Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Wyndham Lewis: Original Master of Disguise

Mr. Wyndham Lewis as a Tyro,
1920-1, Wyndham Lewis.
"The flourishing and bombastic role that you may sometimes see me in, that is an effect... rather than what I am (in any sense) myself. Or, to make myself clearer, it is my opposite"
Forgive me if you're a fellow third year seeking some academic respite, but thinking about my dissertation has been dominating both my thoughts and to-do list for the last few weeks (Historical Studies disclaimer: I spent a "large portion" of my summer researching it in suitably erudite and exotic academic locations). The following few sentences are thus extracted from the tangle currently writhing around my head, and in hindsight may account for some kind of subconscious explanation as to why 'Disguise' seemed like such a bloody good theme for this term's magazine.

I first became interested in the intriguing character of Wyndham Lewis through my studies of the riotous early-twentieth century London art scene: he was the fabulously self-styled leader of the Vorticist movement, an angular and very English offshoot of Italian Futurism (no matter how much the oh-so original Lewis refuted the connection). Vorticism published its zany manifesto BLAST! in 1914, with wacky typography and ridiculous pseudo-Fascist banter that makes the Daily Mail's output seem sane: 'blessing' guns, war and barbers and 'blasting' France, Victorian sentimentality and Roger Fry (who pretty much epitomised a combination of the two).

Back to Disguise, and the basis of my dissertation's argument, Lewis was the first truly 'avant-garde' British artist to manipulate the mainstream media in a way that has come to dominate ever since. Pinching his look from Picasso's hipster elite across the Channel, he perfected the 'avant-garde' aesthetic with a disheveled cock of the hat to rival that of Bristol's straight-from-Oxfam-to-the-ASS Library clique. This sensational media profile set the ball rolling for what has now become a drastically downhill trend in British art: Damien Hirst and the yBas may have deliberately set out to provoke the establishment with some dead sharks pickled in an unmade bed, but Lewis got there a hundred years beforehand. What's more, he actually had some decent art to back up his claims.


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