April 29, 2014

How to Jeepstart the present using music from the past.

Jeepster on Fly Records, 1971
Flashback to 1971. The colour’s hazy in my  mind but my memory tells me on one side it was spliced down the middle with one hemisphere an iridescent orange, and the other was salmon pink like the label and sleeve. But apparently it was purple. It was a totally beautiful. I was ready to kiss the plastic it seemed so bright. It was a 45 rpm, a small piece of black vinyl with the Fly logo at the top,ready to be played on the old-style record players with the automatic disc stacker handle and the stylus you clipped in manually, which soon got covered with fluff. A good blow on the needle improved the sound quality.  It cost me £1.10 pence, nearly all my weekly wage for doing the butcher’s round which I did on a clunky old, heavy-framed black bicycle with a basket in front, just like characters in the Beano  and Dandy. I had pounds of beef, brisket, offal, prime cuts, and sausage strings wrapped in grease proof paper, and learned to be wary of salivating dogs lurking behind garden gates. But that didn't matter one jot. When I got home, I could play my records. This one song by T. Rex, Jeepster, was the coolest thing on the planet, until of course  Bowie's Starman landed a few months later. It was the second single I ever bought. The first was  Nathan Jones by the Supremes, with its oddly melancholic stereo phase shifting moments,  but that's another story, leading down the road of Disco music, and that other life of twirling on the seventies dancefloor. Jeepster got me to vamp it up in the bedroom, and swish my head with imaginary corkscrew curls, doing a Bolanesque strum on my air guitar. 'You slide so good,' I pouted to myself in the mirror.

There was only one shop in the entire town that would stock T. Rex, and would know who Marc Bolan was - Malcolm’s. Malcolm, himself, the man who owned the shop, was ace. He knew we would only be satisfied with the very latest records. Amazingly, this shop is still there, 40 years later. Woolworths, the big department store, would be no use since they only stocked middle-of- the-road music, only the popular end of the market. My mother bought her Jim Reeves and Nat King Cole LPs there. Enough said. I would put Jeepster on when no one else was in the house. I’d close my eyes and dream of Marc Bolan’s dark pixie corkscrew curls, pouting lips, satin jackets and spangled face, a flick of the wrist that ejaculated a power chord enough to knock your head off. I had  pictures of him from the pop song magazines, in Jackie which I stole from my sister. She liked David Cassidy, and consequently knew nothing about what was really cool. My younger brother liked Slade which was even worse. 

Unlike John Peel, I didn’t care if Bolan had abandoned acoustic; electric was just fine. But it was the animal squeal that was the dollop of ecstatic icing. ‘Girl I’m just a vampire for your love, n I’m gonna SUCK ya!!!!’ I was not a girl, but I knew that didn’t matter either, as in Bolan's T. Rex world,  he was really singing that to me. It turned me into nothing but a 'raw ramp'. Give me a microphone and I’d swallow it. I was that hub-cabbed diamond star halo he talked about in Get it On.   Bolan's  screech in the coda was enough to shock my mum. That made it rank highly for me. The big pleasure was to tell my friends at school. Have you heard Jeepster? Are you a Jeepster? Can you talk the Jeepster talk? Can you be a schoolboy Jeepster? I don’t think I ever realized until this day that I had no idea what a Jeepster was, but I was one when I was thirteen. No one in my home town had ever owned such a funky vehicle.

So what has all this to do with my life now? A whole lot. By invoking this memory, by reliving it, unpacking it in its sensory detail, sound, colour, movement, even taste, even down to the exact sequence, I can feel that energy  all over again, and funnel it to anything today that I'm procrastinating about. This gives it that badly needed kickstart. Plus, I can just feel the love, and gratitude to Bolan for making it possible. Feeling love and gratitude again in this day and age is almost a miraculous achievement. The odds are stacked against us, with a whole list of modern and technological frustrations bleeding away this energy and sapping our life force. Fusing love, gratitude, excitement and enthusiasm for an aural peak experience from a time before the internet, before downloads and streaming, is therefore a triumph. It is a magnificent tool to play with and one that we can call on to give us strength when we most need it.

Your mind is a vast storehouse of items, which can be drawn on like a long forgotten bank account. All it takes is a bit of time to reflect back. This can help access the riches that already exist just lying about in the attics and basements of our experience. I usually say to clients in hypnotherapy sessions, 'just scan through the
Jeepster Cover
Rolodex of memories' to find a moment when you felt excited, or in love, or  successful, or calm and at peace.It is these feelings we need to loop back to the present wherever they are deficient. This phrase is very effective because the image of a Rolodex means we can flick through a multiple store,  our much undervalued inner archives, just as computers do. This way we find we have much more than we thought, and the number of memories is staggering. Such visual flourishes embedded in metaphors are shorthand for complex psychological processes of sifting, sorting, collating and assigning meaning, whether negative or positive. All that can be turned around by a few actions. It is well known as the NLP technique of 'firing an anchor.' All that means is using a gesture to re-trigger a memory in a certain direction by repeatedly connecting the senses to a strong memory.

I can relive a piece of enthusiasm that only first timers know, first record, first taste of certain food, smell of flowers, first travel abroad, first exotic beach, first kiss, first love. There's a strength to the experience that does not diminish with time. In Private Lives by Noel Coward, there's a line that expresses it so well: 'Strange how potent cheap music is'. Potent indeed- it's the right word. But not necessarily cheap since random and apparently valueless memories can be transformed into wealth. So build your store of riches!

It is part of your heritage to have memories of all your first times encoded into your subconscious which misses nothing, records everything. And its potency is often overlooked in our search to solve our current problems. So tap into your memories and have fun with the flashbacks. 

Turn them into flash forwards and you can jumpstart the electric current needed to fuel some new venture, to restore faith, or energy and get on with boogieing with Bolan- or your favourite golden oldie- if that's what it takes to move your forward.  

© Kieron Devlin, 2014
all rights reserved



April 26, 2014

COSMOS and PSYCHE: Intimations of a New World View ( 2006) Richard Tarnas, Plume edition.

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During key moments of my life, I have often felt the need to acknowledge something momentous and awe-inspiring in astrology, sending messages to us from unseen forces.We just had to decode it, if only we could read the signs. It is hard not to notice that this month, April 2014, we are at a pivotal moment, poised between two eclipses and locked in a Cardinal Grand Cross that people might be feeling the internal tug-of-war, urging dramatic change in our lives.  

Astrology is enigmatic, yet everyday; obvious, yet maddeningly elusive: untouchable, yet at the same time prostituted everywhere as a common superstition. It is not easy to understand in depth, yet is incredibly easy to simplify into a stock set of character types, and ridicule the true riches it has to offer. The debate over the legitimacy of astrology has raged for centuries; it has been labelled 'quackery' by the  so called 'real' custodians of knowledge;  and it has been vilified by the Church as a form of black magic, yet also pursued in secret by more than a few world leaders (Reagan famously consulted an astrologer) seeking to bargain with fate. 

Umberto Stanucci (image)
That a natal birth chart could offer a snapshot of the interplay of archetypes in our character - read ‘personality DNA’ - has long been a source of fascination. How could that be so? Yet, ask yourself how many of your best friends happen to have the same sign, or element? How many of the  events in your life tied in with sextiles, oppositions, squares and transits of the heavyweight planets? Why should any of this even be true once, let alone repeatedly and with a staggering exactitude if there’s no substance to it? The trouble is it takes a lifetime to track such patterns. Yet tracking them really can provide some eye opening insights into the uniqueness of the patterning of a single life. After reading Tarnas' Cosmos and Psyche (2006) I felt prompted to put a few words together on this puzzle written in the stars.

How to begin about this cornucopia of ideas? I'm inclined to agree with a reviewer, Mary Hynes, who said "This is the closest my head has been to exploding while reading a book". It blows the mind open, gently yet relentlessly.  Tarnas’s style is methodical and assured and his range is staggering.By reading it, vast chasms appear to expertly illustrated with new relevance and you cannot but feel more expanded in scale and panoramic breadth of vision. It transports the reader to an elevated, but intricately woven insider’s viewpoint that adroitly illuminates all that we (thought) we knew about  history and culture and then turns all that on its head.  If the Passion of the Western Mind (1991) was Tarnas’ Ulysees then Cosmos and Psyche is most definitely his Finnegan’s Wake; the first, charted the conscious ideas that have shaped the Western world view; the second, is attempted map, no less, of the unconscious mind of the entire universe - at least thus far.

You might think that this book is difficult to read, but just like the multiple and repeated cycles that appear like motifs in a symphony, the writing is expertly controlled. It flows well for 544 pages of dense information, allowing for much previewing, subtle iteration, layering of themes and accumulation of impact, building up to Wagnerian crescendos worthy of 

such a Titanic subject. The wealth of cultural, scientific, historical and literary knowledge in any one person is in itself astonishing- putting aside that Tarnas is a Harvard Professor of Psychology and Philosophy - but in addition to this there is the accumulation of 30 years of careful study of astrology. This is no mere sun-sign coffee table trivia, but the deepest, most profoundly psychological and penetrating set of insights into how planets align with historic processes, leaving their unmistakable stamp upon events. It is rare that such a book comes along and dares to describe the ‘whole’ picture and at the same time revolutionise our previously limited ideas of history and our intimate place within its inexorable, archetypal evolution. 

It starts by saying we have not been served well by the loss of meaning to the modern era.  Tarnas points to a schism in our understanding of the universe, especially in the modern era. Meaning has become divorced from the world we live in. It often seems random, soulless, impersonal, where we are just cogs in arbitrary mechanical wheels. Shamans however, still understand that we are intimately connected to the ‘anima mundi’ or world soul, and astrology may just provide that vital missing link. Yet, until now it did not seem possible to rejoin ancient hermetic philosophies with a stark, random, god less, postmodernist universe which offers no shape or pattern to our lives. 

Tarnas scrupulously delineates set of correlations and alignments that match
up with not just significant turning points in the lives of great leaders, writers, artists and scientists, but also with eras of  both turmoil and distinctive progress. This process is not bat-hits-ball Newtonian mechanics, with a simplistic, deterministic, linear causal relationship of material, external forces upon events upon the Earth. The key players are the more recently discovered and less visible outer planets: Saturn, Uranus - which Tarnas defines more correctly as Prometheus- Neptune, and Pluto, which is defined by Tarnas more accurately as Dionysus. Rob Brezsny, who was astrologer for the Village Voice, has cited Tarnas’ book as “the definitive  astrology book of the 21st century -  probably the 20th too.” Daniel Pinchbeck  says that Tarnas has "staked his success and academic reputation on this radical thesis," for example on the idea that from 2006 to 2020 we are experiencing a further period of revolutionary/innovative and radical energy, just as in the 1960s, when Uranus (Prometheus) and Pluto (Dionysus) were in alignment, which - surprise, surprise- also happened to be in alignment during 1797-1789- the French revolution. Even Lennon noted that Love and Peace were not just restricted to the 1960s. 

Tarnas is careful to emphasise that it works more subtlely as archetypal and dynamic energies that unfold and express themselves in diverse ways, depending on the circumstances. The same planetary influence  can manifest quite differently, multiplying the possibilities and permutations. C.G. Jung talked of the need to discern ‘symbolic patterning’ in events, which is a skill that requires development for most of us. All 'synchronicity' suggests is that two things occurring together have a meaning, and are not just happenstance. Knowledge of the positions of planets in our natal charts, and of the transits and progressions,the alliance with our own inner archetypes can allow us to have a more creative approach to cyclical shifts and changes occurring now and over the next decade. You can obtain your chart from Cafe Astrology. It is work taking the time to study. 

Tarnas’s grand breathtaking sweep of history/science/events is interlinked with the movements of planets. It underscores the old esoteric proverb ‘as above, so below’ of the Hermetic Philosophers. We ourselves are living out these archetypal patterns. The planets are not stuck out in space somewhere, but are alive in our own psyches as living dramas. He recognised that the extraordinary changes during the 1960s aligned closely with the only conjunction of Uranus (Prometheus) and Pluto (Dionysus) of the 20th century. The precision of these alignments can be mapped across centuries to evidence common traits - e.g for the Pluto Uranus transits, revolution and  radical, cathartic transformation which are associated with those planets. This leads to the sense that a design is at work, awakening new strands in human behaviour, and how these developments work themselves out in history, aligns rather too neatly with the aspects and transits for other explanations to carry weight equal Tarnas' proposition. Our current social and cultural transformations in the second decade of the 21st century are an echo and final fruition of what erupted in the 1960s, and should give us clues into what may continue to develop. This suggests that the predictive power of astrology comes from understanding larger cycles, rather than merely 'seeing' the future. The impulse for radical change is still certainly on the cards, as we have witnessed in the past few years, in the growth of feminism, the overthrow of corrupt governments, the redress of social justice, progress for gay rights, eco-activism and technological advancements that exhibit increased global consciousness.

In short there is a grandeur that inevitably emerges from this new 'world view,' this illuminated understanding that astrology and history are thoroughly enmeshed. We have shifted from the old heliocentric model too, and the spiral dynamic view of the universe is gaining force. The universe can no longer be 'flat' or even 'round' but a vortex, and one of many in a multi-verse. Tarnas' does not touch on that, but his approach is delightfully cross-disciplinary in that it has managed to join quite a few dots across previously divided fields of study, from depth psychology (which was itself considered pseudo science only a hundred years ago) to astrology, from science to art, to make the previously fragmented picture we had of the world ‘whole’ again. 

© Kieron Devlin, 2014
all rights reserved




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April 19, 2014

Street Art in Brick Lane

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Perhaps the fewer words the better about this topic of street art as it speaks for itself and does not require a degree in Art to understand. Street art by definition is for everyone who can see it, not just a few profiteers and collectors that build up value in terms of rarity and exclusivity. It encourages collective viewing.  It has mass appeal because it is so direct. It is not called 'street' art for nothing. That's where people find it, on side streets, broken brick walls, high above doors, or perched on lintels or even as sculpture hidden on lamp posts or as subverted street signs. It is not just stencil and anarchic statement either, as Bansky, Robbo and Blek le Rat have made popular. Nor is it just symbols as signatures of the artist,  but can have a whole range  of styles, from subtle portraiture to more screen-print style Pop art devices using simple blocks of colour, and even pointillist technique of bleeding colour dots.

Bansky's latest work in Bristol
Street art is differentiated from graffiti because it is more than just someone spray painting their name in fat, squidgy lettering as fast as they can, then running away because it is illegal. It requires planning, intelligence, skill and can be surprisingly innovative and thought provoking. It is graffiti that has earned its 'bad boy' reputation. It is not all by guys either. As Bansky says in Wall and Piece "People think that graffiti is ugly, irresponsible and childish....But that's only if it is done properly." It takes it out of the 'trophy cabinet' and delivers it back to the people. In this way, its controversial side is sealed. The debate on whether it is vandalism or the most genuine 'public' art may rage on for a while yet as his new work has proved. Paradoxically, it may even end up being shown in a real gallery since it was removed from the wall it first appeared on. What you think about it, depends  entirely on your point of view, as some people now are taking it apart brick by brick  claiming to preserve it (but later to sell it). Others object to its surreptitious tactics.  

Street art is a very contemporary form of art, and part of a huge movement across the world to challenge what is public property. This has taken it to a new level. A new gallery My Art Invest has just opened in Shoreditch where people can buy and sell shares in famous street art works, inspiring young investors, using a system of co-ownership, creating a kind of alternative art market, but it still remains contradictory and challenging to conventional perceptions of what constitutes valuable art and how that should be displayed.

Just let the variety of styles fill your eyes in these images here, and marvel at its ingenuity. Even the guerilla tactics can be admired for keeping the public on their toes. The artists themselves are too numerous to mention. But I have a few personal favourites. Most of them can be found on and around the walls and streets of Brick Lane. This goes way beyond just Banksy stencils with their anarchistic statements. Bansky is only the most famous name. He has paved the way for others like ROA, famous for huge animals, Louis Masai, Milo Tchais, Bom.K and Liliwen, Otto Schade,  and Ben Slow to also gain acclaim.

Who, for example, could have imagined a huge suspended bow and arrow positioned across from one building to the back of another where you can see the shower of arrows landing into the brick wall. This expertly utilises the public space near the Truman Brewery in a way no art gallery could ever emulate, making the entire street part of the context of the art, and making the viewing experience less exclusive, more inclusive and much more immediate.There are frequent sightings of new sculptures, little moulded pieces on crumbling brick walls, or tiny artworks pinned to the walls for people to take as they please. Also key symbols such as  the credit crunch monster, the pixellated alien face, and other more elaborate paintings, one is even scratched on glass rather than drawn, having a refined etching quality to it. 

The variety is remarkable. Some styles are more sophisticated, like the girl's face and hooded face on Whitby Street by Jimmy C. He uses an 'aerosol pointillist' technique, using dots of colour, and requiring great skill in the placement of each dot, creating overall harmony. Yet it retains the drips, which are the signature of a 'street' artist. Many other works still retaining the signature dripping of paint style to prove it has to be executed at speed like a hit and run car crash. Another Italian artist uses a style similar to Jean-Michel Basquiat's, and goes by the number 108 rather than a name, and Blu also from
Start around Fashion Street and keep looking
Italy is already a favourite, as he makes videos of how his paintings progress across walls and buildings. The flow of invention is evident. 108's Nero's works however are recognisably distinct from Basquiat's. That is what adds to the excitement. 

All of this worth viewing when you are tired of the two Tates. You just have to walk around Brick Lane near Fashion Street to find them. It is a gallery hidden in plain sight that belongs to the whole community of, not just the people who live around there, but everyone who walks through, making the entire area between Aldgate East and Shoreditch stations a kind of free public exhibition space. Each day it changes, and you might be the one to find a brand new artwork.

© Kieron Devlin, 2014
all rights reserved 




April 10, 2014

Psychedelic Posters: How they Exploded our Minds

Sixties Psychedelic Posters: How they exploded our minds

Now that we can acknowledge the contribution of the sixties at a safe distance from its turmoil, it is remarkable to see how its influence continues to spread. Posters played a key role  in this dissemination of libertarian ideas. Recently, there was an exhibition of the impact of Pop Art at the Fashion and Textile Museum. Tucked away upstairs was a row of psychedelic posters of the Beatles and Donovan and I realised how much the visual language of mind-bending substances has seeped into the general culture since the heyday of pill popping on fields of festival mud. 

Here are some random thoughts embedded in a short video to underscore how the sixties really did alter the way we see things. If these posters seems normal now it is because we have absorbed the visual tricks. The photos in the video are my own and contain reflective glass, which I retained as interesting and self mirroring in and of themselves, as the 'trompe l'oeil' effect puts the mind in not one but two minds. 

Bob Dylan Poster on Copper Plate
The root of “psychedelic” is two fold: 'psyche' meaning 'mind or soul', and 'delos' meaning 'manifesting.  So this is a 'mind manifesting' kind of experience, as triggered frequently by acid or mushroom trips, but which can also be accessed less directly through yoga and meditation techniques. It is both visceral and visual, stimulating the optic nerve and even triggering the activation of the pineal gland, the third eye. Anyone who closes their eyes, and sees visions will know this. But, it is more than just a lava-lamp style projection of gloopy shapes. Colours are rarely muddy or dull, but eye-poppingly iridescent, starkly contrastive, and sparking with the laser-light Shiva dance of energy molecules: Once this is experienced first hand, it is rarely forgotten. Even if you have not 'seen' it, you may receive a whiff of visual otherness from looking at the explosion of posters from the sixties.

The psychedelic poster distinguished itself from other posters by its dazzling visual effects. One aspect of these posters that stands out is that apparently solid boundaries became blurred suggesting the world we are accustomed to is not stable, but a portal to other dimensions that remain hidden to our everyday perception. 

Some of the best posters even used a copper plate for their effect like the one of 'Bob Dylan'. Its swirls have a metallic tint, echoing the use of iridescent colours elsewhere

George Harrison and the Third Eye
 An experimental development in the sixties was in the light show to accompany rock concerts. Joshua Light Show performed alongside Jefferson Airplane, Tim Buckley, and Spirit at the Fillmore East between 1968-71. These light shows were projected over the performers using colour wheels, aluminium foils, overlayed with original film footage forming a constantly changing montage of the real and unreal. It is difficult to encapsulate the 3D into the 2D print format, yet that is what the simple screen print sixties poster attempted. Screen printing offered the potential suggesting a bleed effect apparently melting the solid world, proving Einstein's E= MC squared theory that matter is vibrating energy. The other aspect is the fractal style, where each part, geometrically precise is repeated endlessly to form a larger whole.  

Blake's famous lines are very evocative at this point: 

"To see a world 
in a grain of sand 
and heaven in a wild flower. 
To hold infinity 
in the palm of your hand 
and eternity in an hour."

Wes Wilson  Poster
The person who had a great impact was Wes Wilson who was willing to experiment with distortions of the usually geometrically strict style of typographic design so you got a lot of squidgy-looking letter shapes, reminiscent of Art Nouveau, but taking it further to a full on optical illusion where the letters have an elasticity all of their own. 

As I looked longer, the images can become hypnotic, as they typify Optical illusions, which for a hypnotherapist is always intriguing as it automatically propels clients into an interior space. But this impact works on the viewer as an aesthetic experience too. Just how long does it take when gazing at an image to become lost in a trance? A few seconds? Each face locates you at the doorway to another world, yet it also reflects the self through the windows of the eyes. 

Stare at the eyes long enough and you're gone into that space.

The focus on faces is also typical of Pop Art, which was exerting massive influence with the screen print work of Andy Warhol. Such images of pop stars such as John Lennon, George Harrison and Jimi Hendrix are drawn from photographic images. These lend themselves easily to becoming iconic, as areas of the face do not have the subtlety and shading of realism, but need to reduce shapes to bold, simple forms, suggesting the subjects are god-like, and transcend the real.
Ken Wilson: Are You Experienced?
Psychedelic posters have added a real zest to design, pushing the boundaries outwards. According to Johnson, author of Are You Experienced? “The psychedelic movement helped people move beyond the act of viewing art into a deeper experience of it......Art is no longer something just to be admired. It’s something to consume and to feel.” (Wild Things).

Today there is fractal generating software which mimics the direct experience of psychotropic vision, allowing for multiplication of forms in computerised video art. This pushes way beyond the simple standalone poster. Images do not stand still but continually morph. Hence, video now appears to predominate with Rihanna  and Azealea Banks making use of such digital video art and psychotropic effects for their music videos under the guise of 'seapunk' - a style immersed in psychedelic visual - they are just one flourishing branch of the sixties explosion alive and proliferating happily.

It would be nice to see a fuller more substantial exhibition of these posters at some stage, recognising the significance of the Sixties-style poster. The link to acid trips may have been exaggerated but something exploded a window open in the minds of poster designers, which they may or may not have needed to create these images. Let's hope they do not sink into oblivion but are celebrated for also opening avenues in the minds of the public that continue to keep opening.


© Kieron Devlin, 2014
all rights reserved.