Henry Gets Surreal: On the Artistic Achievement That is “Into the NIght Life”

Israeli artist nightlife1Betzalel Schatz’s wife was the sister of Henry Miller’s fourth wife, Eve. Years before Schatz had lived in Big Sur and had collaborated with Miller on “Into the Night Life,” the hand-printed art book for which Henry wrote directly on the silk screens and Schatz created the artwork.

The project was — and remains! — a historic and innovative artistic achievement.

A master serigrapher, Schatz printed enough pages for 800 copies of the book, but only 200 were initially bound. As the story goes, upon finishing the book, they exuberantly drove to Hollywood and sold the first copy to Will Rogers!

The book represened a departure in book-making. Two hundred and forty stencils were made in order to reproduce the conents of the eighty pages which comprise the book. For some of the double pages, which are paintings in themselves, as many as twenty colors were used. The text alone covers 51 pages and, as noted, are in Miller’s own handwriting.

Betzalel Schatz

Betzalel Schatz

The text was taken from Henry’s “Black Spring,” which was first published in Paris in 1936 and subsquently reprinted in “The Cosmological Eye.” The text was chosen because of its imagistic style and because it lent itself to imaginative treatment by the artist. The text is full of archaic symbols and images, as well as childhood souveniers, all poetically rendered.

In true surrealist form, rather than having a title for each painting, the painting is simply paired with Miller’s text, on the opposing page, from “Black Spring.”

Here is the corresponding text to one painting:

“Where am I to lay my head if there is nothing but bears and mackintoshes and peanut whistles and broken slats? Am I to walk forever along this endless pasteboard street, this pasteboard that I can punch a hole in, which I can blow down with my breath, which I can set fire to with a match? The world has become a mystic maze erected by a gang of carpenters during the night. Everything is a lie, fake. Pasteboard”

Trippy!

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