Wednesday, February 27, 2019


Seven years ago this month, THE GENERALIST ran a long piece on the archaeological discoveries in Amazonia that showed evidence of a considerable number of  ancient settlements across the region that were much larger and more advanced than previous theories suggested, surrounded by areas that were extensively cultivated. SEE PREVIOUS POST 

So was interested to read a bang up to date summary of the latest evidence and theories in 'Finding the Real Eldorado' by Michael Marshall [New Scientist/19th Jan 2019].

Long before the arrival of Europeans, millions of people were living in Amazonia, building vast earthworks and  cultivating multitudes of plants and fish.

When the Europeans did arrive in the 1500s there were several reports of cities, road networks and cultivation. The mysteries of these lost cities fuelled many a gripping yarn and several expeditions searched for the legendary El Dorado without success. As a result, for many years, Amazonia was regarded as a pristine wilderness, with lush vegetation but poor soils that would not be able to support substantial human occupation.

Marshall says that this view changed in the 1990s. Fresh evidence of larger settlements and a new understanding of terra preta - patches of dark earth first discovered in the 1870s - emerged. This fertile soil is now thought to have been enriched by charcoal, created by burning waste including bones and seeds. However it only dates from 2,000 years ago and Amazonia was inhabited much longer than that.

Recent DNA samples of current Amazonian tribes has confirmed that colonists from east Asia, who first arrived in the Americas 17,000 years ago, quickly reached Amazonia, whose population began to expand  for the next 3,500 years. By 9,000 years ago, we now know that the Amazonians had domesticated 83 species of plants, including many that would become the most important crops in the world. There are traces from 4,500 years ago of fruit tree planting and rice growing. Large fish farms have been found.

It is clear that they also built substantial structures, principally out of soil.They never used stone and didn't have metal. Archaeologist Michael Heckenberger has spent 25 years mapping a substantial group of ancient settlements, home to some 50,000 people, that were linked by a network of roads.

It now seems that the entire southern Amazon belt [1800 kms long], was occupied by earth-building cultures from 1250-1500 AD.Their cities were linked networks of smaller clustered settlements woven into the fabric of the forest. They farmed fish and trees not wheat, barley and cattle.

Their population peaked in 1000 AD and began to decline over the next 50 years for reasons thatare not known..The best estimate is that there were 8-10 million people living in Amazonia by 1492, the year Columbus "discovered" America. When Europeans arrived, the rate of decline of the Amazonian population accelerated.

Modern deforestation has also revealed huge earthworks, further evidence of the extent of civilisations thousands of years ago. 

In 2010, a Finnish anthropologist Martti Pärssinen reported on his discovery of more than 300 large-scale geometrical patterns - mainly consisting of mounds and moats - in the Brazilian state of Acre alone. This construction feat has been compared to the scale of the Egyptian pyramid building. Radiocarbon dating conducted on the construction show that the earliest ones were built some 2.000 years ago.

Denise Schaan, co-author of the study and anthropologist at the Federal University of Pará, in Belém, Brazil.“We are talking of enormous structures, with diameters ranging from 100 to 300 meters, connected by straight orthogonal roads. They are strategically located on plateaux tops above the river valleys. Their builders took advantage of the natural topography in order to construct spaces that were full of symbolic meaning.”

“The geoglyphs are an astonishing discovery...They are the vestiges of a sophisticated pre-Columbian monument-building society.” 
[Source: ZME Science]

See Also: Under The Jungle by David Grann  [New Yorker. 7th Jan 2010]



There is a similarity between this story and discoveries made in the Great Plains of America. Again my main source is another excellent piece 'The Missing city on the Plains' by Daniel Cossins (New Scientist/1 Dec 2018). Most people will think that the vast grasslands of the Midwest were peopled by tribes of Native Americans who led a nomadic existence in small groups.

This view was disproved by the discovery of Cahokia, America's first city, centred on a large grassy knoll directly across the Mississippi River from modern St. Louis, Missouri. A cluster of small villages of the Mississippian people in the 9th century expanded over the next 200 years into a city of 20,000 people. Cossins writes: 'A 30m high terraced structure hewn from the clay-heavy soil, overlooked a grand plaza, outside of which people lived in thatched huts scattered across the landscape.' It was abandoned by the mid-14th century.

According to Wikipedia, the site is now a historic park covering 2,200 acres (890 ha) /3.5 sq mls (9 sq km),  containing about 80 mounds. In its heyday,  the ancient city was much larger, covering 6 sq miles (16 sq km) and included about 120 man-made earthen mounds.
'Cahokia was the largest and most influential urban settlement of the Mississippian culture, which developed advanced societies across much of what is now the central and southeastern United States, beginning more than 1,000 years before European contact. Today, Cahokia Mounds is considered the largest and most complex archaeological site north of the great pre-Columbian cities in Mexico.'
 'Archaeologists estimate the city's population at between 6,000 and 40,000 at its peak, with more people living in outlying farming villages that supplied the main urban center.  If the highest population estimates are correct, Cahokia was larger than any subsequent city in the United States until the 1780s, when Philadelphia's population grew beyond 40,000. Moreover, according to the same population estimates, the population of 13th-century Cahokia was equal to or larger than the population of 13th-century London.'

The discovery of the second largest prehistoric settlement Etzanoa in modern-day Kansas can be traced back to the historic records of a 1601 Spanish expedition across what is now Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.Cossins reports: 'The Spanish recounted how they were led to a settlement of people they called the Rayados so that it would have taken two days to walk across it. They called it Etzanoa and reckoned it was home to 20,000 people.' 

Further testimonies of the expedition and an enigmatic map have come to light, piquing the interest of anthropologists Donald Blakeslee who went out into the field to follow-up previous speculations that Etzanoa lay at the confluence of the Arkansas and Walnut rivers in southern Kansas. By matching clues in the documents to the landscape, excavations have uncovered evidence of clusters of houses surrounded by gardens and some metal objects which may be Spanish. Further excavations to follow.
(Photo by William S. Soule/Wikimedia Commons)
According to an account in La Crosse International in August 2018: 'Centuries ago, people lived there in thatched, beehive-shaped houses that ran for miles along local riverbeds, the 75-year-old said. [Blakeslee] bases such claims on the unearthing in recent years of a huge trove of pottery, arrowheads, stone scrapers and other relics along a five-mile stretch along the banks of the Walnut and Arkansas rivers.'

Two videos on the Wichita Eagle website: Blakeslee refers to other discoveries: a settlement of 10,000 people in West Ohio and another in North Dakota.

Thursday, February 14, 2019


It's taken THE GENERALIST a week to get around to writing about the Mimeograph Symposium at the University of Westminster campus on London's Marylebone Road, in a giant industrial basement area, painted white, three floors down.

This picture was taken the afternoon before the event started. Just loaded and checked the Powerpoint presentation - on two screens. All looked great and I could feel some adrenaline flowing. I turned round and welcomed the absent audience. My friend Peter Messer commented on Facebook: 'He's not the Messiah, he's just a very naughty boy.' Brilliant! Enjoyed the whole experience.

'The stencil duplicator or mimeograph machine (often abbreviated to mimeo) is a low-cost duplicating machine that works by forcing ink through a stencil onto paper... Mimeographs...were a common technology in printing small quantities, as in office work, classroom materials, and church bulletins. Early fanzines were printed with this technology, because it was widespread and cheap. In the late 1960s, mimeographs began to be gradually displaced by photocopying.' [Wikipedia]
Mimeographed Programme
printed on-site


Alt Går Bra is a group of visual artists researching the intersections between art and politics through discursive events, exhibitions, and publications. Their title is Norwegian for Everything Goes Well.

International conference convened by Alt Gar Bra at the University of Westminster, 7-8th February 2019, 9am-6pm, Ambika P3, 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS

Thursday, 7th February
8:45 Welcome and arrivals. Tea & coffee
9:10 Opening by Alt Gar Bra and Senior Lecturer Jane Tankard

9:20 Alt Gar Bra Technology and Labor, A 21st Century Artistic Experiment With a 20th Century Tool

10:15 John May  The Generalist Archive's Mimeo Publications, History of the Underground Press Syndicate and UK Publications

11:20 Elizabeth Haven Hawley Duplicating for the Movement 

12:15 Jess Baines Community Activism, Papers and Printshops
14:00 Teal Triggs Zines and the Graphic Language of Duplication

[In reality,Teal Triggs gave her interesting talk on the great punk zines [Ripped & Torn/Sniffing Glue etc] in the 12:15 slot. Then we had lunch and I had  to leave.

14:55 Rob Hansen & Oscar Mac-Fall The Mimeograph and Science Fiction Fandom in the UK

[Got to talk with Rob who showed me some copies from his massive archive of historic SF mags. He is one of three major collectors in the UK of this prolific stream of small print publications. The graphic cover art is amazing in many cases]

15:50 Video Screening Human Mimeo: MidAmeriCon (1976)

Friday 8th February
9:20 Lawrence Upton Writers Forum or How to Use the Gestetner Duplicator to Try to Change the World

10:15 Bruce Wilkinson Hidden Culture, Forgotten History: Little Poetry Magazines, Diverse Countercultures and Their Lasting Impact

11:20 Douglas Field: A Paper Exhibition in Words, Pages, Spaces, Holes, Edges and Images: Jeff Nuttall, William Burroughs and My Own Mag

[Douglas is based at Manchester University and was recently involved on the revived and republished edition of Jeff Nutall's '60s classic 'Bomb Culture'. SEE PREVIOUS POST ]

12:15 Ueno Hisami Mimeograph: The Fertile Field Between Industry and Art in Modern Japan

14:00 Alessandro Ludovico The Mimeograph and Post-digital Print

15:00 David Mayor & Dr. Amy Tobin Beau Geste Press: A Community of Duplicators Doing, Discovering and Disseminating

15:55 Conference closing by Alt Gar Bra 16:15

Closing Performance by Cephalopedia  Kitchin Publishing - Chopping up the Past and Stapling it Together: A Homage to Martha Hellion and Takako Saito, and in memoriam Felipe Ehrenberg

Arts Council England, Norwegian Arts Council, OCA, Bergen City Council, Norwegian Visual Artists Association, Norwegian Embassy in London. In partnership with the University of Westminster. Printed on a Gestetner 366 and typed on an Olympia 7.6 De Luxe.

Big Thanks to Oscar and ALT GRA BAR. Thanks to Keane, Raphael, Jerome and Richard who sent me a Guardian article by Sam Leith on the boom in books on how to speak in public  - and a message on a postcard.


The Generalist enjoys the chancy nature of fishing for good DVDs in charity shops. This 3-DVD set is a treasure - the 1986 film 'Comrades' about the Tolpuddle Martyrs (3hrs 3mins) directed by Bill Douglas, in Blue Ray and DVD formats, and a great third disc of Extras, mainly interviews with the director. It was a great pleasure to watch the film for the first time with Shirley Collins, widely regarded as the queen of British folk music, who had never seen it either.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs site is a good place to get up to speed on the basic story of how, in 1834, a group of farm workers in west Dorset formed what is widely considered to be one of the first trade unions in Britain. At that time unions were legal and were growing fast but the six leaders of the Tolpuddle workers were arrested for taking an oath of secrecy. Sentenced to be transported to Australia for seven years, their case triggered a massive national protest, with thousands marching through London. Numerous petitions and meetings calling for their release helped to strengthened the union movement. There is annual festival celebrating their memory in Tolpuddle every year (19-21st July).

This little-seen film is a curio of great interest. The main part of the narrative is based in the Dorset landscape and is beautifully conceived and filmed on rich coloured film stock. The six largely unknown lead actors are superb, as are the women and children. Their suffering and emotional lives are realistically portrayed, the period is cleverly evoked, the costumes are great and the narrative skilfully unfolds, capturing your deep attention and touching your sensitivity.

The second shorter section, shot in Australia, is, by contrast, harder to like.The prisoners are split up and we follow their different fates. The landscapes are dramatic but the filming and the stories are rambling and less skilfully told and edited, with throwaway cameos by Vanessa Redgrave and James Fox.

A delightful aspect of the film reflects Bill Douglas passionate interest in the early years of optical instruments leading up to the silent cinema days. Thus characters appear throughout the film from that early world of moving images. Alex Norton who plays 11 roles in total, opens the film as a travelling magic lantern entertainer, and is later seen as a Diorama showman, a silhouettist and a mad photographer.

 As well as making films, Bill Douglas (b.1934) and his friend Peter Jewell assembled a remarkable collection of over 50,000 items which, after Bills death in 1991, was gifted to the University of Exeter to found The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum that now houses one of the largest collections in Britain of material relating to the history of the moving image.

Bill's other work for which he was best known was  an influential trilogy which harks back to his impoverished upbringing in the early 1940s in Scotland. According to IMDB : 'Cinema was his only escape - he paid for it with the money he made from returning empty jam jars - and this escape is reflected most closely at this time of his life as an eight-year-old living on the breadline with his half-brother and sick grandmother in a poor mining village...Later he works in a mine and in a tailor's shop nefore he is conscripted into the RAF, and goes to Egypt, where he is befriended by Robert, whose undemanding companionship releases Jamie from self-pity.'


On the Acknowledgments page at the back of this remarkable novel (thanks to Mick B for the tip-off), the author Hari Kunzru writes:

'Certain things are always erased or distorted in a novel and this is no exception. It seems worth saying that it is not a representation of the politics or personalities of the Angry Brigade, which carried out a series of bomb attacks on targets including the Police National Computer and the Employment Secretary's house in the early seventies. Readers who want information about the Angry Brigade are directed to the papers of the Stoke Newington Eight Defence Group, and writing by Gordon Carr, Jean Weir, John Barker and Stuart Christie.' 

I remember those days at the end of the 60s/early 70s when everything was happening every week and it was scary and exciting.

This novel captures the energy of that time and sweeps you along right from Page One as we join the assault on the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, guarded by riot police with truncheons on horseback.Hunzru's novel has several narratives interweaving with each other, back and forth, and several mysteries. I was hooked for three or four days. A great read.


Look back in anger

Martin Bright The Observer/Sun 3 Feb 2002
They were the British Baader Meinhof, '70s icons of the radical left. Thirty years ago, the Angry Brigade launched a string of bombing attacks against the heart of the British Establishment. No one was killed, but after a clampdown on the 'counter culture' and amid accusations of a Bomb Squad 'fix', four radicals were sentenced to 10 years in prison. Now, for the very first time, two of the Angries break their vow of silence.'


This is the Activism issue of VAROOM, the bi-annual magazine of theAssociation of Illustrators.This issue is still available here. One of the keynote essays 'Graphic Protest'  written by Margaret Cubbage, an independent curator, explains the role graphics have played in protest and campaigns for change. This is a valuable issue, beautifully designed.

Monday, January 07, 2019



This extraordinary science fiction trilogy by CIXIN LIU, China's leading sf writer, is a mind-enlarging experience. For night after night over a period of a month I was in the grip of this gargantuan tale, swept along by Cixin's powerful imaginings. It is clear why people have drawn comparisons to the work of H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapleton and Arthur C. Clarke. Chinese sci-fi dates from 1898 but it wasn't until the 1990s that an SF renaissance, led by Cixin, emerged. The three volumes get chunkier as the scale of the story expands exponentially through space and time.

In a great piece in the London Review of Books by Nick Richardson entitled 'Even what doesn’t happen is epic' he perfectly sums up this masterwork as follows:
'The trilogy concerns the catastrophic consequences of humanity’s attempt to make contact with extraterrestrials (it turns out that the reason we haven’t heard from aliens yet is that we’re the only species thick enough to reveal our own location in the universe). It is one of the most ambitious works of science fiction ever written. The story begins during the Cultural Revolution and ends 18,906,416 years into the future. There is a scene in ancient Byzantium, and a scene told from the perspective of an ant. The first book is set on Earth, though several of its scenes take place in virtual reality representations of Qin dynasty China and ancient Egypt; by the end of the third book, the stage has expanded to encompass an intercivilisational war that spans not only the three-dimensional universe but other dimensions too.'
 According to a story published by The Verge website:

'An adaptation of Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body trilogy was filmed in 2015, only to sit on a shelf because of post-production structure and budgeting problems. And while there have been persistent reports that Amazon wants to adapt the series (for a mind-boggling $1 billion), Chinese studio YooZoo says it’s the only rights holder for any potential TV or film production.' 

The full story 'The Three-Book Problem: Why Chinese Sci Fi still Struggles' by Yin Yijun
[Jul 09, 2018] can be found on the Sixth Tone web site

The title story of Cixin's short story collection 'The Wandering Earth' has been turned into China's first big budget-science film directed by Guo Fan.


STANISLAW LEM intrigued me initially as the author of Solaris. Tarkovsky's movie of the book came out if I remember correctly just before or after 2001. The hardback of the book was published by Faber & Faber in 1971 but I read it first in this 1981 King Penguin edition along with two other titles. In 1982 came another one volume book of three tales.

In 2018, in the bookshop in St Pancras station, I needed to buy a fresh novel. Out of the overwhelming selection I chose Lem's last great novel Fiasco. An expedition has been sent to a distant planet to make contact with a new civilisation. Things are not as they imagined. Brilliant.

According to Simon Ings, in a tribute piece entitled 'The Man With The Future Inside Him' in the 60th Anniversary issue of New Scientist (19th Nov 2016), Lem had a 'pessimistic attitude to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. It's not that alien intelligences aren't out there, Lem says, because they almost certainly are. But they won't be our sort of intelligences... extraterrestrial versions of reason and reasonableness may look very different to our own.'

His first novel 'Hospital of the Transfiguration' was followed by 17 others, among them Solaris, in his most prolific period from 1956 to 1968. By the time he died in 2006, he had sold close to 40 million books in more than 40 languages and was celebrated by the likes of Alvin Toffler, Carl Sagan and Daniel Dennett.

He had no time for most sf visions of the future. 'Meaningful prediction' he wrote, 'does not lie in serving up the present larded with startling improvements or revelations in lieu of the future'

Ings writes 'He wanted more: to grasp the human adventure in all its promise, tragedy and grandeur. He devised whole new chapters to the human story, not happy endings...'Twenty years before the term "virtual reality" appeared, Lem was already writing about its likely educational and cultural effects.'

He concludes: 'As far as I can tell, Lem got everything - everything - right'


ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY, Chilean filmmaker and Tarot expert, set out to create the greatest mind and soul blower of a movie based on Frank Herbert's blockbuster sf book Dune. 

Working with two French producers who were raising the £15m to realise Jodorowsky's visions, he set out to recruit a stellar group of spiritual warriors.

Jodorowsky had a reputation for crazy films - El Topo and The Holy Mountain - so the producers suggested that, to build confidence with the studios. Jodorowsky should storyboard the whole film, with all the camera angles.

The project took him 2 1/2 years. His first recruit was Jean Giraud known most widely as Moebius, the great French comic artist who could draw as fast as Jodorowsky could speak.

He tried to tie up with sfx maestro Douglas Trumbull but they fell out. But he did get Dan O'Bannon sfx producer  who masterminded 'Dark Star.', directed by John Carpenter and Chris Fosse, leading sf spaceship designer and painter.

He hired David Carradine, persuaded Pink Floyd to do some music, tried to enlist Dali and his current muse Amanda Lear, got Giger to produce a set of drawings, found other actors at Warhol's Factory, and even sweet-talked Orson Welles into playing a part.

In the end, they were £5 million short and the project was cancelled in 1975. Some ten copies of the giant storyboarded film book were produced and it's clear that it had a big influence on a generation of projects - including of course the David Lynch film version which heavily borrowed or stole from it. Star Wars may have borrowed the light sabre idea the documentary suggests.  Scenes of the Holy Grail ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark' are compared with drawings from the big book.

Damn O' Bannon of course went on to concieve Alien and worked with Giger to create a major sf  classic. Giger's paintings for Jodorowsky are compared with scenes from Prometheus.

Jodorowsky and Moebius repurposed many of the ideas from their storyboard of Dune and built it into the three-volume Incal comic classic.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019


THE GENERALIST has written at some length already on Jeff Nuttall and his seminal book 'Bomb Culture'.

Jeff was one of he first artists I ever met back in 1969 when he came to Worthing Art college and read from his novel 'Pig'. Back in the 1980s I interviewed him at the Chelsea Arts Club.

Links to Previous Posts:

Celebrating Jeff Nutall

Jeff Nuttall 2: Bomb Culture


Jeff Nutall: Bomb Culture and Beyond

Happily Strange Attractor Press have recently republished 'Bomb Culture' on its 50th anniversary, using the artwork that was used in the original hardback edition published by MacGibbon & Kee in 1968. [See below].

'Bomb Culture' was published in paperback in 1970 by Paladin, a highly rated imprint that published many seminal works including books by Timothy Leary, Richard Neville and John Michell amongst many others.

The new edition is really worth getting hold of. The original text was rather sloppily edited and had no proper references for the multitude of quotes Nutall used in this powerful polemical broadside of a book.

The two updaters/editors are Douglas Field and Jay Jeff Jones who've done a terrific job at correcting and sourcing everything and have provided a valuable introduction about the ins and outs of the book's publishing history. and a glossary full of useful biographical information on numerous underground figures who are not well documented these days.

 Iain Sinclair stylish and inciteful opening foreword entitled Knees Up Among The Ruins wets the palate for the main event. Maria Fusco's sharp short end piece entitled 'Almost But Not Quite Unreadable' finishes things on just the right note

Once again Strange Attractor have produced a high quality edition.

To create 'Bomb Culture' Nuttall mashed together material from his previously published short run mimeographed 'My Own Mag'. He shifts style and subject in fast-paced prose  which dramatically captures the spirit of those days. If you want to get a real feel of the edginess of those times this is one of the great acts of  reportage mixed in with rants that are punchy and poetic, brassy and bold, shouty and politically incorrect. Wake up. They're exploding nuclear bombs in the atmosphere. The anti-nuclear movement in Britain, fronted by CND, was culturally hugely important during those times; at present, that movement seem to have almost completely disappeared.

This book has energy and urgency to spare. We would do well to pay attention to its coverage and analysis of the Underground as it is was then, to provide valuable creative tips for the next wave of outsider, indie, alternative activists that are starting to make their voices heard.

A small Bomb Culture exhibition in the Flat Time House in South London, the former home of artist John Latham, [See:] ran for a short period at the end of last year. The Generalist Archive was pleased to be able to lend an original CND Aldermaston song book and a set of additional lyrics for display there. My interview with Jeff was also available for visitors to listen to.


THE GENERALIST has been taking much-needed R&R leave to get body and mind back in some sort of good shape, clearing the mind to a sheet of white paper, taking time to listen to Satie, allowing oneself space for deep consideration  and contemplation of one's past pathway in life leading to this point. Walking round the town with an open mind, arms spread to welcome fresh ideas. Looking for clues as to where life might lead next.

Drawn to cross the HIgh Street to scan the small second-hand book tables outside Bow Windows bookshop in Lewes. Many unexpected treasures have been discovered here over the years. A column of paperbacks, spine upwards. 'Gabriel's Law' - the title of one modest volume caught my eye and I was hooked straight off when I read the cover pitch: A Quest For The Ordering Principle At The Heart of All Things'. It was only £1 despite being in mint condition and published in 2018. Bingo.

I sat down to read it straight away that afternoon and evening. It's satisfying and thought provoking and just the very thing that I needed to read. The title has the ring of 'Foucault's Pendulum' and attracts me for the same reasons- something arcane about hidden secrets.

The book takes an unsual form. First an excellent intro by Max Brown, the book's editor who also runs Joseph Johnston Publisher, named after the legendary namesake and publisher of the past. Joseph Johnson (1738-1809) was responsible for promoting the work of several prominent writers whose works were considered to be too radical for conventional publication at the time, including Joseph Priestley, Erasmus Darwin, Mary Wollstonecraft and Thomas Paine.

The book's author Benedict Rattigan presents his hunt for the 'ordering principle' in the form of journal entries that document, in short bursts, his long and tangled journey over many years, attempting to try and to understand and uncover this elusive goal and write a book about it. It's an intriguing and well-written read.

The book's second section takes the form of a court hearing to look at the evidence for allowing humans the opportunity of sharing higher thoughts with the gods. Gabriel is the advocate for the motion, who  calls to the stand a a sequence of distinguished speakers from many cultures and different periods of past time, to back up his arguments, The alternative arguments are made by Azrael with a Judge mediating the proceedings.

My senses were further stimulated when I examined the physical book I had bought for £1, in more detail. For a start, I discovered that the title page was autographed in pen by both the author and editor.

Even more unexpected were the hand-written pencil inscriptions on the inside back cover. At the bottom it reads:  'This is the first copy of the first edition' At the top, in capitals, is written the word  OPHIUCUS  which I discovered has been called the "13th sign of the zodiac". However, this confuses sign with constellation says Wikipedia which reports that it is 'a large constellation straddling the celestial equator. Its name is from the Greek Ὀφιοῦχος Ophioukhos; "serpent-bearer", and it is commonly represented as a man grasping a snake'. 

Rightly or wrongly, I felt that the universe was sending me a message.

Monday, December 10, 2018


For five years (2000-2005) I edited a bi-annual nationally distributed magazine called Tree News, owned by the charity the Tree Council and funded by the late Felix Dennis. You can see all the covers here in a Previous Post. 

The opportunity to talk with some of the world's leading tree experts was eye-opening and to be able to run pictures by some of the great tree photographers of the world was a privilege and a pleasure.

Trees are not only vital for the survival of the planet they are also fascinating organisms to study on many levels. Throughout time they have been worshipped and admired, and  have inspired creativity in artists of all kinds. Their wood has been vital to human societies and has been shaped and formed into habitations, everyday objects and object d'art.

Ever since I finished work on the magazine I have been nursing the idea of doing a book on Trees and Art. I searched for many years to find an existing work with no success. I collected many images that might fit into such a project and there they have sat in my Archive for many years. Now in the last month as chance would have it, I've received review copies of two excellent and valuable volumes on this subject and am chasing a third.

Charles Watkins  is Professor of Rural Geography at the University of Nottingham and is the author/co-author of four other recent books on woods and forests. In 'Trees and Art [Reaktion Press.2018] he combines his scientific, cultural and historical knowledge of trees with relevant biographical detail on artists throughout the ages who have depicted them.

He makes it clear in the introduction that the vast majority of paintings use trees as a framing device or a generalised backdrop, often to indicate the season or location of the main subject in the picture. It was Ruskin who claimed that artists 'understand that they cannot catch nor imitate the foliage, form or lines of the tree.' Yet a small minority did just that, producing works with an accuracy and precision that enables individual species to be identified.

In tackling this complex subject Watkins combines chronological and thematic approaches in the book's ten chapters.

The first 'Depicting Trees Before 1800s' begins with rare prehistoric tree art, the best examples being from Zimbabwe, in which two species - the quiver tree and the the lala palm - can be clearly identified, often depicted with animals nearby. The Roman towns of Pompei and Herculaneum, smothered and preserved by the volcanic ash from the AD79 eruption of Vesuvius, have revealed many wall paintings in which more than 100 identifiable trees have been documented.

'Spruce' by Albrecht Durer c,1497
By the 15th century, the master artists Albrecht Durer and Leonardo were producing the first accurate tree paintings. Durer's single spruce tree portrait illustrates his belief that 'art is embedded in nature, and he who can extract it, has it'. Leonardo in his 'Treatise on Painting' discusses how to  depict different types of woodland, the effect of light on shiny and matt leaves and the movement of leaves in a storm. The pioneering landscape painter and etcher Albrecht Altdorfer viewed trees as being both sheltering and threatening by turn. Claude Lorraine, whose landscapes had a huge affect on British artists in he mid-18th century produced numerous pen, ink and chalk drawings of trees en plain air. The lesser known Alexander Cozens' 1771 publication 'The Shape, Skeleton and Foliage of 32 Species of Trees For the Use of Painting and Drawing' further enhanced the realistic portraiture of trees.

Chapter Two 'Drawing and Painting Trees after 1800'  sees this trend continuing as interest in landscape painting expands. Constable, an admirer of Gainsborough's trees, was obssessed with the subject, making detailed studies which he incoporated into his paintings. Remarkable drawings by Edward Lear, Henry Dawson and Ruskin (which ontradicts his earlier quote) lead into the remarkable paintng by Millais 'The Woodman's Daughter' produced in 1851 when he was just 19. Trees by Monet, Braque, Picasso and Paul Nash are also illustrated.

There we leave the chronology for a series of thematic chapters beginning with 'Trees and Ancient Stories' which principally centres on the depiction of a number of myths and stories from Ovid's 'Metamorphosis and similar tales in which people are transformed into trees. There are two  glorious watercolour drawings by William Blake out of the 102 he produced as illustrations to Dante's 'Inferno' which, in turn influenced Doré's engravings of the same work.  Mention is also made of the woods and trees in Shakespeare's plays.

'Dante and Virgil Penetrating the Forest' by William Blake  [1824-7]
In 'Lops and Pollards' Watkins reminds us of the enormous importance of trees as a source of fuel and fodder. Examples included range in time from Pieter Brueghel's the Younger 'Two Peasants Binding Faggots' painted c1620  to an early Van Gogh drawing 'Road in Etten' (1881) via Gainsborough, Caspar David Friedrich and many others, depicting the collection of firewood. the pollarding of willows and the harvesting of the leaves of the white mulberry to feed silkworms. This survey concludes with David Hockney's 2006 painting of an elder sprouting with fresh shoots after being cut by mechanical hedge cutters.

The chapter 'Sacred Trees' covers an even longer time period as trees have, since time immemorial, been worshipped as gods and held to be sacred by many different tribes and societies. Trees were also markers of boundaries and routes since prehistoric times and many of those were also shrines. Watkins writes: 'The pillars of churches and temples are closely associated practically and in the imagination with rows of trees'. Visitors to Gaudi's Sagrada Familia will agree that here is a place that, says Watkins, 'presents a forest to the worshippers'.Watkins shows trees that feature in both Botticelli and Michelangelos' frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. Here also is one of the few places in the book where art from outside of Europe is featured. There are thousands of sacred trees in Japan to this day and an example is shown in a magical painting by Hiroshige of the legendary pilgrimage of the foxes to the Shozoku Enoki Tree at Oji.

'Nationality, Revolution and War'  centres on the fact, says Watkins, that trees and woods, 'have always been of central importance in insurgency and warfare...and essential for invasion and conquest'. The frieze on the famous Trajan column in Rome features over 200 trees and 24 trees can be identified in the Bayeux Tapestry. Trees have symbolically celebrated successful battles and in the 18th century were seen as symbols of Liberty. The devastation of the forests of Britain, France and Germany during the two world wars of the 2Oth century is still little appreciated. The Nazis were keen on forests and had a forest police force. A remarkable John Heartfield photomontage shows Hitler watering an oak tree whose acorns have turned into gas masks, bombs and helmets.

The  chapter 'European Forest Interiors' documents how these have been seen as both inspiring and threatening by artists. It begins with the wonderful 'The Hunt in the Forest' by Paulo Ucello and ends with the remarkable almost photographic realism of the Russian painter Ivan Shishkin and  Gustav Klimt's beautiful paintings of birch forests.

'The Hunt In The Forest by Paulo Uccello [c.1470]
The largest part of this section is devoted to the ancient forest of Fontainbleau which was a key site for the development of French landscape painting from the 1820s to the 1870s through a group of painters known as the Barbizon school. Corot was an early painter of  this forest (one of his works features on the book's cover) but the leading tree enthusiast of the artistic group was Theodore Rousseau. Watkins writes: 'He saw trees as almost animate, as beneficial creatures which, although they did not think themselves, encouraged humans to think'.  When his idyll was threatened by the planting of commercial conifers (covering 1/4 of the forest) and by mass tourism, he and his painter friend Sensier sent a petition to Napleon III to try and protect it. This was remarkably effective and in 1861 the Emperor decreed that 1,097 hectares of the forest should be set aside as a Partie artistique - the first natural reserve in the world to receive legal national protection.

Another painter Jean Francois Millet became leader of the Friends of the Forest of Fontainbleau Society after Rousseau's death in 1867. Several of his paintings document different aspects of woodland management, the subject of the book's chapter on 'Timber and Trees'. Here also are works by Gainsborough, Edward Lear, Henri Rousseau, Paul Klee and Alfred Munnings, whose 'Felling A Tree in the Vosges' brings us back to the devastation of the forests during the first World War. Watkins says that. in 1916 alone, the Canadian Forestry Corps were thought to have extracted 70% of Allied timber from the forests of northern France.

'Western Art Abroad' is a wide-ranging chapter featuring an artistic arboretum of trees, mainly by little known artists. It was interesting to discover Marianne North (1830-1890) who was one of the most indefatigable painters of trees, landscapes and plants around the world. She gave her paintings to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew together with a large sum of money to build a gallery to house them.

The final chapter 'More Than Real Trees' features works of the imagination from the extraordinary drawings of Hieronymus Bosch to strange works by Dali and Max Ernst. It concludes with a handful of tree-inspired sculptures including work by Ai Wei Wei.

This extraordinary cross-disciplinary work is a remarkable piece of scholarship, full of fascinating knowledge and illustrated with an unexpected asssembly of visual material that confirms the richness of tree art across the ages.
'Cart Bearing a Large Tree Trunk' by Paul Sandby [1731-1809]


Pastoral with a Horse Chestnut
Tree (1830-31] by Samuel Palmer
A Study, In March by
 John William Inchbold. 1855

'Silent Witnesses: Trees in British Art, 1760-1870' by Christiana Payne [Sansom and Company 2017] was produced to coincide with the Woodland Trust's initiative 'Charter for Trees, Woods and People'  - signed up to by 70 tree organisations - and launched at Lincoln Castle on the 800th anniversary of the 1217 Charter of the Forest

At Binsey, Near Oxford by George Price Boyce. 1862

Fir Trees at Hampstead by John Constable.
The Cypresses at the Villa d'Este
by Samuel Palmer. 1836

In her introduction to this well-written and beautifully illustrated study of tree art in Britain (1760-1870), Christiana Payne sets out what she calls 'the artistic response to the beauty and usefulness of the tree in Britain' in the context of the boom of landscape painting during this period and the passionate interest in trees - aroused in not only artists and writers but also in naturalists, landscape gardeners and rich land owners.

This was  partly because trees in Britain were relatively scarce and there were few native species - an estimated 30 broadleaf  and five evergreen - owing to the fact that it was cut off from continental Europe during the Ice Ages.

There was also a shortage of timber within the country from the 16thC onwards and, by the 17thC, Britain was one of the least wooded countries in Europe with less than 5% of its area planted with trees.[Currently 13% of the total land area in the UK.] This situation inspired  John Eveleyn to write Sylva (first published in 1664) - one of the most influential texts on forestry ever published - to encourage tree planting.

However it did have more ancient woodland and signature ancient trees, relative to the percentage of total woodland, than any other European country and these were considered rare and special. Trees in hedges were more plentiful in the 18thC than before or since and most villages at that time would have a central tree next to a village green and an alehouse.

Demand for timber was increasing due to the needs of the navy. Payne reports that  building a 74-gun ship would require 2,000 well-grown oak trees with elms for the keel. An 1812 estimate was that, in order to maintain the Royal Navy at its then current levels, 100,000 acres of trees would be required.

The Royal forests covered 115,000 acres of which only 60-70,000 had the rich, well-drained soil necessary for growing oaks.  Between 1760 and 1835, private landlords planted and estimated 20 million trees and, by 1887, the amount of woodland in private hands covered 2.5 million acres.

The start of the industrial revolution in the late 18thC created a further demand for wood to make charcoal, pit props for the mines, many domestic items and to provide fuel for cooking and heating. There was massive market also for oak bark which was used to tan leather. In 1810, at its height, the industry required 500,000 tonnes of oak per year.

 As landscape design shifted towards the Picturesque, collections of exotic trees in arboretums became popular. The number of varities of shrubs and trees coming into Britain steadily increased as its Empire expanded,  from 89 new varieties in the 16thC to 699 in the first 30 years of the 19thC. The horse chestnut arrived sometime in the 17thC, the Lombardy Poplar in 1758. Orchard apple trees came from central Asia.

The notable landscape artists of several generations primarily painted oak, ash, elm and beech. Most were working mainly for patrons with landed estates. Many paintings - the most well-known being Gainsborough's 1746 painting of 'Mr and Mrs Andrews' in front of an ancient oak - featured family portraits.

There were a considerable number of drawing manuals catering for what Payne desribes as a 'massive explosion of interest in the drawing of trees'. Constable and Samuel Palmer were outstanding tree lovers but the lesser known artist Paul Sandby was, says Payne, one of the first to take interest in individual species and the growth pattern of trees. Drawings aside, an outpouring of water colours, etchings, engravings and lithographs of trees were produced. Mostly they were isolated tree portraits. Constable avoided any instruction manuals when producing his graphite sketches and viewed trees in a landscape paintings as being like actors in a history painting.

With the arrival of the Pre-Raphaelites in the period 1840-70, Payne tells us that tension between the general and the particular in the painting or drawing trees became a major issue. Certainly Holman Hunt and the two Millais brothers were into the minutae and did careful studies of timber and foliage.

Silent Witnesses provides the detailed evidence of the importance of trees in British landscape painting. Its a valuable work that adds new perspectives to previous studies of the period.

'Under the Greenwood: Picturing British Trees From Constable to Kurt Jackson' was the book of an exhibition staged at the St Barbe Museum, Lymington in 2013. This review of the show by Andrew Lambirth in The Spectator gives a flavour of the event. The book itself is out of print and rare copies are expensive.

Such was the impact of the show and the spirit of camaraderie engendered in a truly diverse group of artists that they took on a more permanent identity. The Arborealists is the name of this loose association of artists, including such luminaries as David Inshaw, who have come together for exhibitions in galleries across the south.

The Generalist has managed to locate a rare copy of  The Arborealists: The Art of the Tree book by Angela Summerfield. More details to come.

Both titles are published by Sansom & Company.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018


This post was triggered by listening to 'The Persistence of Analogue' on BBC Radio 4 in which technology writer Leigh Alexander explores the growing popularity of analogue culture in a digital world. Excellent. The blurb reads as follows:
'For 30-something technology writer Leigh, the digital world is just a part of her everyday life - there's no logging off. But despite all the boundless conveniences of the digital world, she says it can sometimes feel as if something has been lost in the transition to an intangible, instantaneous, always-on virtual society. 
'Perhaps that's why analogue formats remain timeless - in fact, they seem more popular now than ever, especially among people of her generation. From board games and vinyl records to books, calligraphy and even old-fashioned letter writing, people are increasingly seeking avenues to bring a little more face-to-face back into their lives. 
'Leigh hears from Colleen Cosmo Murphy, founder of listening events that bring participants into a room to enjoy a single album uninterrupted by phones. A 17-year-old student explains why he prefers reading news magazines in print.
'Leigh hears from a couple who fell in love over vinyl and Leigh's own husband, Quintin Smith, explains why board games are experiencing a huge boom. People just like being with other people, he says. And Guardian columnist John Harris argues that the persistence of analogue is nothing less than a cultural revolt against industrialisation, one that's been present ever since the late 18th century.'

Why Vinyl Records and Other 'Old' Technologies Die Hard

by Nick Bilton [New York Times 16th March 2016]


Posted on Wednesday July 22nd, 2015 by Melanie Langpap under Allgemein

Is analog the new organic and 24/7-connectivity a drug that became a part of our culture? Then ( OFFTIME ) can be compared to methadone, a substitute drug to overcome addiction?
Following the call of Berlin’s Tech Open Air, ( OFFTIME ) hosted a public satellite event as part of its ongoing series of meetups on how to live in a hyperconnected world. For that purpose, on 16th July, ( OFFTIME ) invited for a fireside chat with André Wilkens, author of “Analog is the new Organic”– a book that has recently seen a massive hype. 
You can listen to the interview. The illustration above is a visual diagram of it. 

For some years now I have been trotting out my thesis that there has been a noticeable shift back towards analog culture - a human reaction to the digital virtual world.

Back in September 1994, I produced a 15-page article for The Telegraph's  Saturday supplement entitled 'Communicpia: The Shape of Things to Come' - the first major piece in a mainstream paper sketching out the huge implications of the digital reveolution. It was also the longest piece the magazine had ever published. This was at a time when only a couple of MPs had e-mail and CD-ROms were going to be the next big thing! That didn't last long.

One of the people I interviewed for the piece was Professor Peter Cochrane, the head of BT's Core Research group. Although it didn't make it into the finished piece, what has stuck in my head is his idea that, in the future, digital technology would be an everyday thing and cease to be seen as this miraculous and exciting technological revolution and the broadband network will simply be accepted as another utility like the gas, electric and water systems. We have obviously reached the point where this is the case. In addition, people have become more and more aware of the downside of computers, the internet, 24/7 news, social media and virtual reality and are once more seeking to balance that by returning to analog culture.

Vinyl Records and Analog Culture in the Digital Age: Pressing Matters examines the resurgence of vinyl record technologies in the twenty-first century and their place in the history of analog sound and the recording industry. It seeks to answer the questions: why has this supposedly outmoded format made a comeback in a digital culture into which it might appear to be unwelcome? Why, in an era of disembodied pleasures afforded to us in this age of cloud computing would listeners seek out this remnant of the late nineteenth century and bring it seemingly back from the grave? Why do many listeners believe vinyl, with its obvious drawbacks, to be a superior format for conveying music to the relatively noiseless CD or digital file? This book looks at the ways in which music technologies are both inflected by and inflect human interactions, creating discourses, practices, disciplines, and communities

Vinyl was an obvious starting point. After justified concern about the massive reduction in the number of record shops in the country, which lead to the establishment of Record Store Day, the ones that survived began giving less and less space to CDs and more and more space to vinyl. Smart new record players at an affordable price became available which meant younger people who'd never owned a vinyl record were suddenly hooked by this new old medium which they found had a warmth and depth to it  They discovered that the very act of making time to sit down and really listen to a record - carefully constructed so that both sides of the LP have a satisying flow of songs that take you on an audio journey - whilst admiring the sleeve and digesting the sleeve notes was a very satisfying experience.

You'll see from the Previous Posts below a lot of stories challenging the popular trope of the mainstream press namely that paper was dead and in the future we will all be reading everything on
screens. Great article too on the fatal flaws on newspaper publishing on-line by the man who  concieved the idea in the first place.

Further thoughts came in 2012 from viewing the excellent documentary 'Side By Side' produced by Keanu Reeves which contrasts every aspect of film making and examines
the pros and cons of  digital vs analog. Digital is a nightmare for archivists.

Film is now back in fashion in movies and photography.




THE END OF PAPER ? [9 Sept 2008]