Odilon Redon, Flowers, 1909 (detail)

Aspects of Artists

A work of art, by definition, is irreducible to other discourses—psychoanalytic, historical, sociological—that may illuminate it. The same goes, of course, for the artist him/herself. Here, then, far from any reductionism, I offer my reflections on aspects of artists that move me.

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ROBERT SMITH, ROMANTIC SYMBOLIST: THE CURE AND SYMBOLIST ART

Gustave Moreau, The Victorious Sphinx, 1886

‘Underneath the Stars’, ‘A Thousand Hours’, ‘Last Day of Summer’, ‘Out of this World’, ‘Plainsong’: ravishing in its lushness, luminously moody or darkly evocative, many a Cure song has a Symbolist aesthetic, and in particular an affinity with that movement’s Romantic sensibility.

Odilon Redon, Flowers in a Green Vase, 1905

Odilon Redon, Captive Pegasus, 1889

Art, like religion, arose out of magic and ritual, and Symbolism (1880 – 1910) can be seen as a return to these roots—a rebellion, of sorts, against the realism consecrated by the rise of photography. If all art eschews descriptive, conceptual and ideological discourse in favour of the imaginative, if all art fights against alienation (if only, sometimes, by foregrounding it, by fighting poison with poison), Symbolism actively endeavours to restore to a disenchanted world wonder and awe, that dark feeling of our ‘throwness’ in the universe. Favouring psychological truth over discursive fact, the spiritual over the rational, it gives form to dreams and visions, rendering the ineffable palpable. Subjective experience, the primacy of emotion, the personal over the social, the artist over the engineer: Symbolism, by giving expression to the morbid and perverse, the esoteric and the erotic, provides the shadow that gives shape: against reason’s flattening light, it gives the soul relief. In a word, its mode is the mytho-poetic, and its means the axis mundi: as in all art, yes, but here the hero is no knight in shining armour, but a wanderer in bloody rags.

The Cure’s textured soundscapes and atmospheric elegies are Symbolist; Robert Smith’s synesthestic use of words and music to convey feelings in sound would do any Symbolist proud. When it comes to The Cure and Eros, however, we must distinguish between ‘Romantic’ and ‘romantic’: Pornography is the band’s most Romantic album, partaking of ‘the beauty of the Medusa’ and ‘the metamorphoses of Satan’, of ‘la belle dame sans merci’ and ‘the shadow of the divine Marquis’ (Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony). If Faith sustains Romance to the extent of Pornography, no other Cure album does, but we do find Romance again in songs like ‘From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea’, ‘The Same Deep Water as You’ and ‘Disintegration’.

 

As for small ‘r’ romantic, Robert Smith’s obsession with the theme of the couple gives it a prominent place in the Cure’s repertoire. Songs such as ‘A Night Like This’, ‘Treasure’, ‘Apart’ and ‘Bare’ offer beautiful variations on the vicissitudes of the couple.

Edvard Munch, Vampire, 1895

Gustave Moreau, A Dead Poet being Carried by a Centaur, 1890

An aspect of Robert Smith’s art, then, is that of Romantic Symbolist. With the Cure, he has produced a set of songs that offer a supreme demonstration that ‘music is a tonal analogue of emotive life’ (Suzanne Langer, Feeling and Form). If the same could be said of any great rock song—from ‘Gloria’ to ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, from ‘Bitch’ to ‘Debaser’—what distinguishes the Cure’s songs from these is that Robert Smith doesn’t only celebrate and purge emotion, he also drinks its poison. In this he is Symbolist, ‘consuming the poisons inside him and keeping only their quintessence’ (Rimbaud).

 

Symbolism, however, is but one dimension of Robert Smith’s aesthetic; in subsequent posts, I’ll talk about other dimensions of The Cure’s art.

THE CURE: THREE SONGS FROM ‘PORNOGRAPHY’

Odilon Redon, 1 (detail)

COLD

Odilon Redon, 2

Scarred, your back was turned
Curled like an embryo
Take another face
You will be kissed again

I was cold as I mouthed the words
And crawled across the mirror
I wait, await the next breath
Your name like ice into my heart

A shallow grave
A monument to the ruined age
Ice in my eyes
And eyes like ice don’t move

Screaming at the moon
Another pastime
Your name like ice
Into my heart

Everything as cold as life
Can no one save you?
Everything as cold as silence
And you never say a word

Your name like ice
Into my heart
Your name like ice
Into my heart

Odilon Redon, 3

Odilon Redon, 4

THE FIGUREHEAD

Sharp and open, leave me alone
I’m sleeping less every night
As the days become heavier and weighted
Waiting in the cold light
A noise, a scream tears my clothes as the figurines tighten
With spiders inside them
And dust on the lips of a vision of hell
I laughed in the mirror for the first time in a year

A hundred other words blind me with your purity
Like an old painted doll in the throes of dance
I think about tomorrow
Please let me sleep
As I slip down the window
Freshly-squashed fly
You mean nothing, you mean nothing

Odilon Redon, 5

Odilon Redon, 6

I can lose myself in Chinese art and American girls
All the time, lose me in the dark
Please do it right, run into the night
I will lose myself tomorrow
Crimson pain, my heart explodes
My memory in a fire
And someone will listen
At least for a short while

I can never say no to anyone but you

Too many secrets, too many lies
Writhing with hatred
Too many secrets
Please make it good tonight
But the same image haunts me
In sequence, despair of time
I will never be clean again
I touched her eyes
Pressed my stained face
I will never be clean again
Touched her eyes
Press my stained face
I will never be clean again…

Odilon Redon, 7

SIAMESE TWINS

I chose an eternity of this
Like falling angels
The world disappeared
Laughing into the fire
Is it always like this?
Flesh and blood and the first kiss
The first colours, the first kiss

We writhed under a red light
Voodoo smile, Siamese twins
Girl at the window looks at me for an hour
Then everything falls apart
Broken inside me, it falls apart
The walls and the ceiling move in time
Push a blade into my hands
Slowly up the stairs
And into the room
Is it always like this?

Odilon Redon, 8

Odilon Redon, 9

Dancing in my pocket
Worms eat my skin
She glows and grows
With arms outstretched
Her legs around me
In the morning I cried

Leave me to die
You won’t remember my voice
I walked away and grew old
You never talk, we never smile
I scream, you’re nothing
I don’t need you any more
You’re nothing
It fades and spins, fades and spins
Sing out loud, we all die
Laughing into the fire
Is it always like this?

All numbered Odilon Redon images are screenshots from the DVD by Michael Gaumnitz, Odilon Redon, Peintre de rêves, 2011 RMN – Grand Palais.

Odilon Redon, Jean Vialla (in French)

The Cure, Pornography, 1982

Odilon Redon, Painter of Dreams; DVD, 2011

By Richard Jonathan | © Mara Marietta Culture Blog, 2017 | All rights reserved

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