Friday, April 13, 2018

What Does Psychedelic Look Like? Mind-Blowing Art of Martin Sharp

#82 on the Rolling Stone list of great album covers.
When you were in high school did you get into the album cover artwork as much as you got into the music of your favorite bands? I'm sure I wasn't alone in this because both Rolling Stone and Billboard have created lists of the Top 100 Greatest Album Covers. To see Sgt. Pepper as Numero Uno on the Rolling Stone list doesn't surprise me. The Beatles also garnered number three with the White Album. Before looking at the list I half wondered where the White Album would be, because even though there was nothing on it, it left plenty for the imagination. In fact, there was all kinds of speculation about whether what was on it was too controversial for public consumption. In short, it was effective for creating buzz, and memorable.

Two cover designs by the human pop art factory Andy Warhol made the top ten: Sticky Fingers (The Stones, #4 here and #22 on Billboard) and Velvet Underground & Nico album with the peel off banana (#10 at Rolling Stone and #1 on Billboard's list).

"Great" when it comes to album cover design, is evidently a matter of opinion and taste, unlike baseball where you know exactly and precisely how many batters touched all the bases and crossed the plate. Or soccer, where you can count exactly how many times the announcer shouted, G-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-A-L-L-L-L-L.

I half wondered whether Dylan's Blonde On Blonde would make either list because it was the first rock double album. It did not. Strangely enough, his Self Portrait album cover did make the Billboard list.

But the real aim of this was to draw attention to Martin Sharp, the illustrator from Down Under (a.k.a. Australia) who created the distinctive artwork for Cream's Disraeli Gears and Wheels of Fire.

Sharp was significant enough to earn an obituary in the New York Times, an acknowledgement that you were a "someboady" at some point in your lifetime. The article called him "an artist who spaed the imagery of rock." As with many things in life, it helps to be in the right place at the right time.

The artist arrived in London in 1966, just as psychedelia and the hippie movement were coming to a boil. The British Invasion, which began two years earlier, was developing an identity and Sharp was helping shape it. Check out the clothing these rock stars were decked out, and as much as the Paris runway defines women's clothing styles, so did rock heroes shape the clothing styles of many Sixties teens.

Cream was one of my own fave supergroups of that time. I had all their albums, giving Disraeli Gears much playtime. I'd not realized that Martin Sharp wrote the lyrics for "Tales of Brave Ulysses"-- a psychedelic Odyssey -- until I read that Times obituary.

Some great live Cream on sides 3 & 4
By 1970 he returned to his homeland where he spent another 40 years making art, posters, designing a publication called OZ, and pushing boundaries, occasionally a bit too far.

As a young artist myself I often wondered during that time whether the manner in which the lettering on a lot of psychedelic art was the result of psychedelics, or simply the emulation of influencers like Sharp, or the San Francisco underground scene of that era. (R. Crumb's Zap Comix, for example.)

Well, enough of this trip down memory lane. Better start my day.

Related Links
Rick Poyner's essay at the Design Observer
His 1967 Oz magazine cover and the mind-blowing original poster
A page of links to other Martin Sharp information
Martin Sharp Blogspot
Backstory on Sharp's Dylan Poster "Blowing in the Mind"

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it.

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