My White Bicycle

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My White Bicycle (1967), poster by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat. Too risqué for EMI.

In what passes here for spare time I’ve been working on a private project that concerns events in London during a single week in 1967. I won’t elaborate for now but the research has been fun, and has led down byways where it’s easy to get lost in a profusion of historic detail. The International Times archive is a great time-sink if you want to see London’s psychedelic culture evolving from one week to the next. Oz magazine covered much of the same ground but in broader strokes; IT being a weekly paper was the closest thing the underground of the time had to a journal of record which means you’ll find things there which weren’t reported anywhere else.

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International Times, Volume 1, issue 13, 19/05/1967.

A brief item about a poster for the debut single by Tomorrow caught my eye, the artwork being an early piece by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat (Michael English and Nigel Waymouth) who we here discover were briefly known by another name:

MY WHITE BICYCLE

EMI join the long and growing list of those self-censors who still believe that the younger generation are going to continue to support them. The above poster for the Tomorrow record, MY WHITE BICYCLE, was rejected by EMI on the grounds that the titties might provoke “complaints from certain organizations…” So Jacob and the Coloured Coat (Mick English and Nigel Weymouth [sic]) put on their crocheted boots and manufactured a poster design from every phallic image they could. Subliminal pornography triumphed where open indecency had failed and the prick within sustains where the exposed breast falters.

Tomorrow were one of the first British psychedelic bands. My White Bicycle is their most memorable song but the rest of their self-titled debut album still holds up today. Ace guitarist Steve Howe became a lot more famous in Yes a few years later, while drummer Twink was in a host of bands in the late 60s and early 70s, Hawkwind included. My White Bicycle sounds superficially like a typical piece of psych whimsy à la Pink Floyd’s Bike (both songs were recorded at Abbey Road) but according to Twink there’s an anarchist subtext:

“My White Bicycle” was written out of what was actually going on in Amsterdam. One of the owners of Granny Takes a Trip, Nigel Weymouth [sic], had gone there and come back with a Provos badge which he gave to me. They were kind of like a student anarchist group that believed everything should be free. In fact, they had white bicycles in Amsterdam and they used to leave them around the town. And if you were going somewhere and you needed to use a bike, you’d just take the bike and you’d go somewhere and just leave it. Whoever needed the bikes would take them and leave them when they were done.

What would have been dismissed as pure utopianism now looks like prescience when bike-sharing schemes have become a reality. As to the redrawn poster, there’s a copy here which is described as very rare, hence its absence from other Hapshash galleries. Not really as phallic as the IT report implies; Aubrey Beardsley got away with a lot more priapic subterfuge in the 1890s when the strictures were also more severe.

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My White Bicycle (1967), the replacement poster by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat.

On the same page of IT there’s a brief announcement that The Beatles will have a new album out in June, something entitled Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. That album also gave EMI a headache with both Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and A Day In The Life being accused by “certain organisations” of promoting drugs. If the record company could have seen the greater headache that was coming less than ten years later from Malcolm McLaren and his King’s Road scallywags they might not have been so uptight.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Hapshash Takes a Trip
Michael English, 1941–2009
The Look presents Nigel Waymouth
The New Love Poetry

Hapshash Takes a Trip

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UFO Coming (1967) by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat.

It’s always difficult to choose a favourite from the posters that Nigel Waymouth and the late Michael English produced under the name Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, their standards remained high (so to speak) throughout their partnership. But I always liked the ejaculating penis butterfly on this early design for Joe Boyd’s UFO club, a detail which would have given Aubrey Beardsley a chuckle and which is probably unique in art. The gorgeous Hapshash posters receive another airing next month in an exhibition at the Idea Generation Gallery, London, entitled Hapshash Takes a Trip: The Sixties Work of Nigel Waymouth:

Waymouth’s own archive plays a major part in the retrospective. Kept privately for decades and rarely seen since their first creation in the late ’60s, the artist’s personal collection features works made as part of Hapshash and his designs for Granny Takes a Trip. Furthermore it contains his own album covers, photographs, press clippings and magazines. This extraordinary collection unites rare works with rare moments, through photographs never before seen in public.

The exhibition opens on September 9th. There’s more detail on the press release (PDF) including a promise that “Huge silk-screened reproductions of their iconic posters will fill the entirety of one of the Gallery’s soaring 20 foot walls.”

The exhibition title alludes to the celebrated King’s Road boutique Granny Takes A Trip whose series of striking shopfronts were decorated by Waymouth before and during his partnership with Michael English. The Look posted some pictures of Waymouth’s 1947 Dodge decor earlier this week.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Dukes declare it’s 25 O’Clock!
Psychedelic Wonderland: the 2010 calendar
Michael English, 1941–2009
Max (The Birdman) Ernst
The Look presents Nigel Waymouth
The New Love Poetry

Art Nouveau Revival 1900 . 1933 . 1966 . 1974

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It was the slightly gamy residue of the super-elegant and exotic pictures of Aubrey Beardsley. I have always considered the 1900 period as the psycho-analytical end-product of the Greco-Roman Decadence. I said to myself: Since these people will not hear of aesthetics and are capable of becoming excited only over “vital agitations”, I shall show them how in the tiniest ornamental detail of an object of 1900 there is more mystery, more poetry, more eroticism, more madness, perversity, torment, pathos, grandeur and biological depth than in their innumerable stock of ugly fetishes, possessing bodies and souls of a stupidity that is simply and uniquely savage!

Salvador Dalí, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí (1942).

More from Paris, whereupon it becomes necessary to ask: how much more groovy could this poster be? And the answer is none. None more groovy. Art Nouveau Revival 1900 • 1933 • 1966 • 1974 is an exhibition running at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, which traces the echoes of Art Nouveau through Surrealism into the revival of the 1960s.

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Poster by Albert Angus Turbayne for Macmillan’s illustrated Standard Novels (1903).

Rejected and scorned in the decades following its brief flowering, Art Nouveau was spectacularly rehabilitated in the 1960s. This re-evaluation offers a particularly interesting interlude in the history of style in that many different areas were affected at the same time by this phenomenon: the history of art, the art market, contemporary creative work, particularly design and graphics.

There’s further detail here, along with photos of some of the exhibits. Verner Panton’s Visiona II makes another appearance and in addition to Dalí and company there’s the magic word “psychedelic”. The exhibition runs until February 4, 2010, and there’s a catalogue co-written by the V&A’s fin de siècle expert Stephen Calloway which I’m going to have to buy. Via.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Beardsley at the V&A
Michael English, 1941–2009
Temples for Future Religions by François Garas
Antonin Mercié’s David
Art Nouveau illustration
Dirty Dalí
Verner Panton’s Visiona II
Flowers of Love

Psychedelic Wonderland: the 2010 calendar

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So I had a bright idea at the end of September… Instead of rehashing old work for a CafePress calendar design, I thought I’d try something new. I hadn’t done any artwork for myself all year, everything I’d been working on was a commission of some sort. In addition to that, I’d spent a large portion of the year delving deeper into the psychedelic music of the late Sixties, especially the wealth of obscure British bands to be found on the seemingly endless series of compilations which have trickled out over the past two decades. Everyone is familiar with Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit but, as I’ve noted before, themes from, and allusions to, the Alice books run through British psychedelia to an even greater degree. The Beatles put Lewis Carroll in their pantheon of influences on the cover of Sgt. Pepper, and Wonderland’s atmosphere of Victorian surrealism chimed perfectly with a resurgence of interest in Victorian art and design.

So at the end of September, mulling over ideas, I picked up one of my Lewis Carroll volumes and looked at the chapter list: 12 chapters…12 months…I could do a psychedelic Alice in Wonderland! The only drawback was being weighed down by ongoing work which meant that anything I did would have to be created quickly and easily. I reckoned it was manageable if I put a few rules in place first: try and rough out a chapter a day; make copious use of clip art decoration and scanned engravings; keep things bold and florid without worrying too much about fidelity to minor story points. In theory I could do the whole thing in about two weeks if I kept on schedule. As it turns out the whole thing took me three weeks as I got increasingly involved with illustrating the story. You can see the results below and larger copies of the pictures here. Two years ago I was saying I probably wouldn’t ever illustrate Lewis Carroll. That was true at the time since I couldn’t find an approach to the stories that would sustain my interest and (possibly) bring something new to the books. Seeing Alice’s adventures through the psychotropic prism of the late Sixties showed me the way into Wonderland. What’s needed now is to do the same next year for Looking-Glass Land. Watch this space.

Some notes on the pictures follow below.

Update: By popular demand, this calendar is now available again.

Continue reading “Psychedelic Wonderland: the 2010 calendar”

Michael English, 1941–2009

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left: The Soft Machine Turns On (1967); right: UFO Coming (1967).

This was a bitter blow coming at a time when I’ve been working on something inspired in part by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, the 1960s design duo comprised of Michael English and Nigel Waymouth. The two artists, together with associate Martin Sharp, are indelibly associated with the London psychedelic scene of the late Sixties. Whereas Sharp’s posters were often loose and dramatically bold explosions of shape and colour, the Hapshash posters were more carefully controlled in their curating of disparate elements borrowed from Art Nouveau—especially Mucha and Beardsely—comic strips, Op Art, Pop art and fantasy illustration. Their work perfectly complemented the very distinctive atmosphere of the capital’s psychedelic scene which, for a couple of hectic years, saw an explosion of new bands (or old bands in new guises) fervently engaged in a lysergic exploration of Victoriana, childhood memories and frequent silliness. UK psychedelia is generally more frivolous than its US equivalent which had the Vietnam War and civil disorder to deal with; English and Waymouth’s graphics captured the London mood.

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top left: Coke (1970); top right: Toothpaste (1974).
bottom left: Leaf Falls (1972); bottom right: Red no. 3 (1978).

In the 1970s English refashioned himself as a hyper-realist painter of foodstuffs and other consumer goods, and his meticulous airbrush style led to work as an advertising artist. Those paintings are beautifully rendered but often leave me feeling slightly queasy. I much prefer his work from later in the decade which depicted equally meticulous close-up views of oil-smeared buses and trains. Paper Tiger published a book collection in 1979, 3D Eye, which gathers the best of his work from the poster art on.

• Obituaries: Guardian | Times
• Hapshash poster galleries here and here

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Look presents Nigel Waymouth
The New Love Poetry