Every now and then I take the liberty of adding something to this blog that is more about my personal art than Spyralle – though of course they are closely linked. Once again I was approved as an exhibitor at the SL Birthday celebration this year. The theme of SL16B is the 1950s, and I had some fun with it.
Yeah, there are diners and rocket ships and two tone convertibles and poodle skirts and ponytails and all that stuff. What, thought I, can I do with a 1950s theme that is not only cool but totally obscure? And what is Spyralle about if not Being Different?
On my desk is a copy of an old book may parents had when I was a kid. It made a huge impression on me at the time, so I finally tracked down a copy online last year. The book is Emett’s Domain, published in 1953, a collection of cartoons from Punch by Rowland Emett, a British cartoonist and inventor who became famous in the 1950s. Emett was especially renowned for his fabulous, elaborate, whimsical kinetic sculptures, some of which appeared in the movie “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (1968).
My SL16B exhibit is “Emett Remembered: Salute to Rowland Emett”. The nonsensical machine, which I call “Her Majesty’s All Services Transport Machine,” is inspired by one of the illustrations from Emett’s Domain, with the caption “I should snap it up, gentlemen! There are two other Services interested . . . “ An inventor is showing off his invention to uniformed army officers on a cartoon airfield. It does everything, as you can see!
Since the “vehicle” in the drawing makes no sense from a physical world standpoint – which is the essence of it’s charm – translating some approximation of it into mesh was a considerable challenge with many compromises, some imposed by limited build time and the hope of keeping it reasonably low poly.
I was amazed and happy to find the 1952 cartoon posted in Punch’s archive – and absolutely surprised to see it in color. In my memory, Emett’s work is firmly in the monochrome world of old family snapshots and the curvaceous vintage black and white TV that lived in the basement and still worked, though it only picked up four snowy channels. And had no remote.
Revisiting Emett’s cartoons in 2018 from the perspective of an adult with some education in history, I was struck by a very different perspective on the 1950s: the tall shadow of World War II lingering for many years beyond the war, especially in England, where hardship, shortages and rationing continued well past 1950. It wasn’t all candy flake, neon and rock ‘n’ roll.
So I chose to make my version of Emett’s drawing in monochrome – like the illustration in the book. Like black and white TV. Like an old photograph.
But just because we see that era in monochrome doesn’t mean it really was. Even under the shadow there was a cheerful attitude of being in it together and making do – another theme in Emett’s cartoons. And the Birthday Celebration has only just started. Perhaps some colors will begin to emerge…