Near & Far: Spui Boeken Markt, Amsterdam
Stall owners sit slouched in picnic chairs down the centre of the cobbled path, carved out of the square by two long troves of literary treasure. There’s an unspoken code that strictly forbids the hassling bargaining techniques infamous to most markets, allowing the owners’ card games to unfold undisturbed and leaving browsers to peruse in peace.
Amsterdam book market, although small, is vast in its offerings. A morning here is not nearly enough to examine even half of what’s displayed. Hidden in endless mounds of books are delights from a first edition Winnie the Pooh to an 1860 copy of Oorsprong van Soorten (‘The Origin of Species’). Alongside the books, of which I bought a century-old soft leather-bound Keats collection, are piles of magazines, posters, stamps and lithographs. It took me at least two hours to whittle down the heap of ‘30s satirical magazines, art nouveau soap labels and miniature bird stamps. I eventually settled on two late ’60s psychedelic rock posters by aptly named art/music collective, Hapshash and the Coloured Coat for rock band Soft Machine.
The old-school style is one we are now accustomed to, as replicas and re-creations splatter the brick walls of graffitied streets like Stokes Croft. It’s hard to transport your imagination back to a time when trippy coloured gypsy women hadn’t yet been reprinted to the point of exacerbation. Leafing through the original posters left me sentimental for a decade of discovery that I wasn’t a part of. The artworks and music combined epitomise the hypnotic, seductive appeal of the rejection of societal norms some fifty, sixty years ago. Rediscovering them now allows us to indulge in that nostalgia, tapping into the spirit of that free-loving age.
Throughout history, art has always acted as a catalyst for change. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, with the revolutionary assistance of radio-waves, music jumped aboard the bandwagon to draw the masses together in campaigns against US military involvement in East Asia. The posters and illustrations that accompanied them worked as the physical embodiment of the message they were projecting. Music made the noise whilst art silently infiltrated the minds of even the most stubborn. Through stylisation and colour, an image has the ability to be stamped onto the memory of its observer.
The Hapshash posters embody the creativity of peace movements that had been cultivated by the late 1960s. Even if their original impact is lost on our now overcrowded eye-lines, the memory they evoke is one of such mysticism that they force us to yearn a bygone era whether we’re entitled to or not.
[Adapted from an article from Epigram Arts]