ROCK & POP
From the island of Ibiza my ex-partner Simon Posthuma and I moved to London in the summer of 1966. We were invited to stay at our friends Harry and Pamela Kerr, a painter we had met during our exhibition in Madrid earlier in the year. Right away we were happy to eat fish and chips out of newspaper cones and to hear great rock and pop music on the radio, especially “Chuck Berry”, “The Yardbirds”, “The Animals” and “The Kinks” struck chords that hit us hard. Pamela was scheduled to participate in an art exhibition out of town and asked us to babysit her two teenage daughters, Lulu and Baba at the Kerr’s Camden Town neighborhood house on Leighton Street.
It was a great opportunity to get to know the city and we went everywhere we needed to be on the underground “Tube”, which was a new experience for us. Pamela allowed us to use her big studio in the attic and I created the “Love Bob Dylan” poster there, per the request of heiress Barbara Hutton who was a huge Dylan fan. I also made the “Love Life” and “Book a Trip” images during that period, all in pen and India ink. At the time I was highly influenced by Aubrey Beardsley, Jan Toorop and most of all Alfonse Mucha. I love the flowing, elegant lines and style of “Art Nouveau” that came easily to my own hand.
Asa Benveniste of “Trigram Press” was interested in producing the first edition of those images as lithographs and soon Simon the charmer, blessed with the “Gift of the Gab”, made the rounds of interested venues to sell prints of my work in the cool Chelsea boutiques like “Granny takes a Trip”, “Hung on You” and the “Indica” bookshop, while I stayed in the studio painting the gouaches “Paradiso”, “Lucy” and “Venus & Mars”. I was also commissioned by Asa to design the cover for American poet George Andrews’ book “Burning Joy” that he was printing. Then Barry Miles invited us to attend the rocking rave at “The Round House” in October of ’66, organized to launch the underground newspaper “International Times”. The “Love Life” print was published full size in the first edition.
“The Roundhouse” was an icy cold cavernous venue. Wrought iron arches supporting the domed roof, the sound system blasting with mind-blowing performances by the “Soft Machine” and “Pink Floyd”, enhanced by colorful hallucinatory projections of oil and water slides, which gave it a groovy psychedelic ambiance. Attendees were all in costume, I saw Mick Jagger dressed as a Teddy boy and Marianne Faithful in a mini skirted nun’s outfit, Paul McCartney incognito as an Arab sheik, although we caught each other’s eye. My new girlfriend Pauline Fordham, very pretty with jet black hair, proprietor of a boutique called “Palisades” and I had installed a gypsy tent including the required draperies, incense and crystal ball and pretended to tell people’s fortune, reading palms for entertainment. Everyone could expect a glorious future…
Meanwhile Simon and I had found a great Georgian style place to rent at St. Stephens Gardens in the Bayswater area. Our landlord was a very kind older actor (whose name I can’t recall) who allowed us to do whatever we wished. The house was quite run down and dilapidated but had large rooms. The living quarters were on the ground floor and a spacious studio on the second floor gave us plenty of room to paint large canvases and objects, install work tables, store artwork and invite musicians to play and jam without any complaints about noise.
An old armoire stood beneath the three arches dividing the living room, which made me think of “the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “Alice in Wonderland”. We decided to paint it in polychrome psychedelic rainbows and sinuous undulating forms, finished with my emblem of Sun, Moon and Stars and topped with a painted bust of Venus. We named it the “Wonderwall.” This would be the first piece of art anyone who entered the room saw and it would stop them in their tracks. It was a cool place and we enjoyed living there very much. Presently those houses have been beautifully restored and demand high prices.
Soon, Simon and I struck up a close friendship with the powerful Graham Bond, the multi-instrumentalist of the “Graham Bond Organization”, formerly with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, whose music we had enjoyed so much in Ibiza. Graham and his skinny roadie would haul his enormous Hammond organ and Leslie speakers up the porch stairs into our living room in front of the “Wonderwall” and we would have a blast with Graham’s girlfriend Jenny and I on percussion and Simon on his Reita, a Moroccan snake charmer, or his newly acquired silver flute. Bond strongly encouraged our interest in music and was wild about our paintings. We were kindred spirits.
Graham introduced me to the Tarot cards that I found fascinating for their visual impact and occult and metaphysical implications. I had always been interested in the paranormal and comparative religions and mythology. Graham also promoted a theory of the “Alliance of Color and Sound”, as polytheist Wolfgang Goethe did in earlier times. Bond was an avid student of the Hermetic Kaballah of Judeo Christian origin and in particular Aleister Crowley. I rejected Crowley as he represented the black magic side of esoterica and I preferred to adhere to the white magic “Path of Light”. I appreciated the Tarot as a pictorial textbook of the Wisdom of the Ages but stuck to the A. E. Waite Tarot pack, beautifully illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith in 1909. Later in Los Angeles, I occasionally visited with Anne Davies, the beautiful and wise High Priestess of “The Builders of the Adytum” temple, who was the successor of its founder, Paul Foster Case.
Graham Bond paid heavily for leaning to the dark side since eventually, after years of heroine addiction, he passed away tragically by falling in front of the tube train in London. However, Simon and I both admired Graham, he was a great musician, a sentient human being who became a victim of the dark forces. After partaking of some strong Afghani hashish I would see him as a gypsy Alpha male by a camp fire, I could hear the horses snorting and stamping their hooves near falling water…Graham was proud of his “Black Irish” background. I think we were of the same tribe in another life.
When later in the year “The Fool” became a collective with my girl friend Yosha Leeger and Barry Finch, that was the name we chose because “The Fool” card represents the number Zero, symbolic of the Cosmic Egg whence come all things into being and where all things return to. It is the supreme symbol of creative and cultural activities, as the analytical psychologist Carl G. Jung also maintained.
After Bond invited us to perform with him at the famous “Marquee” club once, we hatched a Big Dream of creating a multi-cultural musical and visual extravaganza with Graham as the magician-master of ceremonies, incorporating rock musicians, dancers, acrobats, a fire eater and other theatrical “Commedia del Arte” type characters. The show was to be called “Fool’s Paradise”. I had already designed some outrageous costumes and sets while Graham and Simon were considering the music. But other more immediately compensating jobs started to happen and interfered with those plans. Years later “Cirque du Soleil” conceived of the same general idea and beat us to it with great success.
By now Karl and Anke Ferris were back in London and on board to shoot some great photographs and model my fashion designs. We were also happy to have Simon’s sweet little daughter Roselie come stay with us and Fran Lewis, our friend from Ibiza, formerly Lenny Bruce’s PA, did some PR work on our behalf and got “London Life” magazine to publish an article about Simon and myself that exclaimed “New Art!” to have arrived in town.
Through “Mayfair Publications”, headed by Simon Hayes and Ray Williams with their associates Barry Finch, (eventually part of “The Fool” collective) and Ben Stagg, (who became our manager), “The Beatles” manager Brian Epstein commissioned me to design a program for his “Saville Theatre” Sunday rock concerts. He loved the artwork I came up with that depicted Apollo & Athena attended by the nine muses: Clio-History, Euterpe-Music, Thalia-Comedy, Melpomene-Tragedy. Terpsichore-Dance, Erator-Love Poetry, Polymnia-Painting, Urania-Astronomy and Calliope-Epic Poetry. Thus it was printed for distribution at the concerts in a different color every week.
Opening for “The Who”, on January 29, 1967, the “Jimi Hendrix Experience” performed its first gig in the UK at the “Saville Theatre”. That was an astounding performance by both bands we were thrilled to be present at! On June 4th Hendrix appeared there again, performing his version of the Sgt. Pepper’s album title track. Those Sunday concerts at the Saville continued with a long list of great bands and musicians until at last “The Rolling Stones” played there on December 21st 1969, after which it was sold!
Barry Finch started hanging around our studio more and more and became Simon’s best buddy, eagerly helping with chores and as a go-between personal manager. He could talk like a Dutch uncle and also whip up a mean curry. “Swinging London Town” turned out to be all it was touted to be and the fun had only just begun…
To be continued…