Music and art has been my theme this month, which brings me to George Underwood and his current exhibition at The Fosse Gallery at Stow on the Wold. Underwood is one of those interesting characters who grew up in sixties Britain. Born in 1947 he went to school in Bromley with the likes of David Bowie and Peter Frampton with whom he became lifelong friends. Despite early dabblings enthusiastically as a musician he returned to Art College and made a career as an artist and illustrator. His figurative paintings have a wonderfully mythical style which comes alive with their gold palette.
Album sleeve covers were an essential component of the music industry in the sixties and seventies. George Underwood, through his friendship with David Bowie, became in demand. One of his methods was the tinting of photographs as in the Hunky Dory cover of 1971. He later painted Bowie in this pose, an expression of his preference. When I contacted Underwood his view was that the painted images were more representative of his ideas.
He was introduced, by Bowie, to Marc Bolan around 1968 and produced the cover image for the first T. Rex (Tyrannosaurus Rex) album, My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair… But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows. Later in his career Underwood produced a series of portraits of his friends from the music industry. Marc Bolan’s iconic hair would be full of the mythical images seen on the album cover. Underwood says the mythical imagery is inspired by the Norwegian figurative artist, Odd Nerdrum, b 1944, who I will look out for an exhibition in the future.
Ziggy Stardust is probably Underwood’s most iconic cover but was also a tinted photograph. He did however produce a painted cover for Ziggy Live album of 1972. The cover is full of Glam Rock iconology.
He worked with the London New Wave band, The Fixx, from 1979 onwards producing a number of covers. Reach for the Beach comes from 1984 but the 2012 album, Beautiful People, depicts images very close to his current figurative ideas with helmeted, medieval style soldiers.
George Underwood – Looking For Clues is at the Fosse Gallery until 3rd July. Alternatively, dig out and play your version of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which unbelievably will be fifty years old next year!