Monday, May 8, 2017

Psychedelic Overseas - 1967

In 1967, Peter Blake created his masterpiece in Sgt. Pepper's album cover. Though he'd been exposed to the work of American psychedelic artists like Mouse and Kelly and Nigel Waymouth, Blake wasn't a part of that scene, but merely an associate. Though instrumental in setting the pace, and the artist behind the equally brilliant Beatles LP known familiarly as The White Album, other British artists would steal the limelight on the psychedelic scene. Blake preferred the visionary work of William Blake, and considered himself a peer to the Pop artists who'd emerged a decade early. 

Instead, young and dapper, and full of themselves, as youth are allowed to be, were artists like Klaus Voorman, Nigel Waymouth and Michael English, the latter two working under the collective title Hapshash and the Coloured Coat (that collective would also include a bevy of blues tracks and a relatively unlistenable LP). These young artists embraced the American underground and created a psychedelic scene of their own in London. English was working at the International Times in 1967 and was recruited to create posters for the burgeoning music scene at the UFO, while another of those talented and in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time artists was Australian, Martin Sharp.

Sharp was one of the artists who established the legendary underground Australian magazine, Oz, contributing a great many memorable and cheeky covers. The magazine was founded in 1962, but in 1966 Sharp and editor-in-chief, Richard Neville, headed for London to start the U.K. version. Oz was filled with Sharp's cartoons, drawings and finished works. While in London, Sharp met Eric Clapton at The Speakeasy and ended up co-writing the Cream song "Tales of Brave Ulysses." The song appeared on Disraeli Gears and was the B-side to Cream's hit, "Strange Brew." Sharp was flatmates in a sprawling London mansion with Clapton when he designed his Cream covers. When one looks at his work, Sharp is one of the few psychedelic artists who doesn’t seem particularly hemmed in by the genre. His draftsmanship and artistic flexibility are impressive, as is his irreverent wit — just check out his treatment of the Mona Lisa for proof of that. His Cream album covers and his work for Oz seem like the work of the same person, and yet aren't particularly alike, aren't pigeonholed into the psych scene.

Two events in 1966, though, inspired and shaped the underground scene on both continents: London's retrospective of Audrey Beardsley's work at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Bay Area's Jugendstil and Expressionism in Germany exhibition in Berkeley, California. (Jugendstil simply was German for Art Nouveau.) Though the events were separated by 6000 miles, it was a unifying force in the psychedelic movements; the idea of each that art allows for visual expression of the spirit. The fluid and sensual lines of Art Nouveau coupled with the Blakian horrors of expressionism were right down that crooked psychedelic alley. And it was in that alley that these artists converged; among them Mouse and Kelly, Victor Moscoso, Wes Wilson, Martin Sharp, Rick Griffin, Bridget Riley and Mati Klarwein. Peter Max and Milton Glaser would join in from New York.

The scene as we've covered it so far is purely an artistic venture, one that stood alone from rock music; indeed it would not/could not have existed without it, but here we had an artistic movement unto itself – it was all about the artwork. No doubt that the Grateful Dead's Acid Tests played a role, and the art scene quickly influenced the style and culture of San Francisco, but the movement was purely aesthetic in nature. That would not be the case with The Fool. The Fool would take the idea and market it as a package that included fashion, art, Mad Men-like advertising and The Beatles.