Symbolism was a late nineteenth-century art movement of French, Russian and Belgian origin in poetry and other arts. In literature, the style had its beginnings with the publication Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil, 1857) by Charles Baudelaire. The works of Edgar Allan Poe, which Baudelaire admired greatly and translated into French, were a significant influence and the source of many stock tropes and images. The aesthetic was developed by Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine during the 1860s and '70s. In the 1880s, the aesthetic was articulated by a series of manifestos and attracted a generation of writers. The name 'symbolist' itself was first applied by the critic Jean Moréas, who invented the term to distinguish the symbolists from the related decadents of literature and of art. Distinct from, but related to, the style of literature, symbolism of art is related to the gothic component of Romanticism. Symbolists believed that art should represent absolute truths that could only be described indirectly. Thus, they wrote in a very metaphorical and suggestive manner, endowing particular images or objects with symbolic meaning. Jean Moréas published the Symbolist Manifesto ('Le Symbolisme') in Le Figaro on 18th September 1886. Moréas announced that symbolism was hostile to "plain meanings, declamations, false sentimentality and matter-of-fact description", and that its goal instead was to "clothe the Ideal in a perceptible form" whose "goal was not in itself, but whose sole purpose was to express the Ideal." In a nutshell, to depict not the thing but the effect it produces:
In this art, scenes from nature, human activities, and all other real world phenomena will not be described for their own sake; here, they are perceptible surfaces created to represent their esoteric affinities with the primordial Ideals.
The symbolist poets wished to liberate techniques of versification in order to allow greater room for "fluidity", and as such were sympathetic with the trend toward free verse, as evident by the poems of Gustave Kahn and Ezra Pound. Symbolist poems were attempts to evoke, rather than primarily to describe; symbolic imagery was used to signify the state of the poet's soul (Squire has heavy weather in the soul). T.S. Eliot was indebted to the Symbolist techniques of Verlaine and Rimbaud. Synesthesia was a prized experience; poets sought to identify and confound the separate senses of scent, sound, and colour. Baudelaire's poem Correspondences, which speaks of "forests of symbols", is considered to be the touchstone of French Symbolism. The earlier Romanticism of poetry used symbols, but these symbols were unique and privileged objects. The symbolists were more extreme, investing all things, even vowels (Rimbaud, Voyelles) and perfumes (Baudelaire, Correspondences), with potential symbolic value. The physical universe is a kind of language that invites a privileged spectator to decipher it, although this does not yield a single message so much as a superior network of associations. Symbolist symbols are not allegories, intended to represent; they are instead intended to evoke particular states of mind. The nominal subject of Stéphane Mallarmé's Le cygne ('The Swan') is of a swan trapped in a frozen lake. Significantly, in French, cygne is a homophone of signe, a sign.
As the Titian recreation here illustrates, John Squire 'restages' artistic works. A previous essay details Squire's interest in the artist, Francis Bacon. In the following photo, I propose that Ian and John are restaging a 1933 Bacon work entitled 'Crucifixion'.
Squire's use of Jackson Pollock in Stone Roses photoshoots and artwork has been well documented. I propose that Squire is also drawing upon the work of other artists to shape some of the band's photoshoots, some of which were photographed by Pennie Smith. When asked in a Smash Hits (July 1990) interview to describe his room, Squire replies:
The following Pennie Smith photos bear the influence of two illustrations. The first is by British artist, Joseph Edward Southall (1861 - 1944), while the second is 'Sketchbook Sheet' by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684 - 1721).
I propose that 'Target With Four Faces' by Jasper Johns influenced the concept of the following Pennie Smith photo.
One possible influence on Squire staging works of art in photoshoots may have been the 1981 debut album cover, 'See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah! City All Over! Go Ape Crazy!' by Bow Wow Wow, which restaged 'Le Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe' by Edouard Manet (1832 - 1883). This act itself has been parodied several times since, for example in Paul McCartney's 'Give My Regards to Broad Street' (1984). John Squire undoubtedly attempts to embed meaning within photoshoots. The Pennie Smith photo of The Stone Roses, below, is a visual representation of the 'See No Hear No Speak No Evil' adage: See No (Mani's eyes are covered), Hear No (Ian's ears are closed by the heads of Mani and John), Speak No (John's mouth has tape across it). This adage most likely stems from the religious principle, "If we do not hear, see, or speak evil, we ourselves shall be spared all evil."
In a June 2011 interview with online music magazine, live4ever, Ian Tilton revealed that one of his sessions with The Stone Roses took inspiration from a Pennie Smith photo of The Clash:
An early session with them, the second one with Mani, I actually said to them let's do a kind of copy of a Pennie Smith Clash picture, so I got a great shot of them all lined up together at my studio, all real tight-in with each other and they looked cool as fuck with like S-shaped bends to their collective image. Although it was influenced it wasn't a copy and it's a great picture in its own right because no two pictures look the same anyway due to light and settings."
I think this photoshoot from September 1988 (not 1989, as erroneously stated on the photo) is the shot that Ian Tilton is referring to. It was taken at Ian Tilton's studio, 191 Oswald Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, near John Squire's house. This 'S shape' was again present in a later photoshoot, with Pennie Smith.
In a 2019 interview with www.thestoneroses.co, Pennie Smith made the following comment regarding the above essay (emphasis in bold is mine):
In terms of shape, if you look at various pictures, some have a pointy centre bit in the middle; some have a diagonal-line up to the right or left which leads your eye up to the right or the left. If I had have been a studio photographer I'm sure I'd be working on that. I seem to gut react to it. I'm currently working on a big project and the first couple of dozen I pulled out all had the same composition and I wasn't happy about it, so yes I do shape photos in particular ways as no doubt do artists and musicians if 'caigence is cause' but it's not conscious."
I have come here to chew bubble gum and show symbolism, and I'm all outta bubble gum.
Now, if only I had some irrefutable evidence that the driving artistic force of the band was just crazy about symbolism. Kinda makes me feel like Riverdancing.
As a point of clarification, nowhere in my analysis do I claim that Pennie Smith is 'masterminding' symbolic photoshoots with the band. In this essay, and indeed throughout my website, my proposal has always been that John Squire is the chief figure in this regard. He's the top dog. The big man. Numero uno honcho. The head cheese. A quick checklist might illustrate my reasoning towards this assumption:
Q) Has anyone in the band confirmed a marked 'symbolic' quality to their work ?
Ding ! The head honcho defines his entire artistic output thus (see above). This seems to have rubbed off on the rest of the group. For Pete's sake, the band's songs are full of religious symbolism. You could say they wear it like a shirt. In this light, Squire throwing a cruciform shape in line with a human frame here raises the distinct possibility that they were placed there with religious intent. I am all ears as to any other interpretation of that Pennie Smith photo.
Q) Is this a band well versed in 'hidden meanings' and 'secrecy' ?
Absolutely. It's just a matter of reading the signs and fine-tuning your antennae. John Squire is the sort of person who launches his official website with the words Sub Rosa subliminally flashing on the screen. Symbols, meanings hidden in plain sights.
Q) We have read how John Squire describes himself in four words. How does Ian Brown describe him in three ?
Q) Is this a chap inclined to frame the real world in correlation with works of art ?
Yeah, she looks like a painting !
Q) Is there any evidence of the band 'restaging' works of art in their output (music videos, artwork, photoshoots, etc) ?
Unquestionably. Now try and picture this...
In my interview with Sophie Muller in 2010, she confirms my theory that the Ten Storey Love Song video is a series of 'restaged' Francis Bacon paintings. I don't think it's a stretch of the imagination to suggest that this creative mindset extends to photoshoots ? Indeed, where else better to capture the artistic form ?
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