Photographers Unknown, And the Moral Seems to Be . . .
In winter, Miss Jansson paints in her very comfortable studio in Helsinki; but in summer, she comes to the island and draws Moomin.
Max said, “Don’t you ever feel inspired to paint the Finnish countryside in summer?”
“It’s all so damned green,” she answered.
Then she told us about the squirrel, the one squirrel which has appeared on the island; and it slept under her neck and tried to collect food there. As the relationship between artist and squirrel developed, the squirrel came to expect a game at four o’clock in the morning. Tove Jansson had to get out of bed and pretend to be a tree. The squirrel would run up and down her frozen limbs.
One day, the squirrel disappeared. He may have jumped on a floating plank, for later he was reported to have appeared on another island. It must have been the same squirrel, for he positively forced open the tent of some campers, and—he was not welcome. It was four o’clock in the morning.
As soon as Miss Jansson learnt of the incident, she immediately rowed to the other island. She called. She stood about the place looking like a tree. But the squirrel never showed a whisker. Perhaps he’d sailed off again on a romantic Odyssey, looking for another squirrel and using his curly tail as a sail. And the moral seems to be that it is not enough to be a tree!
Oswell Blakeston, Sun At Midnight, 1958 Travel Book, The Archipelago, Page 85, Publisher Anthony Blond, London
Born to a family of Austrian origins in May of 1907, Henry Joseph Hasslacher was an English writer, poet, and filmmaker. He used the pseudonym Oswell Blakeston during his career, a reference to his mother’s maiden name and to English poet and essayist Osbert Sitwell.
Oswell Blakeston left his home at the age of sixteen; he subsequently became a stage magician’s assistant, a cinema organist, and an assistant cameraman at Gaumont Studios where he worked alongside the young David Lean. In August of 1927, Blakeston joined the staff of the Pool Group’s magazine “Close Up” as the protégé of the publication’s editor Kenneth Macpherson. He contributed a total of eighty-four articles to all but four of the journal’s issues, more than any other writer.
While writing for “Close Up”, Blakeston worked in various capacities in the British film industry. In 1929, he first tested his directorial skills with the short film “I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside”, which was based on the popular British music hall song of the same name. Working alongside American photographer Francis Bruguière, Blakeston directed and produced the short 1930 film “Light Rhythms”. This strictly abstract film, one of the first in England, added new dimensions to Bruguière’s experimental photographic work through the use of moving light sources, superimpositions, and elements of music. The film score was composed by Jack Ellitt and played on piano by Donald Sosin.
Among Oswell Blakeston’s early literary endeavors was his co-editorship with Herbert Jones of the small magazine “Seed” from 1932 to 1933. Under the pseudonym of Simon, he collaborated with novelist and screenwriter Roger Buford on the writing of four mystery novels: the 1933 “Murder Among Fiends”, “Death on the Swim” in 1934, the 1935 “Cat with a Moustache”, and “The Mystery of the Hypnotic Room” in 1949. Blakeston also wrote novels and story collections, as well as, ten volumes of poetry under his own name. His fifteen books of fiction were wide ranging in scope and included a number of works that mixed gay themes with suspense and detective plots.
Blakeston contributed writings to British writer and poet John Gawsworth’s published short-story anthologies. He also collaborated on works with Matthew Phipps Shiell, also known as M. P. Shiel, a writer of supernatural horror and science fiction whose “The Purple Cloud” remains his best known work. Blakeston is known in the literary world for a number of publication firsts. His 1932 “Magic Aftermath” was the first fiction published with a spiral binding and his 1935 crime novel “The Cat with the Moustache” contained one of the first descriptions of a hallucinatory experience with peyote or mescal.
In the 1950s, Blakeston was a frequent contributor to “ArtReview” and other periodicals including “John O’ London’s Weekly” and “What’s On in London”. In addition to his novels and poetry, Blakeston published cookbooks, travel adventures, works on photography and cinematography, and two books on animals, “Working Cats” and “Zoo Keeps Who?”. Most of his literary work was produced for publication by small presses and speciality publishers and thus is no longer in print. Recent interest in Blakeston’s writings has resulted in reprints of his more popular works; more obscure volumes appear occasionally at more specialized venues.
Blakeston met painter Max Chapman at the end of the 1920s. Chapman had attended London’s Byam Shaw School of Art where he studied under and became friends with painter Charles Ricketts. Ricketts and his life-time companion Charles Shannon were part of the literary and artistic circle that included Aubrey Beardsley and Oscar Wilde. Blakeston and Chapman became life-long partners and lived together at a residence named “Lobster Pot” in Mousehole, a small fishing village in Cornwall. Through his association with Chapman, Blakeston met and became friends with modernist writer Mary Francis Butts and poet and author Dylan Thomas.
Both Blakeston and Chapman became fixtures of the Cornish artistic scene. Blakeston’s paintings were a mix of abstract and expressionistic imagery executed in a small scale. His 1982 “Adolescence”, though influenced by Chapman’s work, is stylistically closer to the Pop Art movement; it is currently housed in the collection of the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. Blakeston exhibited his artwork in over forty solo shows and one-hundred group shows. In 1981, he shared an exhibition with Max Chapman at the Middlesbrough Art Gallery. Blakeston’s paintings are housed in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum, Belfast’s Ulster Museum, the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, and galleries in Poland, Finland and Portugal.
Blakeston and Chapman’s portraits were drawn by painter and sculptor Sven Berlin, a member of the St. Ives artistic community: Blakeston’s portriat in 1939 and Chapman’s in 1941. These portraits became part of a series entitled “St. Ives Personalities”, that is now held in a private collection. A portrait of Blakeston painted by Max Chapman was part of a 1976 exhibition of portraits held at the Camden Art Centre. Oswell Blakeston died on the 4th of June in 1985. Max Chapman continued to paint until his death, fourteen years later, on the 18th of November in 1999.
Notes: Although listed at the British Film Institute registry and mentioned in Michael O’Pray’s “The British Avant-Garde Film 1926 to 1995”, Oswell Blakeston’s film “I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside” seems not available for viewing. His 1930 “Light Rhythms” is however available for viewing at the Light Cone Experimental Film site located at: https://lightcone.org/en/film-5793-light-rhythms
Since the 1930s, one of Oswell Blakeston’s passions was the history and architecture of follies, costly ornamental buildings with no practical purpose that were usually built in gardens or parks. He amassed a collection of county files, notes and clippings on the subject. A short article on this topic can be found at The Folly Flâneuse’s site located at: https://thefollyflaneuse.com/oswell-blakestons-folly-suitcase/
Additional information on Oswell Blakeston’s life and published works can be found at the Social Networks and Archival Context site located at: https://snaccooperative.org/ark:/99166/w6087wx3#biography-collapse
Top Insert Image: Howard Coster, “Oswell Blakeston”, 1930s, Photo Session, Half-Plate Negative Print, National Portrait Gallery, London
Second Insert Image: Oswell Blakeston, “Pass the Poison Separately”, 1976, Publisher Catalyst, Ontario
Third Insert Image: Oswell Blakeston and Francis Bruguière, “Few Are Chosen, Studies in the Theatrical Lighting of Life’s Theatre”, 1931, First Edition, Scholartis Press, Private Collection
Fourth Insert Image: Oswell Blakeston, “The Night’s Moves”, 1961, First Edition, Publisher Gaberbocchus Press, London
Bottom Insert Image: Howard Coster, “Oswell Blakeston”, 1930s, Photo Session, Half-Plate Film Negative Print, National Portrait Gallery, London