New Order and Fantin-Latour

Paintings and music, in accord with whatever small event takes the viewer or listener at any particular time outside of the image or soundtrack, undertake an interesting evolution. There is a painting “Roses” by French painter Fantin-Latour, introduced to me by the cover of the New Order album Power, Corruption and Lies (1983). The painting was exhibited during the late 19th century, and appears like a camera-captured bouquet of multi-colored white, pink, and red roses, to convey a counterpoint to the impressionistic tradition of painting by placing movement amid the momentary event of brush strokes that locate the presence of the artist.

The painting, or a similar work by Fantin-Latour, shows up again a few decades later in Volume three of Marcel Proust’s A Search for Lost Time: The Guermantes Way:

“‘Many young women’s hands would be incapable of doing what I see there,’ said the Prince, pointing to Mme de Villeparisis’s unfinished watercolors. And he has asked her whether she had seen the flower painting by Fantin-Latour which had recently been exhibited.”

Some of the more interesting readings of Fantin-Latour’s paintings underscore the idea of movement within them. The flowers were painted, supposedly, as if on the brink of falling.

FIGURE I: Roses by Fantin-Latour (1836-1904), reappropriated for New Order by Peter Saville

New Order placed Fantin-Latour’s painting “Roses” on the cover of the album Power, Corruption and Lies, with a mysterious chromatic color-code bar placed to the upper right corner (SEE FIGURE 1 ABOVE). There is a color wheel on the back of the album sleeve which invites the listener to decode the mysterious squares. When completed, the colors stand for 4 letters and 2 numbers: FACT 75 (the 75th work of Factory Records). Though most of the conversation revolves around creative designer Peter Saville, who has been a central figure in key Factory Records album covers, there is something interesting in the repetition and reappropriation of the painting. The contradiction is, on one hand, between the painting, a contemplation on movement and artistic presence, and, on the other hand, the color bars—a contemplation on copyright and the presence of capitalism. There is presence of artist (it is no longer one), and presence of industry (that multiplies presence of the work). Factory Records is the infamous production and distribution label for New Order (and their Joy Division predecessor) that worked outside of the dominant exploitive strictures of the industry. The film 24 Hour Party People (2002) portrays the moment of signing ‘in blood’ to signify friendship rather than corporate ownership. While the colors are easy to recognize, the relationship between the painting and the new color inscription is not. In any case, the context of work has changed.

FIGURE II: Peter Saville's Color Wheel for New Order
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