Friday, August 15, 2014

Arty Farty Friendship : Leonard Baskin and Ted Hughes, The Artist and The Poet.

 Hat-tip BBC
American artist, Leonard Baskin, creator of fine woodcuts, water colours, etchings, powerful sculptures, prints and book illustration collaborated with English poet Ted Hughes to illustrate books of his poetry. The pair, born 8 years and 2 days apart, in mid-August, became firm friends - described by some writers as "soulmates" - platonic, I think. I'm concentrating on Baskin mainly here, but comparing the two natal charts could be interesting - see later in the post.

So that Ted Hughes isn't ignored completely, a poem of his from the Crow series. Ted Hughes was married to poet Sylvia Plath until her suicide. Their son also committed suicide. Hughes died in 1998.

Crow's Fall

When Crow was white he decided the sun was too white.
He decided it glared much too whitely.
He decided to attack it and defeat it.

He got his strength flush and in full glitter.
He clawed and fluffed his rage up.
He aimed his beak direct at the sun's centre.

He laughed himself to the centre of himself

And attacked.

At his battle cry trees grew suddenly old,
Shadows flattened.

But the sun brightened-
It brightened, and Crow returned charred black.

He opened his mouth but what came out was charred black.

"Up there," he managed,
"Where white is black and black is white, I won."

From a piece by Bob Duggan, HERE:

Baskin credits the fact that both he and Hughes were “crow-haunted and death-involved” as the genesis of their collaboration on "Crow". Despite coming from wildly different backgrounds, Hughes and Baskin arrived at an “affinity,” as Baskin calls it, that develops into “a relationship of presence” rather than “a relationship of influence.” Both artists are inalienably present in every work. Neither simply derives ideas from the other. Hughes imagined his crow character as a “generalized character” taking on trickster elements and other bits and pieces of mythology from all around the world. Baskin similarly saw the crow as a symbol of something despised, maybe even as an emblem of the plight of African-Americans seeking equality at the time. All of those ideas coalesced through collaboration into the illustrated poems of Crow. The illustrations, just like those Baskin later did for other collections of poems by Hughes, resist the too-common temptation to act as what Baskin derides as “visual nomenclature” for poems. Instead, they extend and illuminate the poems, standing on their own, but standing even taller for the poems they accompany.
Baskin's subject matter, in general, ranges from mythological characters, birds of prey (symbolic, to Baskin, of humankind's base instincts), self-portraits, depictions of women (often emblematic of stoical suffering), allegorical representations of death, Jewish subjects and a series on Native Americans. Baskin's interest in classical mythology and Biblical subjects manifest in his work depicting guilt and redemption, good and evil, life and death. Social consciousness and sensitivity to moral issues, a reverence for human life underline all his work. (HERE)

The Complete Prints of Leonard Baskin has an introduction by Ted Hughes - a snip from it:
This rich inwardness of Baskin's art has many components. Some of the more accessible of these, maybe, can be seen in his graphic style itself, which is so like a signature, so unique to him and so consistent, that it might well interest a graphologist. But the oddities of it hint at other sources. As if a calligraphy had been improvised from the knotted sigils and clavicles used for conjuring spirits, those bizarre scratch-marks of the arcane powers, such as we find in practical grimoires. This element of his draughtmanship is no more than a trace, but it peers from every interstice, and suggests a natural psychic proclivity, enough to attune his operation, perhaps, to certain freedoms familiar in Jewish mysticism. A passport between worlds usually kept closed to each other. It is one of the essentials of his work's power to disturb, and of it's weird beauty too.


 Man of Peace

 Sybil's Hands

 African American Subject

Re Baskins's Holocaust Memorial in Ann Arbor, Michigan

"It’s ambivalent. The figure is in some sort of misery, wrapped up entirely in himself." Baskin said the fist "portrays deep and powerful anger," the other arm is "far more felicitous, raised possibly in mercy, forgiveness, tenderness, gentleness, all of those qualities." (HERE)

Leonard Baskin died in 2000. From an NYT obituary HERE
In an art world given to changing styles and continually updated aesthetic agendas centering on abstraction, Mr. Baskin remained steadfast in his belief in the superiority of figurative art and the importance of mortality as a theme. His convictions brought him honors and important commissions, including those for the bas relief of a funeral cortege that he created for the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington (see here) and an anguished, heavily draped seated cast-bronze figure, seven feet tall, for the Ann Arbor Holocaust Memorial in Michigan.

Widely read and articulate, he could be acidly funny, referring to Pop Art, for example, as "the inedible raised to the level of the unspeakable." Or he could pontificate in biblical sonorities, as in a frequently quoted statement published in Time magazine: "Our human frame, our gutted mansion, our enveloping sack of beef and ash is yet a glory. Glorious in defining our universal sodality and glorious in defining our utter uniqueness. The human figure is the image of all men and of one man. It contains all and can express all."


Leonard Baskin born 15 August 1922 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. 12 noon chart. No birth time known.

Ted Hughes born 17 August 1930 in Mytholmroyd, UK at 1.12 AM Rated "B" - from a biography.

Born 8 years and 2 days apart, on different continents, yet it's easy to see why these two would feel an affinity.

Natal Suns were bound to be close, in Leo; not so for natal Moons, but in all probability both had natal Moon in Taurus, an artistic Moon (degree not certain for Baskin without a time of birth). Both had creative, imaginative Neptune close to Sun, in Baskin's case, conjoined; in Hughes' case, just outside a conjunction, but close in early Virgo.

Both have Mercury in Virgo and Venus in Libra - artistry and meticulousness.

Baskin has a cluster of planets in Libra, which possibly reflected a rather more balanced, less intense nature than Hughes'.

Natal Mars: these are sited opposite one another in Sagittarius (Baskin) and Gemini (Hughes). I don't see these two signs as nearly as incompatible as are some other opposite signs. The two friends, when disagreements arose, would be likely to have found easy ways to compromise.

Baskin's chart has a Yod (Finger of Fate) linking Neptune and Jupiter by sextile and both to Uranus by quincunx.
I translate that as his wide ranging creativity being manifested in both philosophical and unexpected ways.

Where's that common "darkness" though? Both men seemed keen to exhibit it in their works. I'd usually look to Pluto or Scorpio to find that kind of thing. Baskin has no planet in Scorpio, but his Pluto and Moon (if Moon degree is within orb) form a Yod with Mars at its apex. Scorpio might have been rising, I guess, but no birth time is known. Hughes had Pluto within 9 degrees of natal Jupiter; and again, no planet in Scorpio.

Their compatibility as friends is easy to see; the "dark" feeling of much of their work, not as easily found - so far.


Gigi said...

Annie, that second poem isn't by Ted Hughes. It's by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

mike said...

Interesting similarities between their charts that would give rise to commonality of purpose and empathy toward their mutual endeavors, yet just enough difference to lend assistance in perspectives with an intuitive solidarity. I bet there were times one could finish the sentence for the other...LOL.

Learned a new word used in your quotation from the NY Times' obituary: sodality.

Twilight said...

Gigi ~ Yikes! Thank you!! Where did I get that idea I wonder? I've amended the post now & slapped my hands!

Thank you again.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Yes, "two peas in a pod" - almost.

Snap! I had to look up that word (sodality) too, thinking at first that it was a missed typo.