BOOK REVIEWS

 

 

103 Visionary Environments from Europe, North America, Asia and Africa.

Photographs by Deidi von Schaewen, text by John Maizels, edited by Angelika Taschen. 340 pages, 700 photographs. Text in English, French and German. ISBN 3-8228-7190-7.ú24.99

Are you looking for inspiration? Are you searching for visionary sparks that make you tremble with amazement and wonder? Are you waiting to be startled into a visionary awakening? Then simply open the pages of this stunning volume! But beware - because even just a brief glance at these pages will render views of the normal environments that surround us (such as gardens, installations, sculptures and buildings) as unspeakably dull, sterile and wasted. The fabulous creations displayed in this book remind us of the unimaginative and uninspiring world that most of us inhabit, in turn dulling our minds and our vision, and diminishing our spirit. If only the creators of the vacuous Millennium Dome in London had first seen the wonders so profusely and magnificently displayed in the pages of Fantasy Worlds!

This book provides spectacular photos of 103 of the most extraordinary Ovisionary environments╣ from around the world. One of the most moving elements of the book is the discovery from John Maizels╣ text that almost all the creators of these fantasy worlds came from simple and humble beginnings, rarely having received any tutoring or art education. These creators had no plans or drawings for their palaces and shrines, their towers and grottoes, their strange sculpted beasts and figures; their constructions simply grew organically. They did not use normal building materials, but made use of whatever was to hand - broken crockery, glass, scrap metal, driftwood, old dolls, cars parts, shells, bottles. One cannot fail to feel in awe not only of these creators╣ infinite inventiveness, but of their lifelong dedication and passion to their unique vision of an alternative reality. As John Maizels concludes in his excellent Introduction to the book, │These untutored geniuses have created a unique artform▓.

The photos of each site are accompanied by a short paragraph about the creator and the story that lies behind the work. In many cases I would have liked to have learned more, but space for the text was clearly limited, and the photos themselves reveal so much. The sites that moved me most deeply were those that contain monumental beasts and figures, created from cement and mosaics, or from scrap metal and waste materials. Le Parc-exposition, one of the innumerable amazing visionary environments in France, looks particularly stunning. This park of 5000m2 on the Mediterranean coast was created by former blacksmith Raymond Morales. The park contains over 700 towering and menacing-looking sculptured metal figures which appear to be hybrids of animal/ human/insect. Another fabulous-looking visionary environment is Il Parco dei Tarocchi (the Tarot Garden), in Tuscany, which has been created Niki de Saint Phalle*, assisted by Jean Tinguely, while Scottish artist Alan Davie painted the interior of one of the giant figures. Here, the photos show colossal colourful figures rising above the treetops. Each figure symbolises an element from the Tarot, and is covered in shimmering mirror, glass and ceramic mosaics. I was also stunned by the images of the │Forevertron▓ in Wisconsin, USA. This massive visionary device for space travel has been contructed by Tom Every, a former industrial salvage worker, using over 300 tons of waste machine components; 35m high, it contains a vast complex of tubes, wheels, and pipes, as well as being flanked by giant and beautiful bird-creatures.

Only four visionary environments from the UK (England) have been included: The Cement Managerie, in Northumberland (near Coldstream), a wonderful garden of cement animals and figures; The Little Chapel, decorated with pebbles and shells, in Guernsey; the Shell House and Garden, Bournemouth; and the Watford Shell Garden. There are many other sites of wonder in Britain, including Scotland, and hopefully one day these will also be documented in a volume of similarly beautiful productive quality. This book also provides a comprehensive bibliography and a useful list of addresses of the sites, and of related organisations.

Fantasy Worlds is very modestly priced given the fact that the high quality and the profusion of colour photos, together with the text, will transport the reader into the visionary realms of these genius creators. At a time when so many of us are searching for a way to enrich our spirit, this book can help us in this task - for it reveals that the human spirit can transcend the shallow constraints and expectations of modern living to produce a magical expression of our true selves.

Judith McNicol

*A fabulous example of Niki de Saint Phalle╣s sculptures can be seen at the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art, where her vividly coloured fibreglass sculpture of The Great Devil is displayed in the mirrored foyer that she designed; also, the room is lit by a series of coloured ceiling lamps mounted on a scrap metal sculpture created by Jean Tinguely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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