Sunday, 22 September 2013

Martin Sharp, Marcel Duchamp and Cream

Whilst away backpacking around the Cyclades, catching ferries from island to sunny island, I kept singing the Cream song, Tales of Brave Ulysses, particularly: rode upon a steamer to the violence of the sun.

 Between Mykonos and Paros (...and the colours of the sea)

And the colors of the sea 
blind your eyes with trembling mermaids
And you touch the distant beaches 
with tales of brave Ulysses
How his naked ears were tortured 
by the sirens sweetly singing
Sparkling waves are calling you to touch her white laced lips.

And you see a girl's brown body 
dancing through the turquoise,
And her footprints make you follow where the sky loves the sea.
And when your fingers find her, 
she drowns you in her body,
Carving deep blue ripples in the tissues of your mind. 

The music was written by Eric Clapton and the lyrics were written by Martin Sharp who, whilst being Australian, was one of the great psychedelic artists of the English late 1960s. He and my favourites, Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, defined British visual psychedelia. This song was the first track of side two of Cream's late 1967 album Disraeli Gears and featured Clapton's brilliant wow-wow guitar, it, too, a feature of the late sixties.
Sharp's relationship with Cream was more than just as lyricist and he designed the front and rear cover of Disraeli Gears. He also created a Cream poster and designed the fabulous front, rear and

Disraeli Gears front
inside gatefold of Cream's 1968 studio and live double album, Wheels of Fire. 
Inside of Wheels of Fire
The track which follows Tales of Brave Ulysses on Disraeli Gears is SWLABR (which stands for She Walks Like a Bearded Rainbow.) This song was also the B-side of the Cream single Sunshine of Your Love. It is a brilliant surrealist/psychedelic song with lyrics by Pete Brown, music by Jack Bruce and with the superb overdriven guitarwork of Clapton.

The lyrics include the lines:

You've got that pure feel,
Such good responses,
But the picture has a moustache. 
For me, there is only one candidate for the picture has a moustache even though I accept that there are many pictures with moustaches. It has to be Marcel Duchamp's L.H.O.O.Q. which was an early ready-made (1919) where he took a postcard of Leonardo's Mona Lisa and drew a goatee beard and a Salvador Dali-esque moustache on her. 
L.H.O.O.Q, Marcel Duchamp

Duchamp returned to this subject and treatment many, perhaps up to twelve, times. She does have that:
pure feel, such good responses
and I feel that this is Duchamp's dada response to an image which had been always given such an exalted status. It is commonly accepted as Leonardo's masterpeice and famously the subject of Walter Pater's amazing prose response in his own masterpeice Studies in the History of the Renaissance published in 1873. Pater's philosophy was of a personal, subjective response to art, to the individual's accumulation of high quality aesthetic items to give the highest quality to the fleeting moment, and purely for that moment's sake. Of Mona Lisa he wrote:
Hers is the head upon which all "the ends of the world are come,"...It is a beauty 
wrought out from within upon the flesh, the deposit, little cell by cell, 
of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions.

and with Duchamp's additions, it becomes a beauty wrought from without, perpetrated by Duchamp's own strange thoughts and fantastic reveries.
Martin Sharp, front cover Oz number 3

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