while singing “Shang-A-Lang.” It was almost religious. Young girls out evangelizing the heathens about their mighty gods.

Then came the long-haired trench-coated prog rockers, the punks, and button-downed mods and new wave rockers. If you stood long enough on any high street you would see the fashions come-and-go just like Rod Taylor did in The Time Machine when he watched the window display of a shop opposite his laboratory change year-by-year as he hurtled into the distant future. According to ye old fictional textbook Pop Psychology for Beginners, dressing-up like your pop idols is about expressing your individuality and a way for youngsters to find like-minded people to share their interests and experiences or a favorite band/singer/pop group/artist/dictator.

Between 2004 and 2011, photographer James Mollison documented many of the different pop music subcultures and their fans. He traveled across Europe and the U.S.A. with a mobile photographic studio which he parked outside various music venues and then invited an assortment of fans to come and have their picture taken. When he had enough, he put all these different portraits into one composite picture. He called the finished series of photographs The Disciples. These pictures capture fascinating moments of pop culture history and something of how our search for individuality inevitably leads to conformity. See more of James Molison’s work here.
 
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Fans of Bjork.
 
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Motörhead fans.
 
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Missy Elliot fans.
 
More fab pix of the usual fan suspects, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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02.05.2018
07:35 am
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Like Francis Bacon painted something Walt Disney puked-up: Gregory Jacobsen’s ugly beautiful art
01.31.2018
11:18 am
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‘Ms. Chlorine.’
 
Meet Gregory Jacobsen. He likes all those things you hate about yourself. Flab, bingo-wings, over-bite, acne, tombstone teeth, receding chins, unwanted hair, and explosive bodily fluids. He likes to put these things in his paintings. Lurid, grotesque, comic, cartoon-like pictures that make passing reference to work by artists like Francis Bacon, Picasso, Henry Darger, Bosch, and Arcimboldo. Add in some Ren and Stimpy, a splash of Joe Coleman, a twist of Walt Disney, serve over some crushed Charles Burns, with the merest hint of a Catholic upbringing then you can imbibe fully on the deliciously weird majesty of Jacobsen’s art.

Then there’s the content. Sex, murder, androgyny, and strange unnameable rituals all gleefully tied together by a wicked sense of fun.

Jacobsen was born in Middlesex, New Jersey, in 1976, a kinda industrial borough where “they manufactured nuclear bomb parts” and then “had to remove all this radioactive dirt from the site, which they buried in a junkyard two blocks behind [his] house and covered with tarp and tires.” In between exploding factories and industrial waste poisoning the fish and ducks in the rivers and ponds, Jacobsen was the fat kid, the average student with average prospects until he shifted some beef and was told go to art school because they “will take any old idiot” there. Off he traveled west to the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, where he graduated with a BFA in 1998.

At art school, Jacobsen mainly focussed on sound and performance as the painting department wasn’t too supportive in helping him develop his talent and ideas—though there were a couple of good tutors. He listened to the Fall, the Residents, the Contortions, and Captain Beefheart. He also dug “old, goofy, novelty songs from the 1950s and ‘60s, and old 78s.” This provided him with an inspirational soundtrack while he painted more and more strange, powerful and original work.

Since the turn of the century, Jacobsen’s been exhibiting his grotesque and vibrant paintings mainly thru the Zg Gallery, Chicago. His work has also been shown across country in New York and California and over the seas to Berlin and Paris. When not painting, Jacobsen makes videos and is lead singer with Lovely Little Girls an avant-garde, art-rock, prog rock, performance group who wear masks that look like the people in his paintings. See more of Gregory Jacobsen’s work here or have a swatch at his brilliant NSFW pictures below.
 
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‘Majorette.’
 
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‘Glamour Face.’
 
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‘Ritual and Ceremony—No Longer Sanitary.’
 
More of Jacobsen’s grotesque art, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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01.31.2018
11:18 am
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The explicitly gory and gruesome covers for Mexican comic book ‘Relatos de Presidio’ (NSFW)

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If you’re under eighteen, or squeamish, or easily offended then there’s nothing for you here, so kindly move along. As for everyone else…

Relatos de Presidio (Tales from Prison) is a lurid blood ‘n’ guts crime comic from Mexico. It is one of the many sensacionales magazines produced in the country which feature explicitly illustrated tales of murder, torture, crime, and horror. True Crime or even Tales from the Crypt it ain’t. It’s more like the kinda thing Quentin Tarantino or Roger Corman might just come up with if ever they put their considerable talents for mayhem towards making adult exploitation comics.

Unlike America, there’s decidedly no comics code in Mexico, which means Relatos de Presidio and all those other sensacionales can get away with showing the most disturbing, violent and eye-poppingly-grotesque images. Don’t take my word for it, just have a swatch at some of the tamer covers below.

These trashy, adult exploitation comics are hugely popular in Mexico. They sell at most newsstands and comic book stores. They’re generally pocket-sized, up to one hundred pages an issue, with four panels to a page. The stories range from “true” tales of drug deals gone wrong to far-out psychos taking unholy revenge on the unfortunate. The covers usually feature scantily-clad, voluptuous women who hover over the bloody action like indifferent goddesses. Sometimes these women are the perpetrators. Most times their presence is just for mere titillation.

According to Horrorpedia, sensacionales have “a unique place in Mexican culture” which came about after the American superhero comics nearly destroyed the homegrown comic book industry in the 1980s. Where once Mexican comics like Pepín, Fantomas, and Memín Penguín sold millions of copies, the arrival of Batman, Superman, Spiderman, and the Avengers led to ” the perception that comics were only for kids” and the indigenous comic industry almost disappeared. It was, therefore, only the adult exploitation mags or sensacionales which survived and thrived.

I guess this is one of the few times where you can absolutely judge a book by its cover!
 
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More lurid covers, after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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01.22.2018
11:49 am
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‘The Vampire Happening’: Probably the weirdest blood-sucking fest you’ll see all day

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During these cold dark winter nights, I’ve been catching up on some those still-to-be-read literary classics like Biggles Flies Undone, Where’s Dildo? and improving my vocabulary by watching reruns of Deadwood. In between such high-brow pursuits, my time has been thinly spread like Jell-o enjoying way too many bad European horror movies. My current favorite (and by favorite I mean: “Film so bad I have to share it with people I don’t know”) is The Vampire Happening or Gebissen wird nur nachts, to give its proper title in German which translates as Bitten at Night.

This (weak) comedy-horror from 1971 was directed by the legendary director/cameraman Freddie Francis, who helmed quite a few classic horror films like The Skull, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Tales from the Crypt, The Creeping Flesh, and Legend of the Werewolf. He also won an Oscar for his cinematography on Jack Cardiff’s Sons and Lovers and worked as a cinematographer with the likes of David Lynch (The Elephant Man, Dune) and Martin Scorsese (Cape Fear). Francis had the credentials but he didn’t always make the right choices especially if he had to make a buck. Like The Vampire Happening which Francis signed-up to direct after a deal to make a big-budget American movie fell through. It was perhaps an odd choice, as the movie was a kind of vanity project by producer Pier A. Caminnecci for his then-wife actress Pia Degermark to star in.

Degermark also had some good credentials. She was best known for her critically-acclaimed and award-winning performance in Elvira Madigan in 1967, but not much interesting work had followed, other than say, The Looking Glass War sourced from John Le Carre’s novel. In 1971, Francis was given the task of directing Degermark in a hybrid comedy-horror featuring considerable nudity, lewd innuendo, and vague allusions to classical literature—the scriptwriters freely “adapted” some plot lines from Théophile Gautier‘s short story “La Morte Amoureuse.” Yet, such lofty ambitions were quickly leveled by the quality of the script which reaches a height of wit with the following repartee:

“Human sex,” enquires Count Dracula (Ferdy Mayne), “what do you say about that?” “Well,” comes the reply from Betty Williams (Pia Degermark), “It’s a helluva lot better than blood-sucking…”

One of the reviews for The Vampire Happening described the film as something Francis produced while channeling Ken Russell—which is unfair on Russell—though it does capture some of the more wacky and surreal imagery contained in the film. The story concerns a young actress Betty Williams (Pia Degermark) who inherits an old family castle in Transylvania unaware the place is still home to her vampire ancestor Baroness Catali (also played by Degermark). It sounds like a good idea. But add in a horny monk (who makes a few some nods to Jenny Agutter eroticizing trees in Nic Roeg’s Walkabout), an incompetent beau, a confused faithful retainer, a kind of swinging sixties “happening” and some truly atrocious dubbing, then all intentions towards making something smart are left way behind.

That said, it’s still a diverting 100 minutes with a groovy soundtrack by Jerry van Rooyen. So, if you’re in the mood for eating a lot of popcorn then you can watch the whole movie (after a selection of lobby cards and the trailer to whet your appetite…).
 
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Watch ‘The Vampire Happening,’ after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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01.17.2018
11:53 am
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