Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Conroy Maddox, the last British surrealist

Conroy Maddox, the last-surviving British surrealist painter from the original pre-war movement, died on January 14th 2005. He had just turned 92 years old. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on Friday 21st and George Melly, a long-time friend, delivered the eulogy.

From about 1995, he had paid regular visits to the Talking Stick (later Secret Chiefs) talks forum in London, always accompanied by his improbably young companion of 25 years, Des Mogg. In the early days, Des was doing a PhD in Roman Mosaics and it was her interest in mythology and the Roman Gods which first brought Conroy onto the London pagan scene. In the last years of both their lives, Conroy and the late Gerald Suster were to become especially good friends. Over the succeeding years, Des gave one Talking Stick talk and Conroy gave two but it is from the yearly Saturnalias that Conroy is most remembered because it was said (vile calumny!) that Conroy told the same two jokes each time. In fact, he told many jokes but it amused people to pretend to remember only the 'flea' joke and the 'onion' joke...

Conroy's passion for Surrealism had begun in 1935. Silvano Levy, in 'Surreal Enigmas' (essays and writings about and by Conroy) tells how, after the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition in London, the young 24 year old untrained Birmingham painter headed to France:

"In the hot summer of 1937 he gathered sufficient money (the return fare was then £2 10s) and set off for Paris to meet the French Surrealists. On the day he had planned to meet Georges Hugnet, the owner of his hotel advised his client that rain was likely and that he should take an umbrella. As he reached the Rue de Seine, where Hugnet lived, Maddox saw a man coming towards him, wearing a toga and carrying an umbrella. As the two met, they immediately started fencing. After a little party in the street, the stranger introduced himself as Raymond Duncan, the brother of Isadora Duncan...."

Because of techniques like automatism and interest in dreams, surrealists and occultists usually found much common ground and, in France, there had been close contact between the painters and the French hermeticists and alchemists. But, even though Conroy's works included pieces called 'Hermetic Symbols' (1942) and 'The Alchemist' (1988), he could never bring himself to love the more formalised versions of the esoteric arts:

"The seed of religion has never failed to produce its own varieties of rotting fruit: the mystic symbols 3, 5 and 7 of Rosicrucian philosophy, the cheesecloth apparitions of Spiritualism and more recently the Mandalas made by the admiring old ladies of the priest-doctor Jung."

Conroy was deeply anti-militaristic and hated organized religion, both traits having been inherited from his father who had been wounded in the First World War. His anti-religious attitude (and his delightful cheekiness) might be seen in his continual mocking use of the image of nuns. There is a series of photographs, taken in 1946, called 'Entertaining A Nun', which include the scenes 'Conroy Maddox strangling a nun' and 'Conroy Maddox stabbing a nun' and 'Conroy Maddox about to strike a supine nun'. In one of his writings, he says: "The history of Christianity is the history of a creeping sickness: for submission and obedience before the fear imagery of priestcraft, humanity is offered the dubious honour of being clasped to its filthy bosom." And then the nuns again... "I am waiting outside a restaurant in Greek Street. Two Sisters of Mercy pass quarrelling. I watch them to the end of the street and saw one of them push the other into the gutter."

But, while religion could only ever be a source of vitriol or mockery from him, magic had its allure, especially his later years, and showed itself in works called 'The Necromancer' (1961), 'The Sorceress' (1991) and 'The Black Arts' (1993).

The last time I saw Conroy was on 24th June last year in a nursing home in Belsize Park. That day, he was deep in Alzheimer abstraction and the man I talked to for 40 minutes was just the shell of the beautiful, twinkling person I had known. During the whole monologue, the only flicker of interest was when I told him of the thousands of pagans who had gathered at Stonehenge a few days earlier for the Solstice. Des told me that he had many lucid days after that, after he moved to the Royal Free Hospital. She visited him almost every day and it is fitting that Conroy's last words were for her. He said to her: "Come back. Wait for you". He died soon after.

And the final words are, again, George Melly's: "It is easy to visualize him, Harpo Marx-like, in pursuit of a nun, through the leafy streets of Belsize Village, and he in turn pursued by Ms Mogg, his androgynous companion, the 'cabin-boy' of Lambolle Road, whose treasures are horror videos and whose parents are half Conroy's age." Caroline

Note: Des will be organizing a celebration of Conroy's life at Secret Chiefs, sometime in the late Spring

Monday, June 27, 2005

'Caliban's Redemption' David Parry (review)

Reviewed by Charlotte
The prospect of writing a review…of a book of poetry…I must admit threw me into a state that was uncomfortably reminiscent of school assignments and essays and said assignments subsequent desecration of beauty in the name of literary analysis.

So I'm going to bypass that conditioning of old, and write this my way: warts, stilted grammar, sloppy syntax and all.

I was given 'Caliban's Redemption' some time ago, despite my interest in poetry having diminished over the years in favour of non-fiction with the occasional embellishment of literary fluff. Thus it wasn't until last week that I started, finally, reading 'Caliban's Redemption' and discovered a truly wonderful and fascinating book.

The contents are poetry mixed with what I consider to be a poetic prose which form a series of themes that can be flow read over to simply appreciate the beauty of the words, structure and emotional effect; or read more deeply to enjoy the excitement of insights around perspectives of beauty and grotesquery; sexuality and magick and concepts of non indulgent, angry, vital and transformative alienation.

The book alludes to the work of Nietzsche, Spinoza, and Crowley, as well as to Greek and Egyptian Mythos, and concepts of initiation.

This is never done in a trite and clichéd manner though, and always touched with a depth and perspective that opened up new directions of thought and emotion for me. Despite the more cerebral references and explorations, this is also a very physical and earthy book.

It is about power and strength and the joy that can be found in spinning conditioned values of right and wrong, good and evil, beauty and ugliness on its head.

It is a descent into an underworld and a return as a sweat and semen stained, dirty, ugly, angry and very empowered God.

The cover is great; an image of a befurred, bellied beast of a man, face obscured in foliage; apt imagery considering the contents and a powerful call for me to return to my old love and enjoyment of poetry.

Ars Necrotica

This article exists as an addendum to Chapter 19, WITCHA, Mandrake of Oxford, where we have introduced the subject of Necromancy; Necros Mantia, being the summoning by goety of the shades of the departed. Such may be for the purposes of interviewing the shade, perhaps to discover some secret kept by them in life, or to employ that greater wisdom that comes with the passing into death. The shade might also be bound unto the service of the witch, and made to obey their command. It is that art forbidden by Mosaic Law, Levit.XIX:31; XX:6, which is abhorred by the Lord, Deut.XVIII:11, 12, and punishable by death, Levit.XX:27; cf. I Kings.XXVIII:9. Necromancy is found in every nation of antiquity, and is a practice common to paganism at all times and in all countries. It was known amongst the sorcerers of Persia, Etruria, Chaldea and Babylon. Isaias XIX:3 refers to its practice in Egypt, and in Deut.XVIII:9-12 Moses warns the Israelites against imitating the Chanaanite abominations, among which is mentioned seeking the truth from the dead. In Deut.XVIII:11, Isa.XIX:3, Vulgate, we find mention of 'pythons', which in the Hebrew are called as 'ôbôth denoting the spirits of the dead, who were consulted to learn of the future (Deut.XVIII:10-11, I KingsXXVIII:8), giving their answers through the possession of mediums (Levit.XX:27, I Kings.XXVIII:7), Isaias.VIII:19 states that necromancers 'mutter' and makes the following prediction concerning Jerusalem: "Thou shalt speak out of the earth, and thy speech shall be heard out of the ground, and thy voice shall be from the earth like that of the python and out of the ground th! y speech shall mutter" (XXIX:4). We find it practised in the time of Saul (I Kings.XXVIII:7-9), in the age of Isaias, who reproaches the Hebrews on this ground (VIII:19, XIX:3, XXIX:4, etc.), and of Manasses (IV Kings.XXI:6, II Par.XXXIII:6). It is to that art employed by the anonymous witch of Endor, whom Saul commands to summon the soul of Samuel (I Kings.XXVIII). In ancient Greece and Rome the rites of nekromanteia, psychomanteia, or psychopompeia were performed in dark caverns, in volcanic regions, or near rivers and lakes, such as that celebrated oracle in Laconia, in a large and deep cavern from which black and stinkings vapour issued, and which was considered as one of the entrances to the cthonian realms. So too were they performed in Thesprotia, besides the river Acheron, which was supposed to be one of the rivers leading into the underworld, and at Aornos in Epirus and Heraclea on the Propontis, and in Italy was the oracle of Cumæ summoned in a cavern near Lake Avernus in Campania. It is spoken of in the narrative of Ulysses' voyage to Hades (Odyssey, XI), which tells of his evocation of souls by means of the various rites as taught by Circe.

Thus we may see that Necromancy is amongst our most ancient of traditions, for indeed it has been known amongst men since the first aeon. It is spoken of at length in many of the classical grimoire of the craft. As divinities frequently were but human heroes raised to the rank of gods, necromancy, mythology, and demonology are in close relation, and the oracles of the deceased are not always easily distinguished from those of other spirits. Those rites as are employed in the evocation of shades are in all ways similar to those of other forms of goety, whether summoning daemons, phaeries, or familiars.

You may know that such shades still love their relinquished bodies after death, and are allured to their proximity as young lovers are one to the other. This is especially so with the shades of criminal men, who have died under unfulfilled oaths, or harbouring guilt for things they did not take chance to put right. Also, with those who have died suddenly, by violence and surprise, and the shades of those awaiting burial. From hence it is, that the shades of the dead are summoned by the application of some part of their relict body, and by the sacrificing of fresh blood. Other offerings are of bones, flesh, eggs, milk, oils, honey, as with the traditional Soul Cakes, by the preparation of food such as is known as the Dumb Supper, and such things as do remind the shade of its manifestation in physical form.

The circumstances and conditions of the Necromantic Art, such as the time, place, and rites to be followed, depend upon various conceptions entertained concerning the nature of the departed spirit; its abode, its relations with the earth and with the body in which it previously resided. Conjurations as these are most effectively performed in those places that the shades of the dead are known to most frequent. Such might be some place of importance to the shade when in life, of which they felt affection, and which might allure them. If the death was violent or sudden, the shade may often be called from proximity to such a place as their shade was separated from its body. Alternatively, they might be drawn to some place where a spirit trap has been lain, that they may be punished and enslaved by the sorcerer. Those places also suitable are those that are revealed in dream, vision, or are known for apparitions, or upon whose soil much blood has spilt. To such a place ! are the bones, flesh, sacrifices, perfumes, and tools of evocation taken.

The lore of the graveyard, and of death, is an uncomfortable subjects to consider. It inspires an irrational superstitious fear, as any midnight graveyard will, despite being hallowed ground and thus theoretically 'safe'. Even the most modern mind can become unsettled by places. Even in our apparently enlightened age, we are still surrounded by taboos concerning all things deathly and funereal, as anyone who has ever found employ in 'death-care' will contest.

Nevertheless, the use of human remains was common in our old spell-craft. Human bones, usually powdered, were employed in many of those remedies sold by medieval apothecaries. Mixing such with red wine was believed to provide relief from dysentery. Another cure, this time for gout, included mucilage scraped from shin bones 'found' in a graveyard. A tricksterish spell recorded in the nineteenth century was to mix the burnt remains of a corpse with ale, so as to vastly improve its potency. Medieval sorcerers were keen to acquire them for their workings, with the theft of human remains from graveyards and tumuli being frequent. Similarly, such unwholesome ingredients provide a regular part of much surviving folk magic, both in England as elsewhere. Modern practitioners, being more likely to acquire their ingredients from a reliable supplier than go grave robbing, have largely substituted the hoodoo powder called 'graveyard dust' for spells whose earlier forms would r! equire necrotic substances.

The most famous example of necrotic witchcraft is probably the 'hand of glory'. Many other spells employed the left hand of a corpse, which may be used for both benign and malign ends. Such beliefs, although held more rarely today, are still alive amongst certain witches in East Anglia. When I returned to live in Norwich, Norfolk, and reforged contact with certain hereditary streams existent here, I met a young witch who confessed to owning such a gruesome item which she used in her spellcasting, now mummified and over a hundred years old. The essence of the belief seems to be that a certain portion of a person's 'spiritual power' may reside in its corpse after death, so that an item becomes powerful because it is essentially haunted. As is known amongst ghost hunters, those who have lead traumatic lives are more likely to leave some kind of 'aetheric recording', and this is in keeping with the idea that the body parts used in spells are often those taken from cri! minals, or those that have died a sudden or traumatic death.

That part of our skeletal structure believed most likely to maintain some semblance of the spirit is undoubtedly the skull. It was once believed to be the essential vehicle and centre of the soul, and of all psychic awareness. Thus the warriors of ancient times took great pleasure in collecting heads, just as in modern times we believe the seat of consciousness to be the brain, and thus still essentially 'within the head'. In the rites of witchcraft, the skull may be seen not merely as the 'container' of an individual spirit, but as a point of contact between those who serve in the circle and the ancestors.

Let it be understood that such things as oils and human remains are not sufficient in themselves for the raising of shades. It is of greatest importance that the summoner has prepared their own mind with meditations and rites of quiescent gnosis, the ultimate expression of which is that which has been called the Death Posture. Such periods of self preparation and purification are instructed within all the grimoires of antiquity, although couched in the language and beliefs of their time. There may also be employed certain unguents and potions known to the witches, whose effect is to transport the soul of the witch to a place 'between the worlds', and which may serve to heighten astral perceptions. It is through the trance of the witch that the spirits shall manifest, and any disturbance shall jeopardise the operation in its entirety. Moreover, there are things which may aid or hinder the operation of which I may not speak, since they are known only to the dead the! mselves. Such shades are allured by those things that do move the spirit, be they of rationality and intellect, or imaginative and intuition. Such may include the use of poetry, song, sound, enchantments; such as are provided in the classical grimoire, and are known to the witches of the sinister craft.

Nathaniel J. Harris is the author of 'Witcha- A Book of Cunning', published by Mandrake of Oxford. A Yahoo group discussing those disciplines outlined in his work may be found at-

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Art of Ryszard Gancarz

By David William Parry
Semantically, the words fate and destiny are not seen as synonyms. Most people choose to lead quite ordinary lives and in that sense accept their fate. They could be compared to sleep-walkers who stumble through life, never realising the astonishing fact that miraculous powers surround them. Only on the rarest of occasions do they stir from their dissatisfying slumbers, irritated by the unsettling thought that there must be more to existence than the pedestrian pleasures of mundane experience. Yet this very irritation has caused some people to awaken into a new life of freedom and creativity. The prickling of their dissatisfaction has acted like a grain of aspirational sand in an oyster shell and produced one of the blackest pearls. This is the power of modern art at its best and is potently manifest in the works of the relatively unknown Polish painter Ryszard Gancarz.

When encountering his work for the first time many observers are almost forced to leave the twenty-four hour nightmare of self imposed limitation behind them. They are reborn into the realities of a higher knowledge: a type of learning which completely transforms a person and takes them beyond the sphere of the simply human into the world of contemporary imagism. There are others of course, and the names of the men and women who have recently taken this irrecoverable step are known to both the history of art and literary legend. Having said that, in ages past, imagist experiments sometimes caught critical attention for the wrong reasons. In Edwardian England for example, the notorious Aleister Crowley seems to have set the precedent by leading a life devoted to sexuality and symbol, thereby focusing the hypocritical sensibilities of his peers on scandal rather than artistic endeavour.

At times, Crowley even seems to have forgotten that the impact of visual languages derived ! from an image seek to evoke the atmosphere or mood surrounding material things, whereas symbols dialogue with the numinous itself and require a theological methodology. Moreover, the transitory and often lurid visions of certain other confused imagists defended by some of the better known Parisian Salons during the late 1800s occasionally reached an abstract (albeit largely misinterpreted) moral level. In order to achieve this bewildering status, critics claimed that the armour of artistic integrity had to be laid aside and the dubious protection assured by the gift of discernment openly spurned. These comments caused an open hostility to arise between the already contentious factions struggling at the fringes of this embryonic movement and allowed the ascent of a number of weird and wonderful people into the public world of so-called symbolist "decadence". Perhaps this is typified in the character of the Sar Peladan and his fanatical followers. To be sure Peladan, for all ! of his energetic enthusiasm, never really seems to have been regarded as a first rate figure in his own day either as an occult novelist or as an aesthetician. Unsurprisingly, pundits were quick to point out that his best known work "Le Vice Supreme" (published in 1884), received strangely pedantic reviews. Nevertheless, he has remained a rather picturesque individual whose own personal participation in "forbidden" pursuits appear to be somewhat negligible.

From the beginning of his rather chequered career Peladan attracted a retinue of reprobates and villains. One of these was the befudelled esoteric thinker Stanislas De Guaita who didn't seem to grasp the subtle and yet profound differences between the occult and the iconic arts. When they first met they fanned each other's egos into a frenzy of pseudo-Rosicrucian ideas with the intention of stimulating the paintings and sculptures of their clique. It should be remembered that Christian Rosenkreutz was a legendary fifteenth century seer of doubtful historicity whose supposed doctrines were in succeeding centuries heavily embellished by exotic ideas and extravagant hallmarks drawn from a wide range of German and Jewish folktales. However, undeterred by a factual analysis of these events Peladan decided to become a prominent figure in the liminal world of French Rosicrucianiam.

This attitude reveals an age-old distinction between those who pursue imagism as a means to an end and true imagists who recognise that they are actually explorers in the realm of imagination. Gancarz without the slightest doubt belongs to the latter school. This is why I should warn the reader from the outset, that his art is dangerous and must be approached with great caution. For Gancarz, imagination should not be confused with fantasy, which seems to be only a collection of random erotic associations and distorted sensory information. On the contrary, imagination is an empathic faculty of the psyche, which may be developed into an organ of subjective perception through which valuable altered states of awareness can be grasped. In a sense, imagism could be called the science of the imagination and stands along with logic as one of the greatest achievements of the human spirit. With this in mind it may be helpful to examine the techniques Gancarz employs to strengthen the ! third eye of his imaginative cognition.

His art seems to argue that everything in this world is relatively true and that the power of image is the binding agent, which secures each creative success or traps the otherwise evolving soul. Only the free flow of form, emancipated from false notions of intellectual quality can release the instincts of the heart. Indeed, his thesis explores contradiction along with restricted comprehension as the principle modalities conditioning our encounter with art. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Gancarz allows classic images to surface from the blurred ephemeral boundaries of post-modernity. Through the active chaos created by his clever use of colour-metaphor, we may observe anonymous human heads, buildings, highly sexualised female torsos, scribbled text in both English and Polish, a bleak and colourless church, ironically repetitious scenarios vaguely reminiscent of Andy Warhol at his best, and even the occasional phallus. Nevertheless, the sign or mark of his personal a! rtistry may be read throughout every composition. Moreover, Gancarz has gone further than other contemporary imagists due to the indirect suggestion that a visual doctrine of correspondences underlies his work. This idea is vital to the practise of his art because Gancarz is contending that all material things have a natural as well as an aesthetic meaning. He is attempting to guide his admirers through a sentient hieroglyphic labyrinth, inscribed with depictions of deeper realities. What is more, Gancarz claims that once read and decoded into manageable portraits these living images can be finally grasped. Fascinatingly, he then alludes to the possibility that they may be re-built in the sensuous mind transforming both body and essence. His art therefore, is a disturbing journey into alchemical cartographies.

There is a long creative history behind pictures of this kind and Gancarz has made a significant as well as provocatively innovative contribution to the imagist movement. It may be that for Gancarz, the primary error of received imagism was to put "expertise" on a pedestal and then defend its fallible pronouncements as though they were insights into a fixed aesthetic order. For him, this overly theoretical scheme of interpretation is vacuous. On the other hand, he is fully aware that discovering art may be a labour of love, but it is also a victim of human lethargy. For Gancarz, these are the twin Herculean pillars upholding the prominent imagist notion that art demands personal sacrifice. It can only be lamented then, that so few artists in their beleaguered attempts to define the parameters of painting have proved capable of rising to the challenge posed by his work. Instead, his colleagues have tended to compound the problem by embracing a naïve multi-cultural overview, ! which increasingly obscures artistic clarity. If present day imagists, bereft of any intellectually shared visual language, endlessly extend their yogic contortions to include allegedly analogous shapes (themselves divorced from any meaningful context), then the notion of creative coherence has finally been abandoned. Certainly, western hubris usually accompanies these broad brush-strokes of misinterpretation, often allied to the unfortunate fact that these superfluous depictions prove, on closer inspection, to need additional development themselves. Yet, this is the moment of triumph, not defeat. Gancarz has announced that uncharted imagist expeditions have ended and a new age of imaginative integrity has begun.

David Parry's poetry collection 'Caliban's Redemption' is published by Mandrake and features a cover illustration by Gancarz