Thursday, May 24, 2012

Who was Silvio?

Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, when New York City had several excellent Spanish-language bookstores, the numerous volumes of Losada's Biblioteca clásica y contemporánea were a mainstay of their shelves. The paper and typography may not have been the greatest but they were relatively inexpensive and had simply but attractively designed covers (which, unfortunately, were easily soiled). Most of not all of the cover illustrations in the series, and all of the ones shown here, were by the prolific, but surprisingly elusive, Silvio Baldessari. (The top image, also by Baldessari, is from Losada's Novelistas de nuestra época series.) I only own a few of the books at this point so these images are mostly pilfered from the web.

Oddly, there is little information on the web about Silvio Baldessari. The best source I have found so far is from the blog Los parrafistas:
Silvio Baldessari is probably the most prolific book illustrator in the history of Argentina. Working always in a Picasso-Pop-Expresionist style that is so readily recognizable (his real signature, more so than the miniscule one that almost always appears at the bottom of his work), he designed each and every one of the covers of Losada's "Biblioteca Clásica y Contemporánea" y "Novelistas de nuestra época," as well as illustrating countless covers for the publishing house Paidós, above all in the collection "Letras Argentinas," and, it is said, served as the art director and designer for various Latin American publishers. But here's the point: I said "it is said" because, believe it or not, I couldn't find ONE single bibliographical reference on this artist on the ENTIRE internet. How is this possible? Not only that, but all the illustrations that I could find of this artist were put up by internet sellers, that is to say, no one has ever taken the trouble to scan an image of the artist, but only of the book.

I would like to talk more about this illustrator, but, as I said, I couldn't find a single line about his life, except that he was born in 1916, that he managed, at least in my case, to compel me to buy the book, regardless of its quality, and that he designed (this is mostly a conjecture based on my own experience than a non-existent statistical confirmation) hundreds and hundreds of book covers...
Baldessari appears to have published at least one book of his own illustrations, entitled Sinblabla or Sinblablá:

No doubt there's more information out there, somewhere, on this productive and talented artist, whose work would have been so familiar to generations of readers throughout Latin America and beyond.

Thanks to Berliac of Los parrafistas for permission to include two images and a translation of portions of his original post.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Group Portrait on a Hillside

The first few times I looked at this Real Photo postcard, without benefit of magnification, I succumbed to an optical illusion so strong that I still struggle with it even after multiple viewings and close inspection. In the middle distance, running horizontally across some two-thirds of the image, I saw what was apparently a body of water, with a white line of sand at the base of the hills in the background, and two small white sailboats, one at the far left and the other just below the man's left hand... except that none of it is real. The shoreline is in fact the apex of what appears to be a single long roof, the "sails" are architectural features of that roof, and there is no "middle distance," as the building — whatever it is — blocks out what lies behind it. There may be a river on the valley floor, but if so we can't see it.

That illusion, and the fact that we are so high up relative to the long building that nearly all we can see of it is its roofline, is only one of the unusual elements of this photo; note also that the photographer appears to have shot from a very low angle, right down in the weeds, probably in order to get the hills in the distance in the same frame. There's an incredible amount of detail in the background, much of which emerges only when the image is blown up: houses, outbuildings, smoke rising from a chimney, railway trestles.

On the right side of the close-up below, just to the left of the sharply sloping filigreed roof of another building, is a dark vertical object that may be a pipe or some kind of cast-iron structure, and running across its base are two faint parallel lines that may be telegraph wires.

Even further to the right, and completely invisible to the naked eye without magnification (at least, invisible to my naked eye), is one more ghostly, chimneyed building, so faint it almost blends into the distant hills:

In the center of the frame we see three women and one man, probably the husband of the woman whose hand he barely touches. Someone's straw boater has been set down among the tall weeds at their feet. If you look back to the full image you can see that there's a well-worn path directly behind them, visible on the left side.

The card, which was printed on a variety of Velox photographic paper manufactured from 1903-04, bears no postmark, mailing address, or other clues to the identity of the subjects or the location; the topography should be identifiable but is unfamiliar to me. The hills in the background are mostly barren, as if they had been clear-cut recently, and the houses look like new construction. I'm guessing that we're looking at a boom town, perhaps in a mining area. (Manitou Springs, Colorado has been suggested.)

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Our Juggernaut seems to roll

Our Juggernaut seems to roll
by itself over people
but there are really men
who tend the wheels and engine

only a few hours a day
and jump off and go and play
at home or on the links
and eat well and drink drinks.

Many of them are certainly
much happier than I
and today one came with a poem
that he had made in his free time

(though I am still willing
to correct the writing of the young)
but I would not talk to him about his poem,
I would not talk about a poem to him.

--Paul Goodman, from North Percy (1968).

This little pamphlet, most of which was written in the aftermath of the death of the poet's son in a mountain-climbing accident, may be the most sorrowful book I know. It is out of print (like every volume of Goodman's poetry, as far as I can tell), and it is a not an easy book to read, not because of its style (which could hardly be more direct), but because of the bareness with which the author delineates his grief. I have chosen one of the few overtly political poems it contains in honor of the day, but the sadness that pervades its pages is mostly beyond all that.