Alan Aldridge: The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes


I’ve never been all that keen on Alan Aldridge‘s brand of psychedelic art but it’s worth noting here the (London) Design Museum retrospective which runs from 10 October to 25 January, 2009. Aldridge’s work as a designer and illustrator for Penguin Books in the Sixties impresses me more than his subsequent illustrated Beatles lyrics and The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper Feast (1973), a pair of books which seemed ubiquitous in the 1970s. Flickr has a decent selection of his book covers which included a run of sf paperbacks in 1967. Ballard’s The Wind from Nowhere is the very slight debut novel which the author prefers to forget. Where Ballard in Penguin is concerned, David Pelham’s work a few years later was a far more suitable match.

Seeing Aldridge honoured with a big retrospective make me wonder why Roger Dean hasn’t yet been given the same accolade. Dean for me is by far the better artist in terms of distinctive and memorable imagery; he’s also a better draughtsman and far more imaginative designer (not to mention having always been a speculative architect). I suspect Dean’s reputation is still blighted by his associations with Yes and the general antipathy which that band’s name generates in a certain middle-aged sector of Britain’s cultural commentariat. Ballard’s name was equally blighted in literary circles by his science fiction associations and it was Barcelona, not London, which honoured him with a major exhibition recently. There may be some home-grown reappraisals in the offing but I won’t hold my breath.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Ballard in Barcelona
The New Love Poetry
Penguin Labyrinths and the Thief’s Journal
Penguin designer David Pelham talks
Barney Bubbles: artist and designer

8 thoughts on “Alan Aldridge: The Man With Kaleidoscope Eyes”

  1. I always thought Aldridge was underated – hes very whimsical and twee, but then i like twee and whimsey. Youre right, Roger Dean was far better(and Michael English or John Hurford or even Patrick Woodroffe),but Aldridge still occasionally has that victorian playroom on lsd feel of English psychedelia.
    Youre right about Yes, too. amazing how some people think the Clash were in some way more authentic and less pompous (“Sandinista” anyone??)…

  2. I like Aldridge’s design work, just not so keen on that kind of blobby airbrush art he did so much of. I’m fine with twee and whimsy in music of the period–Brit psychedelia is full of it–but not in the art. Not sure I can explain why that’s the case.

    What struck me about Aldridge vs. Dean was that the usual complaints against Roger Dean which would rule him out of a major reappraisal could equally apply to Aldridge. I still wonder why one gets the accolade and the other doesn’t. Working for Penguin undoubtedly helped, as did his association with the Beatles.

    And thanks for reminding me about John Hurford (I have an issue of Oz with one of his covers). Just noticed he has a great website so I should give him a nod here at some point.

  3. Interestingly enough, Alan’s son Miles is a popular fashion photographer often featured on Fabulon! (And a recent pic of him shows that he’s quite the hottie, too. But I digress.)

  4. Hi John:

    I kinda like Aldridges’s work, and if I’m not mistaken (and I may be) he was of the artists behind the YELLOW SUBMARINE film back in the 60’s, alongside many other illustrators (but I may be wrong).
    But I agree that Roger Dean is a far more important illustrator, especially in that period of the 70’s when he drew covers for Uriah Heep and Yes, and later on Asia. Really, such bands make me twist my nose nowadays (and Yes, with the exception of their first ever album, and RELAYER, already made me do it back then). But Dean made a lot of other works, for different kind of bands and book covers. To this day, VIEWS and MAGNETIC STORM are still close to hand for me.
    As for Patrick Woodruffe, I have to agree with lord plum up there. I think he is one of the best illustrators England has brought to light, alongside Ian Miller. Well, that´s my opinion, of course there are many other illustrators whose work I admire as well, including yourself.
    Anyway, it’s good to see Alan Aldridge highlighted again.

  5. I like some of Patrick Woodroffe’s work–he also gets rather twee at times–I’ve got his Mythopoeikon book and used to have the Pentateuch album he did with Dave Greenslade. And Roger Dean did two covers for Greenslade, of course.

  6. Truth was, Aldridge was a bit of a house-hippy to the 60s middle classes… ooh, so daring, so psychedelic. And he never fessed up or gave credit to Harry Wilcox, the unassuming guy who actually wielded the airbrush on much of the work…

  7. Could i ask what grounds we are basing the conclusion that roger dean is a ‘more important illustrator than Aldridge’? I’m not prepared to argue that I know Aldridge was, and still is, one of the most iconic illustrators particulalry of the 60s, as im am sure you know more than i do. on the grounds of personal preferance however, i would argue undoubtedly that his work is not at all ‘twee’ neither is it unorignal. Dean may have done a huge range of works but so has Aldridge, if we consider the work for Incubus such as the light grenades album, compared with children’s books ‘the butterfly ball’ we have a world of difference, yet both have captured the hearts of today’s generations just as it did in the 60s.
    I don’t know who else went to the london museum of design to see his exhibition, but i found it possibly the most inspiratinal collection of work i have ever seen. As for his work not being particularly memorable, who doesnt remember the hard rock cafe sign? who forgets ‘captain fantastic’? As i said, i am sure you know about roger dean, as well as aldridge in much more depth than myself, but as a young artist i would find it interesting to learn where this eager dismissal of his work is coming from.

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