A Quick Killing in Art

By Phoebe Hoban

“If you had only twenty-four hours left to live, what would you do?”
“I don’t know. I’d go hang out with my mother and my girlfriend, I guess.”

 
 

 
 

Friday, August 12, 1988. On the sidewalk outside 57 Great Jones Street, the usual sad lineup of crack addicts slept in the burning sun. Inside the two-story brick building, Jean-Michel Basquiat was asleep in his huge bed, bathed in blue television light. The air conditioner was broken and the room felt like a microwave oven. The bathroom door was ajar, revealing a glimpse of a black and tan Jacuzzi tub. On the ledge of the tub was a small pile of bloody syringes. There was a jagged hole punched in the bathroom window. Beneath it was scrawled the legend “Broken Heart,” with Basquiat’s favorite punctuation, a copyright sign.

Kelle Inman, Basquiat’s twenty-two-year-old girlfriend, was downstairs writing in the journal that Basquiat had given her. He usually slept all day, but when he still hadn’t come down for breakfast by midafternoon, Inman got worried. When she looked into the bedroom to check up on him, the heat hit her full in the face, like a wave. But Basquiat seemed to be sleeping peacefully, so she went back downstairs. She and the housekeeper heard what sounded like loud snores, but thought nothing of it.

A few hours later, Basquiat’s friend Kevin Bray called. He and Basquiat and another friend, Victor Littlejohn, were supposed to go to a Run-D.M.C. concert that evening, and he wanted to make plans with Jean-Michel. Kelle climbed back up the stair’s to give Basquiat the message. This time, she found him stretched on the floor, his head Jean-Michael on his arm like a child’s, a small pool of vomit forming near his chin.

Inman panicked. She had never seen anyone die, although Basquiat’s drug binges had made the scenario a constant fear. Now it seemed like the worst had happened. She ran to the phone and called Bray, Littlejohn, and Vrej Baghoomian, Basquiat’s last art dealer.

“When I got there,” recalls Bray, “Kelle said she had called an ambulance. She took me upstairs. Jean-Michel looked like he was comfortably out cold. He was on the floor, lying against the wall, as if he had fallen down and didn’t have the strength to get up, and was just taking a nap. There was a lot of clear liquid coming out of his mouth. We picked him up and turned him over. We shook him, and we just kept trying to revive him. It took a long time for the ambulance to arrive. But for a while, after the guys from the Emergency Medical Service came, we thought he was going to be okay. They were giving him shocks and IV treatment. Victor had to hold Jean-Michel up like this so the IV’s would drain,” says Bray, stretching his arms out in a cruciform.

Bray couldn’t take it anymore. He went downstairs, where Inman, and two assistants from the Baghoomian gallery, Vera Calloway and Helen Traversi, were trying to stay calm. “We tried to take his pulse. His skin was so hot,” says Calloway. Baghoomian called the studio just as the paramedics arrived. He was in San Francisco and Helen was forced to act in his stead.

“It was almost like it was some sort of business transaction,” says Bray. “They put a tube in his throat and they brought him downstairs. They wouldn’t tell us whether he was dead or alive and they took him outside. He had this beautiful bubbling red-white foam coming out of his mouth.”

“We all hoped some miracle would happen,” recalls Helen, who begins to cry at the memory. Outside on the pavement, a small crowd had gathered in horror and fascination. “I was about to leave on vacation with my wife,” says filmmaker Amos Poe, who was a friend of the artist. “We watched as they loaded his body into the ambulance. I saw his father pull up in a Saab. I kept saying to my wife. `Jean-Michel is dead.’ He really lived out that whole destructo legend: Die young, leave a beautiful corpse.”

Basquiat was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn five days later. His father invited only a few of the artist’s friends to the closed-casket funeral at Frank Campbell’s; they were outnumbered by the phalanx of art dealers. The heat wave had broken, and it rained on the group gathered at the cemetery to bid Jean-Michel goodbye. The eulogy was delivered by Citibank art consultant Jeffrey Deitch, lending the moment an unintentionally ironic tone.

Blanca Martínez, Basquiat’s housekeeper, was struck by the alienated attitude of the mourners. “They were all standing separately, as if it were an obligation,” she says. “They didn’t seem to care. Some looked ashamed.” People began to leave the cemetery before the body was buried. Ignoring the objections of the gravediggers, Martinez tearfully threw a handful of dirt onto the coffin as they lowered it into the grave.

Basquiat’s mother, Matilde, looking dazed, approached Baghoomian to thank him for his help to her son during his last days. Gerard Basquiat later admonished his former wife not to talk to the art dealer. The scene was already being set for a bitter battle over the estate of the artist.

The following week, appraisers from Christie’s set to work taking inventory of the contents of the Great Jones Street loft: finished and unfinished paintings, other artists’ works (including several dozen Warhols and a piece by William Burroughs), a vintage collection of Mission furniture, a closet full of Armani and Comme des Garcons suits, a library of over a thousand videotapes, hundreds of audiocassettes, art books, a carton of the Charlie Parker biography Bird Lives!, several bicycles, a number of antique toys, an Everlast punching bag, six music synthesizers, some African instruments, an Erector set, and a pair of handcuffs.

There were also a number of paintings in warehouses: following Andy Warhol‘s advice, Basquiat had tried to squirrel some of his work away from his ever-eager art dealers. According to Christie’s, Basquiat had left 917 drawings, 25 sketchbooks, 85 prints, and 171 paintings.

Artist Dan Asher walked by his old friend’s loft and was astonished to see a number of Basquiat’s favorite things in a Dumpster: his shoes, his jazz collection, a peculiar lamp made out of driftwood, Sam Peckinpah‘s director’s chair. Asher salvaged a few items; he sold the chair to a collector.

It would be another year before Gerard Basquiat ordered a tombstone for his son. But for several weeks after the artist’s death, he was commemorated by a small shrine some anonymous fan had placed by his door. Shrouded in lace, it held flowers, votive candles, a picture of Basquiat, some carefully copied prayers, and a Xerox of a David Levine caricature of the artist, complete with a caption: “In an age of limitless options and limiting fears, he still makes poems and paintings to evoke his world.”

A formal memorial service was finally held at Saint Peter’s Church in Citicorp Center, on a stormy Saturday in November. Despite the rain, wind, and bleak gray sky, several hundred people crowded into the church. Behind the pulpit hung a portrait of the artist as a young man, superimposed on one of his faux-primitive paintings. One by one, his former friends and lovers remembered Basquiat.

Gray, the band with which Jean-Michel had played at the Mudd Club, performed several songs. John Lurie played a saxophone solo. Ingrid Sischy, editor of Interview magazine, read a eulogy. Ex-girlfriends Jennifer Goode and Suzanne Mallouk tearfully read poems. And Keith Haring, AIDS-thin, reminisced about his friend. “He disrupted the politics of the art world and insisted that if he had to play their games, he would make the rules. His images entered the dreams and museums of the exploiters, and the world can never be the same.”

Fab 5 Freddy, who knew Basquiat from his old graffiti days, “interpolated” a poem by Langston Hughes. “This is a song for the genius child. Sing it softly, for the song is wild. Sing it softly as ever you can–lest the song get out of hand. Nobody loves a genius child. Can you love an eagle, tame or wild? Wild or tame, can you love a monster, of frightening name? Nobody loves a genius child. Free [sic] him and let his soul run wild.”

After the service, everyone went to M.K., the bank-turned-nightclub on lower Fifth Avenue. Owned by Jennifer Goode’s brother, it was one of Jean-Michel’s favorite places. In fact, it was his last destination the night before he died. He had come to the club looking for Jennifer. Now people stood around the big television set, sipping champagne and watching a flickering black-and-white video of Basquiat. A photographer from Fame magazine snapped pictures of the known and not-so-known: the jewelry designer Tina Chow, and her sister, Adele Lutz, David Byrne‘s wife. Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. It was the perfect send-off for the eighties art star; part opening, part wake.

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Crystal Stair

Langston Hughes on the steps in front of his house in Harlem. Photo by Robert W. Kelley, June 1958

 
 

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Langston Hughes

Hells Angels

“In my own country I am in a far-off land
I am strong but have no force or power
I win all yet remain a loser
At break of day I say goodnight
When I lie down I have a great fear
Of falling.”

(Translation of François Villon‘s 15th-century poem Ballade du concours de Blois)

Epigraph of Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, by Hunter S. Thompson (1966)

 
 

When Irving Penn photographed a bunch of Hells Angels for Look Magazine in 1968 all the classic Penn elements were there – there was the stark backdrop; the steely monochrome and the naturalism of the sitter’s attitude and expression. Whether or not Penn’s subjects were the rich and the famous or a bunch of hairy bikers he always managed to capture something lasting and resonant about the individuals involved.

The Hells Angels were originally started by American war immigrants, the Bishop family in Fontana, California followed by an amalgamation of former members from different motorcycle clubs. The name “Hell’s Angels” was inspired by the typical naming of American squadrons, or other fighting groups, with a fierce, death-defying title in both World War I and World War II, e.g., the Flying Tigers (American Volunteer Group) in Burma and China fielded three squadrons of P-40s and the third Squadron was called “Hell’s Angels”. In 1930, the Howard Hughes film Hell’s Angels displayed extraordinary and dangerous feats of aviation, and it is believed that the World War II groups who used that name based it on the film.

 
 

The name of the Hells Angels motorcycle club has no apostrophe, but in the title and in the text of Thompson’s book a possessive apostrophe was added to the name, rendering it as Hell’s Angels.

The Most Amusing Package

Sticky Fingers cover. Front and back cover

 
 

When The Rolling Stones were recording material for their ninth studio album in the early days of the 1970s, the anticipation and expectations must have been daunting. The 60s had come to a definitive close for the band at the December 1969 Altamont Free Concert, where a member of the Hell’s Angels (hired by the Stones as security) knifed a fan to death as the band played on. Five months prior, guitarist Brian Jones had overdosed and was found dead in his swimming pool at the age of 27.

Sticky Fingers was to be their first record of the new decade, their first without Jones, and the first for their newly formed label, Rolling Stones Records. The Beatles had just disbanded, leaving the group no serious rival. The band was presumably eager to maintain their bad-boy status, but at the same time distance themselves from the darker side of their image and move towards a more commercially viable controversy: sex.

 
 

Inside cover (LP format)

 
 

Knowing that the design of the album had to reflect this, and finally in control of their own marketing after leaving Decca records, Mick Jagger visited the Royal College of Art in London to find a design student to hire. He attended the degree show of John Pasche, and hired him to create a new logo for the group. The resulting lips and tongue logo, based on Jagger’s large pout, was intended as “a protest symbol and [to] have an anti-authority feel to it really, so that it would work well with them being the bad boys of rock and roll,” Pasche recently told MTV. This being the early days of rock band branding, the iconic logo never appeared on the cover of an album. It did, however, appear on t-shirts, mugs, key chains, buttons, belts and countless other promotional items, including recent urinals at the Rolling Stones Fan Museum in Germany.

The title “Sticky Fingers” was originally a working title for the second Mott the Hoople record. When the band decided on Mad Shadows instead, the Stones took the title, with the blessing of record producer Guy Stephens.

The cover graphic went through a number of possibilities, including having the band dressed in Victorian boating attire. Designer Craig Braun suggested releasing the album in a clear plastic jacket with heat-sensitive liquid crystals inside — “so you could make your own little Joshua Light Show”. Another rejected idea was a mammoth foldout cover of Jagger’s castle in the south of France (where the band had relocated to avoid paying taxes).

 
 

Theatrical poster

 
 

Then Jagger recalled that Andy Warhol had remarked to him at a party in 1969 that he thought it would be amusing to have an album cover feature a real zipper. There are differing accounts regarding the initial idea. Some credit songwriter Bob Goldstein, claiming that he proposed the idea for the cover of the soundtrack to Warhol’s 1968 film Lonesome Cowboys. Goldstein wrote the title track, which is sometimes credited as being the very first ‘disco’ arrangement, and an entire LP was conceived, but never completed. Singer and Factory Superstar Ultra Violet has suggested that the idea was Warhol’s and was intended for the film’s promotional poster.

 
 

The Velvet Underground and Nico. Front cover

 
 

The Stones agreed that the image of a pair of jeans and zipper would allow the band to retain their ‘outrageous’ aura, but shift things away from the violent and “satanic” imagery, or what Braun called “the evil thing”.

Warhol is credited with cover concept and photography, though some suggest Billy Name might’ve been behind the camera. Many assumed the cover model was Jagger, which he later denied:

Rolling Stone Magazine: There’s underwear on the back. Is that you?
Mick Jagger: No. It’s one of Andy’s… protégés is the polite word we used to use, I think.

 
 

Andy Warhol, Man’s Lower Torso, Clothed, 1971

 
 

Among the possible candidates, Jed Johnson, Warhol’s lover at the time, denied it was his likeness, although his twin brother Jay was considered a possibility. But according to Warholstars site user, Stylissmo:

“Jay Johnson famously has only one testicle, Jed wasn’t built like that… Corey Tippin was well known for his endowment… and was also known – along with his friend, the illustrator Antonio Lopez, for ‘showing basket’ – a real 70’s kind of gay display that involved bulging crotches in tight jeans. Attendees at the Sticky Fingers release party mention that of the aforementioned possible models for the cover – only Corey Tippin was at the party. At any rate all this has been told to me in various pieces by Jay Johnson, Corey Tippin, Jane Forth, Paul Caranicas (director of Antonio’s estate) and other characters who are still friends and living in and around New York.” Also known as Corey Grant, Tippin was the make-up artist for Andy Warhol’s L’Amour (1973) and Jay Johnson’s best friend.

 
 

Warhol with Jay and Jed Johnson

 
 

Warhol and Corey Tippin

 
 

Factory Superstar Ultra Violet believes that dancer Eric Emerson “who used to walk around the Factory half-naked” is the cover model.

 
 

Andy Warhol and members of The Factory, Richard Avedon, New York, October 30, 1969. From left to right: Eric Emerson, actor; Jay Johnson, actor; Tom Hempertz, actor; Gerard Malanga, poet

 
 

Art writer and early editor of Warhol’s Interview magazine, Glenn O’Brien’s has also been named as possible model. He recalls:

“I remember Andy shooting me in my underwear at the Interview office for the Sticky Fingers cover. He paid me a hundred bucks. Fred Hughes kept saying, “Can’t you make it any bigger.”” In an introduction to an interview O’Brien conducted with Joe Dallesandro for the magazine a few years ago he wrote:

 
 

“I always felt a connection to Joe. We were two Warhol scenesters who liked girls. Also, he filled the jeans on the outside of The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album, while I filled the briefs inside—our secret connection.”

 
 

Without a definitive account of who the front cover model was, Joe Dallesandro seems the most likely. Dallesandro met Andy Warhol and director Paul Morrissey in 1967 while they were shooting Four Stars, and they cast him in the film on the spot. Dallesandro also appeared in Flesh (1968), Lonesome Cowboys (1968), Trash (1970), Heat (1972), Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and Andy Warhol’s Dracula (both 1974) also directed by Morrissey. Flesh achieved some mainstream crossover success and Dallesandro became one of the most popular of the Warhol stars.

He explained to biographer Michael Ferguson, “It was just out of a collection of junk photos that Andy pulled from. He didn’t pull t out for the design or anything, it was just the first one he got that he felt was the right shape to fit what he wanted to use for the fly.”

 
 

Joe Dallesandro photographed by Warhol

 
 

The inner underwear photograph was a matter of necessity; designer Craig Braun realized there had to be an extra layer of cardboard to protect the record from the scratching of the zipper. Regardless of this, during shipment the zipper ended up pressing into the album stacked on top of it, invariably damaging the song Sister Morphine. Atlantic Records, whose subsidiary Atco Records were distributing the disk in the US, threatened to sue Braun for all the damage. After getting “very depressed and very high,” he came up with the solution to pull the zipper down before the record was shipped. This way it would only damage the inner label, and not cause any song to skip.

 
 

Inside cover

 
 

The solution saved Sister Morphine, but not in Spain, where Francisco Franco’s government deemed the song offensive and insisted it be removed from the disk. A Chuck Berry song Let it Rock, originally a b-side from the Brown Sugar single, replaced it. The drug references in the song were not the only concern for the Spanish censors, they also found the cover “too sexually explicit” so it was replaced with the “can of fingers” graphic, severed body parts being more socially acceptable than a man in pants. Many American department stores also found the cover inappropriate and initially refused to stock the disk.

 
 

Alternate cover (Spanish version)

 
 

For others, the problem with the packaging was not enough package: Wolfgang Fritz Haug, a now-retired professor of philosophy, took issue with the lack of payoff. In his book 1986 book Commodity Aesthetics (Chapter 3: “THE PENIS ENTERS THE COMMODITY ARENA”) he writes:

 
 

“whoever buys the record, purchases with it a copy of a young man’s fly, the package identified by the graphic trick which stresses the penis and stylizes the promised content. It is a reversal of the tale of the Emperor’s new clothes: the tale of the buyer’s new bodies. They buy only packages which seem more than they are…..the buyer acquires the possibility of opening the package, and the zip and finds… nothing.”

 
 

 
 

These criticisms notwithstanding, the graphic is now considered one of the best album covers of all time. A Rolling Stone Magazine readers poll in 2011 voted it the 6th best album cover of all time. Warhol appeared twice in the top ten, the other being the tenth pic for his Velvet Underground and Nico cover. The recording itself made the #63 slot of another Rolling Stones Greatest Albums of All Time list and in 2003 the design was named by VH-1 as the best album cover of all time.

Jagger called the cover “the most original, sexy and amusing package that I have ever been involved with”

Andy Warhol was paid 15 000 pounds remuneration, which (using a crude conversion of currency and inflation) would amount to approximately $126,000 CDN today. The figure seems on the high side for album cover design, but he was apparently dissatisfied. Warhol biographer David Bourdon writes “In April the album sold a half-million copies, and Warhol liked to think that his cover contributed greatly to the success. ‘You know’, he later complained, ‘that became a number one album and I only got a little money for that’.” With the Stones being one of the biggest bands in the world at the time, and the record including the hit songs Wild Horses and Brown Sugar, it is doubtful that Warhol’s cover disproportionately contributed to the financial success of the record. His equally acclaimed peelable banana cover for The Velvet Underground and Nico did not propel that record to any financial success – it spent only a few weeks on the Billboard charts, peaking at #171. It’s influence would not be felt for years to come, leading Brian Eno to quip “The Velvet Underground‘s first album only sold a few thousand copies, but everyone who bought one formed a band.” Warhol also complained about not receiving compensation for his production and cover graphic for that disk (“I never got a penny for that first Velvet’s album”).

The promotional photograph may have inadvertently invented what would later become the Sleeveface internet meme, with fans posing with album covers obscuring parts of their body.

 
 

Approaching to Mick Jagger

“Mick Jagger really put Montauk on the map. All the motels were overflowing with groupies. Two girls with no hair and black cats on leashes followed them all the way to Montauk. Mr. Winters – the caretaker of the estate – found them hiding in the bushes!”
Andy Warhol

 
 

Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol and Fred Hughes. Photo session documented by Annie Leibovitz, Mountauk, 1975

Immortalizing Mortality and the Ages of Life

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players,
They have their exits and entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then, the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice
In fair round belly, with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws, and modern instances,
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side,
His youthful hose well sav’d, a world too wide,
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again towards childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

William Shakespeare

 
 

Andy Warhol, Skulls, 1976-1977

 
 

 
 

Andy Warhol had bought a skull at a flea market in Paris, France, around 1975 and when he came back to New York, started the Skulls series. Warhol was encouraged to developing the series by his business manager Fred Hughes who reminded him that artist such as Francisco de Zurbarán and Pablo Picasso had used that object with great expressive effect.

In this work of art, supposedly by chance, the shadow did get the shape of a baby’s head, and after Warhol noticed that coincidence, he compared that paintings as a representation of the ages of life.

Principal to Andy Warhol’s reputation as the most significant and influential visual artist of the later Twentieth Century is his obsession with the iconic and with death, and his revolution in image repetition. More than any others, these are the features that inspired his artistic canon and thereby changed western visual culture. It is difficult to conceive of a more concentrated manifestation of these characteristics than the present work: ten individually stunning canvases that repeatedly represent the icon of the skull; the literal multiplication of death.

Sylvia Plath’s Influence on Popular Culture

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath on The Gilmore Girls, Season 1, Episode 12, Double Date

 
 

Stills and dialogue from Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)

 
 

Sylvia is a 2003 British biographical drama film directed by Christine Jeffs and starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig, Jared Harris, and Michael Gambon. It tells the true story of the romance between prominent poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. The film begins with their meeting at Cambridge in 1956 and ends with Sylvia Plath’s suicide in 1963.

 
 

Told through the character of Esther Greenwood, Plath’s semi-autobiographical heroine of The Bell Jar, this play is a revealing and absurd interpretation of the legendary poet’s life in the moments before her death.

 
 

The Simpsons, season 20, episode 11  titled How The Test Won

 
 

 
 

“…I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer
I spat out Plath and Pinter
I am all the things that you regret
A truth that washes that learnt how to spell…”

Manic Street Preachers

Faster

(Ninth track from their 1994 studio album, The Holy Bible)

 
 

Manic Street Preachers’ song The Girl Who Wanted To Be God it’s another reference to Sylvia Plath. It’s actually a reference to a line she wrote about herself – “I think I would like to call myself “the girl who wanted to be God.”  It was included in their 1996 studio album, Everything Must Go. The working title of this album was Sounds in the Grass, named after a series of paintings by Jackson Pollock.

 
 

Dance in the Dark, the song by American recording artist Lady Gaga, from her third EP The Fame Monster, refers to famous people who met with a tragic end of their lives, including Plath.

 
 

Gold (2001), second studio album by Ryan Adams. The ninth song from this studio album was titled after her

Uncommon Response

Assia Wevill

 
 

Assia Wevill was Sylvia Plath’s polar opposite: raven-haired, magnetic, cosmopolitan–and, though multilingual and brilliantly well read, unambitious as a poet. But the women have one thing in common: Each killed herself when she was abandoned by Ted Hughes.

Born in 1927 Berlin, Assia Gutmann fled the Nazis with her Russian Jewish father and German mother to Tel Aviv, eventually marrying a British soldier. She was on her third husband, the poet David Wevill, by the time she met Ted and Sylvia, who were taken with the couple–especially Assia, a vibrant embodiment of the prewar European culture that so fascinated them. It was while the Wevills were visiting in Devon in May 1962, as Hughes later wrote that “the dreamer in me/fell in love with her”. When he was next in London, he left a note at the office where Assia worked as a copywriter: “I have come to see you, despite all marriages”. She responded with a blade of grass dipped in Dior perfume.

 
 

Bibliography:

Lover of Unreason; Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath’s Rival, and Ted Hughes’s Doomed Love
By Yehuda Koren and Eilat Negev
(Carroll & Graf)

The Girl Who Lived in The Tree

“And the great elms o’erhead
Dark shadows wove on their aërial looms,
Shot through with golden thread.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Hawthorne, Stanza 2

 
 

“In crystal vapour everywhere
Blue isles of heaven laughed between
And far, in forest-deeps unseen,
The topmost elm-tree gather’d green
From draughts of balmy air”

Tennyson

Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere

 
 

The cloth-wrapped tree reminded a Christo art installation

 
 

Let’s analyze again from where Alexander McQueen drew inspiration for his 2008-2009 Autumn/Winter Collection.

I’ve got a 600-year-old elm tree in my garden and I made up this story of a girl who lives in it and comes out of the darkness to meet a prince and become a queen”, he claimed, was the seed of the narrative his collection would branch out from.

McQueen was an egghead, I mean, a true intellectual, especially when he was searching out information about a concept for any of his fashion collections and I’m certain, because of this, he was aware of the mythological and religious connections behind The Girl Who Lived in The Tree.

 
 

John William Waterhouse, Hamadryad

 
 

Ἁμαδρυάδες (Hamadryads) according to Greek mythology are mostly female beings that live in a tree, in fact they are bonded to a particular tree. Some believe that hamadryads are the actual tree, while normal dryads are simply the entities, or spirits, of the trees. If the tree died, the hamadryad associated with it died as well. For that reason, dryads and the gods punished any mortals who harmed trees.

The first reference in literature to elms occurs in the epic poem attributed to Homer, Iliad. When Eetion, father of Andromache, is killed by Achilles during the Trojan War, the Mountain Nymphs plant elms on his tomb. Also in the Iliad, when the River Scamander, indignant at the sight of so many corpses in his water, overflows and threatens to drown Achilles, the latter grasps a branch of a great elm in an attempt to save himself.

But specifically, Deipnosophistae of Athenaeus (The Banquet of the Learned or Philosophers at Dinner) an ancient Greek text written in the early 3rd century AD, lists eight Hamadryads, the daughters of Oxylus and Hamadryas. And Ptelea is the name given to the hamadryad bonded to the Elm, a hermaphroditic tree comprising the genus Ulmus in the plant family Ulmaceae.

 
 

Giovanni Segantini, Le Cattive Madri (The Evil Mothers), 1894

 
 

Arthur Rackham, Freia (a combination of Freyja and the goddess Iðunn—from Richard Wagner’s opera Der Ring des Nibelungen ), 1910.

 
 

Arthur Hughes. Back from Sea, 1862. The characters of this painting are resting under a Ulmus procera