Ions in the Ether

Episode Two Hundred Forty: Ions in the Ether.
In which we endless blue meanders.

1 comment:

  1. Ugh. This one is just embarrassing. A last-minute Hail Mary swapped in on a Monday night, thrown together in a couple of hours. On that Monday night, I had evaluated where I was with the strip that became the following week's strip ("Stygian Gloom"), and decided I had to hold it off for a week in order to could give it proper consideration. I'm glad I did - that one turned out great. But this one is a painful reminder to me that, through my own eyes at least, meticulous plodding always wins out over spontaneous improvisation.

    The inspiration, if it is not too awful to drag it in, is the print 'After Raphael' by Tom Phillips (1973). An excerpt of this image makes the cover of Brian Eno's Another Green World (1975), which is a piece of art that has met my consideration as much as any other. I’ve long thought the smooth, muted (and mute), abstract figures in that painting would translate convincingly onto a comic, but have shied away knowing that a satisfactory rendering would be complicated and time-consuming. And boy was I right.

    I think one of the the Phillips originals is in the Tate museum. The full print at the Tate as seen online is deeper and more vibrant than the Eno cover, whereas the detail (evidence of lines that intersect throughout the fields of color, for one) comes through much more clearly on the album’s reproduction. Of course, I'm looking at crappy images on the Web; I have no idea what either of the originals are like.

    That I find it on the Tate’s website makes me wonder whether I may have seen it in person without realizing what I was looking at. It's unlikely; I was a fan of the album years before visiting the UK and probably would have been floored to come across it live. But I also have a memory of wandering through the Tate, legs and feet on fire with exhaustion, rolling through room after room of prints and paintings and objects, and, well, just experiencing complete sensory overload. It is possible.

    My own confusion over the origin of the cover lasted years. (This was pre-Internet.) Without thinking it over too much, I believe for a time I thought it was pre-Renaissance, and I never gleaned what those figures were doing. It is only now I see just *how* contemporary it was to the album. My initial appreciation of the print as a small part of the whole (unbeknownst to me), a fragmented story with mysterious people performing mysterious actions, is appropriate to my experience of the album. Another Green World, more than any other work, made me realize the importance of letting a splinter be perfect, complete, as itself. That it is often better to explore the workings of the part, as opposed to how the parts make the whole. I still marvel about this when I listen to the record, and it will forever feel fresh to me. (And I will always cite it as my favorite album.)

    The title, of course, from 'St. Elmo's Fire' from that record, with it's astounding Robert Fripp solo on the 'Wimshurst Guitar', so named as he had been given the instruction to evoke the action of a Wimshurst machine.

    Sad, of course, that the comic itself does not meet the soaring image in that song. It feels unformed, and the geometric flow that makes the Phillips original so lovely is replaced with an awkward sketchiness. The left figure is from another Phillips piece, “Virgil In His Study, Canto II”, from the Dante’s Inferno set, 1982. A Madonna appearing in the corner, assuming the role of receptionist, a 60’s phone resides on his desk. The middle figures are from a behind-the-scenes photo of Tarkovsky directing on the set of Solaris (1972). The reveler, at the end, holding a phone to a Bethlehem star. These three scenes came together randomly, but they tell a tale of telephones of old and telephones of new, "Ions in the Ether". It doesn't mean anything, but it does have portent.

    Not sure why phones are such an ongoing concern in this strip, but the futility of communication is an omnipresent no matter where I find myself.



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