18 August 2012

Ralph Chubb, The Golden City.

Ralph Chubb, The Golden City. (Posthumously published, 1961, in an edition of 18).

Current selling price £3,000+

Ralph Chubb (1892 - 1960) has been called a modern day William Blake, partly because most of his books were exquisitely hand printed in tiny editions, some of which were hand coloured by the artist,  and partly because he is seen as an anti-science, visionary Utopian whose principal theme was the redemption of  Albion. Unlike Blake, he was a solipsist who placed himself at the centre of a mythology in which golden lads in their teens, cavort through endless sunny afternoons in an earthly  paradise of prepubescent innocence. While Chubb’s Uranian verse drew inspiration from people like Walt Whitman, his paintings, many of which are now in public collections, suggest that the painter of naked youth, Henry Scott Tuke, was also an influence.

Chubb is a genuine maverick ---an isolated figure in twentieth century English art, but there is a strong demand for his best work from a devoted, even fanatical, following. An early book, The Sun Spirit, is currently available at $7,500. One avid collector, the Oscar-winning, swinging sixties cinematographer, David Watkin ( The Knack, Help, The Bed Sitting Room ),who died in 2008, owned a number of Chubb titles.

One of the few interesting people to have been born in Harpenden, Chubb moved from the town to nearby St Albans while still a baby and became a pupil (Stephen Hawkin was a later product ), at St Albans School before going up  to Selwyn College, Cambridge in 1910. At the outbreak of war he served as an officer with distinction, before being invalided out. In 1919 the army, it would seem, paid for him to attend the Slade School of Art, where he met the print-maker Leon Underwood. His family, who by then were living in Curridge, Berkshire, encouraged him to exhibit his paintings, built a press for him, and a sister helped him get a job as an art teacher in a local school. 

Throughout the twenties Chubb produced a string of publications, three of which were commercially printed. One of these, The Book of God’s Madness, explored Manichean ideas reminiscent of Blake. Towards the end of the decade Chubb’s Uranian activities, both in Hampshire and in London, caused a scandal in his village and he was forced to resign from his teaching post. He and his family moved and made their new home at Fair Oak Cottage, among the woods near Ashford Hill, east of Kingsclere.  In 1929 Chubb was emboldened to publish his sexual manifesto, An Appendix, using a crude duplicating machine. Soon afterwards he acquired a lithographic press, which he continued using until his death. Like Blake before him, he was now able to integrate drawings and text and publish his controversial work without fear of editorial interference.

 Partly  because of the Uranian content of these publications, partly because the editions were so miniscule, Chubb has never been  regarded as a ‘ fine printer ‘ in the tradition of the Doves Press, Gregynog, and the rest, but was seen more of a visionary and polemicist who happened to work in this exclusive field. His refusal to curb his sexual politics meant that he lived in poverty for most of his working life. His books were hardly money-spinners and his paintings, though praised, lacked the appeal of those by Henry Scott Tuke, and did not sell. Working in his shed studio on the edge of Benskins Wood, haunted by an idyllic childhood and becoming more paranoiac by the year, he ploughed a lonely furrow in the immediate post-war world. During his final years he donated many of his books to the national libraries of the UK.

Chubb may have seen his final project, The Golden City, which contains some of his most engaging poetry, as a possible commercial success, and therefore kept its boy-love content to the minimum. Unfortunately, he did not live to see it finished. At his death in 1960 only the graphic element of the book had been completed, and it was left to his devoted sister Muriel to engage a professional lithographer to complete the printing of the title page, table of contents and colophon. The edition of only 18 copies were then bound by Sangorski and Sutcliffe and dispersed to various interested parties.  Today, only five copies are known to exist outside public collections, and these are the uncoloured ones. In fact, The Golden City   is so rare that one international dealer in the genre has confessed to never having seen a copy. Other dealers only know it as a legendary ultra-rarity. In the years that followed her brother’s death Muriel also managed to get two other, far less ambitious  projects published. The Day of St Alban appeared in 1965 and this was followed by Autumn Leaves (1970). Both are more common, but less sought after than his magnum opus. Perhaps, however, they may be good bets as investments. [R. M. Healey]

Many thanks Robin. Always great to find a Chubb but sadly such finds are infrequent. Last one seen was bound in corduroy, seldom used in binding - there is not even a limited edition of Adrian Bell's 1930 book 'Corduroy' thus bound. The photo of Chubb is enigmatic - does he look bashful or haunted or possibly burning with Pater's 'hard gem-like flame'? There is a definite resemblance to the young Gene Wilder. Are they related?

08 August 2012

Man’s Life is this Meat...

David Gascoyne. Man’s Life is this Meat. Parton Press, London 1936

Current selling price    £300+

When, in 1994, I interviewed David Gascoyne over shepherd’s pie in his  thirties semi in Oxford Street, Northwood, a somewhat unglamorous corner of the Isle of Wight, he told me of all the Surrealist art he had to sell in order to survive during his fallow period. I should have asked him if he had a copy of his second collection of mainly surrealist poetry, Man’s Life is This Meat to show me, because I knew that it was a legendary rarity and I was unlikely to find a copy outside a copyright library. But I was there principally to discuss Gascoyne’s friendship with Geoffrey Grigson, who first published the best poem in this collection ,‘And the Seventh Dream is the Dream of Isis’ , in an early number of New Verse, when the poet was just 17. It was while at Grigson’s home in Keats Grove, Gascoyne told me, that the bizarre title was chosen. Apparently, the two men were perusing a typographical manual when quite at random they found a phrase 'Man’s Life is…'. They then turned over the next page and found the words 'this meat' at the head of it. It was a truly 'found moment', as  Gascoyne admitted.

In 1936 Gascoyne at just 20 had already published three books. In 1932, at the age of 16 and while attending Regent Street Polytechnic, he paid for his first collection to be printed. This was the very slim Roman Balcony, which consisted of short poems, each composed of a few images A year later, in 1933,through a family connection with Harold Monro, Cobden Sanderson brought out his brilliant first novel, Opening Day, for which Gascoyne received an advance of £50 which helped finance his first visit to Paris that same year. In 1935 appeared his Short Survey of Surrealism, the product of the meetings he had had with leading surrealists in the French capital .

The long poem  'And the Seventh Dream is the Dream of Isis', though published under the strong influence of writers like Eluard and Breton, is nevertheless the work of an extraordinarily precocious imagination .

‘…across the square where crowds are dying in thousands
a man is walking a tightrope covered with moths

there is an explosion of geraniums in the ballroom of the
there is an extremely unpleasant  odour of decaying meat
arising from the depetalled flower growing out of her ear
her arms are like pieces of sandpaper
or wings of leprous birds in taxis…

she was standing at the window clothed only in a ribbon
she was burning the eyes of snails in a candle
she was eating the excrement of dogs and horses
she was writing a letter to the president of france

And so it goes on. David Archer, who had already published Dylan Thomas’s 18 Poems in 1934, could hardly ignore this other poetic prodigy, and so Man’s Life Is This Meat appeared in 1936. By this time Gascoyne and Roland Penrose were busily organising the first International  Surrealist Exhibition, which duly opened at the New Burlington Galleries, off Piccadilly, on 11 June, 1936. On the opening day, reporters counted among members the smart society people like Lady Wimborne and Lady Juliet Duff, Herbert Read, Osbert Sitwell, Sacha and Mrs Sacha Sitwell, Baroness d’Erlanger and Constant Lambert. Grigson contributed an exhibit and Gascoyne was among those who extricated  Salvador Dali from his famous diving suit, which was decorated like a Christmas Tree. Other living exhibits included Sheila Legge, who wore  long white satin dress and carried in one hand a model leg ( geddit !) filled with roses, and in the other a raw pork chop (perhaps Lady Gaga was inspired by this get-up). Paul Nash removed a bloater attached to a picture by Miro because of its unpleasant smell. Edward James showed off some of his Afghan hounds. The exhibition, which closed in early July, attracted an amazing 20,000 people.

Currently there are only two copies of Man’s Life is This Meat for sale online, both of them interesting association copies. The more expensive of the two contains a fascinating letter from the author and at £450 seems to be one of Gekoski’s uncommon bargains. Gascoyne, whose brilliant career was cut short by mental illness, is now regarded as a significant figure in the history of English Surrealism, although one critic observed that he wasn’t an English writer at all, but ‘ a French writer who happened to write in English ‘.

Roman Balcony is also difficult to find. It has been said that only 350 copies were printed and that those which didn’t sell were pulped. There is a signed copy online at  £575, which seems steep. Opening Day is rare too, but when he was a bookseller in the eighties psychogeographer Iain Sinclair managed to snap up a copy for 50p on George Jeffry’s stall on Farringdon Road. [R. M. Healey]

Many thanks Robin -- brilliant stuff. 2 sleepers in the poetic realm. In re Dali I heard he was nearly a gonna trapped inside that diving helmet. Good to hear Edward James had a walk on part. Currently I could do with a box full of books by him.