The Syracuse Herald: Sunday Morning, March 9, 1919.
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Artist Paints Dead Souls But Refuses to Be Classed With Futurists’ School
Englishman Portraits Weird Spirits at His Studio in Greenwich Village.
Doesn’t Wear His Hair Long and He’s Not Poor Like Many Artists Are.
A NEW artist has drifted into Greenwich Village.
His name is Aleister Crowley. He doesn’t look at all like the average village artist, having more of the snappy appearance of a Wall Street broker. His hair, instead of being worn with Bolshevik abandon, is close cropped. Instead of shaving once every three months he shaves every day. His clothes are neat but not gaudy and have the close-fitting and knobby lines of a fashionable tailor.
His shoes are not out at toe or down at heel. Those he had on yesterday were low cut and obviously made to order. They looked well under pale, opalescent socks with black clocks.
Mr. Crowley’s studio, on the third floor of No.63 Washington square south, is far removed from the den of the average village artist of the well known „struggling“ type. It is luxuriously fitted with cavernous seay chairs, mahagony davenports, expensive tapestries, a fine rug or two, an expensive and many-pillowed divan, with here and there a rare rosewood antique.
RIOT OF UNTAMED COLORS.
Set in the west wall is an old-fashioned fireplace, while close by is a mahagony tea wagon with a half-filled bottle of rare cognac and a silver box of imported cigarets. One enormous window, nearly twenty feet wide, looks across Washington park and directly up Fifth avenue.
The walls of this studio are covered with the wildest maelstrom of untamed and unrelated colors ever confined under one roof. They look like a collision between a Scandinavian sunset and a paint-as-you-please exhibit of the Independent Artists association.
The effect is riotous, blinding – but not distressing, after one gets used to it. Mr. Crowley helps one to do that with a dash of cognac, an imported cigaret and a delightful personality.
On entering the studio one is apt to be taken with a severe attack of the blind staggers, the chromatic camouflage is so overwhelmingly brilliant. But after one has been there for a short time one is in no hurry to leave.
CAME FROM ENGLAND.
Mr. Crowley is an Englishman who at the outbreak of the great war was in the confidential service of the British government. In this service he was shot in the leg, he says. He then came to this country, late in 1915 on a special mission for the British, and later became editor of the International, a radical magazine, published in Greenwich Village.
„I had been engaged in varrious literary pursuits all my life.“ Said Mr. Crowley as he held a small glass of cognac up to the light.
„I have written forty books of poetry, among other things. There are some of my works on these shelves.“ He pointed to several rows of books over the fireplace.
„But, somehow, I couldn’t attain the desired expression in either prose or poetry. I chafed under the restraint of the pen.
„However, I probably would never have taken up painting if it hadn’t been for the International, of which I became editor. I couldn’t find artists who would draw the covers I wanted, so, finally, I became disgusted about fifteen months ago and decided to draw my own covers.
„I had never studied art and had never drawn or painted a picture in my life. When I tried to draw these covers I became so interested in the work that I gave up the editorship of the magazine and went in for art. What you see around is the result. What sort of artist am I? Oh, I don’t know just what to call myself. I’d say off-hand that I was an old master, because I’m a painter mostly of dead souls.
NOT A CUBIST.
„My art? Well, I don’t know just what you’d call it. But please, whatever you do, don’t call me cubist or a futurist or anything queer like that. I guess you might call me a subconscious impressionist, or something on that order. My art really is subconscious and automatic.
„I’ll tell you why. When I found I couldn’t paint a portrait I didn’t decide to go abroad and study for thirty or forty years.
„Instead I walked up to a blank canvas one day and standing very close to it, I placed the wet brush upon it and closed my eyes. I had no preconceived idea of what I was going to paint. My hand simply moved automatically over the canvas.
„I don’t know how long I worked in that subconscious way, but you can imagine my astonishment when I found that I had painted a likeness of a friend whom I had not seen in many years. It was that person’s dead soul I had painted. I have it about the studio somewhere.
„All my work is done that way. I never know or have a preconceived idea of what is to appear on the canvas. My hand wanders into the realm of dead souls and very frequently the result is the likeness of some living person.
ARNOLD BENNETT’S SOUL.
„Now take that picture hanging over there, for instance. It is done in water color. It is entitled „the Burmese lady.“ If you will look at it closely you will discover that it is none other than our old friend, Bennett.“
The painting indicated by Mr. Crowley did resemble Arnold Bennett as he might look if he blackened his face and donned a Hottentot’s wig.
„Now over there you see a weird looking lady with something resembling a pig. The title of that is ‚Ella Wheeler Wilcox and the Swami.’ One of my best works, that.
„Of course, my impressions are not always those of well known people. That one over there on the east wall isn’t a bad thing. That girl’s head. It is entitled ‚Young Bolshevik Girl With Wart Looking at Trotzky.’
„That one with all the little figures? Oh, the name of that is ‚A Day Dream of Dead Hats.’ You see, it shows a lady asleep on a veranda while the spirits of bygone bonnets pass across a mystic bridge on the heads of a dozen undressed ladies. You’ll probably admit that most women when they take a nap dream of dead bonnets.
„The painting of the colored girl in the rear of the studio is something I did in rather a hurry. It is called ‚Is that the face that launched a thousand ships?’ That one called the ‚Witches’ Sabbath.’ with all the little features in it is interesting.
LITTLE EVA, TOO.
„That fluffy one dancing on one toe is supposed to be the dead spirit of Eva Tanguay.“
One of his pictures which Mr. Crowley likes best is that of Madame Yorska, the French actress. It shows the face of a woman, thrown backward in death, a bejewelled dagger thrust in her throat.
„I got the impression at some affair given in Greenwich Village at which a certain violinist played,“ said Mr. Crowley. „Mme. Yorska was there. The violinist, in rendering one striking piece, asked that the lights be turned low. While he was playing I saw Mme. Yorska throw her head back and close her eyes. I carried the impression of that long white throat home with me. I tried to sleep but couldn’t. During the night I got up and going to the canvas closed my eyes and that picture was the result.“
„How about the dagger in the throat?“ the artist was asked.
A „GOOD EFFECT.“
„Oh, that long sweeping white line of throat had to be cut somewhere and I couldn’t think of any better way to cut a throat than with a dagger. So I stuck the knife into it. Rather good effect, I think.“
„That large three panelled screen is called the ‚Screen of the Dead Souls.’ All those figures you see on it are dead souls in various stages of decomposition. That central figure in the middle panel is the queen of the dead souls. Of course you recognized the head looking over her shoulder. That’s Hearst. Over her other shoulder is Oscar Wilde. I don’t know how he got in there, because I really hate him. The parrot sitting on the head of the dead lady’s soul in the third panel is one that belongs to Bob Chanler.
„The screen is a fair example of my subconscious art. It was done like the pictures, with no preconceived idea.
„Study art? Never have and never intend to.“
The Syracuse Herald: Sunday Morning, March 9, 1919.