Guy Peellaert, a major European Pop artist, died last week. The Brussels-born artist Guy Peellaert was a painter, illustrator, graphic artist and photographer, whose work has been exhibited around the world. He made his debut as a theatre decorator and as a comic strip artist and was one of the first artists to embrace the Pop Art movement that began in the late 1950s. Peellaert made no distinction between high art and low art. He approached the pop culture and mythology as a true fan. His style was influenced by comics, American Pop Art and psychedelic art. He painted using a very photo-realistic style and collage techniques. In 1974, Elle magazine called him the “the Michelangelo of Pop”.
“Tina Turner” by Guy Peellaert
Peellaert was born in Brussels in 1934 into an aristocratic family. He left home at an early age, and for many years refused to have any contact with his father. As a teenager, he studied fine arts in the Belgian capital and found refuge in the music of Nat King Cole, George Gershwin and Duke Ellington. He also devoured Amercian and British pop culture, film noir and pulp literature. Just as his example, the Britsih Pop artist Peter Blake, Peellaert hoarded and archived music magazines, books and pop memorabilia. He was one of the very first comic artists to process pop-art influences in his stories. His first comic strip, “Les Aventures de Jodelle”, was published in 1966. The psychedelic cartoon character Jodelle was inspired by he French popstar Sylvie Vartan. Peellart’s second comic strip heroine, “Pravda, La Survireuse”, made her debut in 1968 and was a brunette modelled on the chanteuse Françoise Hardy.
“Pravda & Coca-Cola”, limited edition silkprints by Guy Peellaert.
Rolling Stone Mick Jagger, one of the proud owners of Peellaert’s art.
In the late Sixties, Peellaert moved to Paris, where he worked variously in advertising, set design for the casino and the Crazy Horse nightclub, film and television. He also published a couple of experimental books, “Carashi!”, which consisted of redesigned photos, and “Bye, bye, bye Baby, bye, bye’”, which used a hyper-realistic style.
Peellaert quickly became a popular chronicler of rock and roll. He created amazing tableaux featuring rock luminaries in paintings that captured their personae in a way that photos never could. His paintings tapped right into our subconscious fantasies of rock stars’ secret selves & lives and earned him international cult status.
“Jimi Hendrix” by Guy Peellaert
Peellaert’s work became very visible in the 1970s, especially his book of rock star portraits “Rock Dreams”, created together with British rock writer Nik Cohn. With its fantastical and iconic images of the giants of rock and roll, the book served as a record of rock’s golden years. In a series of 125 paintings, Peellaert painted his heroes in situations echoing their mythical status or playing on their most famous lyrics. “Rock Dreams”, created together with British rock writer Nik Cohn. Published in 1974, the book had a huge impact when it was first published and went on to sell more than one million copies worldwide and established Peellaert as a major international artist. Many of the original artworks were bought by Jack Nicholson. John Lennon framed the cover of the book, which depicted him sitting at a lunch-counter with Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger.
“Elvis Presley’s Last Supper” with guests Cliff Richard, Tom Jones and Eddie Cochran, feasting on burgers and drinking Coca-Cola.
“Frank Sinatra” – Peellaert pictured Sinatra as a newspaper cutting. The “Frankie Goes Hollywood” headline later inspired singer Holly Johnson for the name of his band, Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
“The Beatles”, the Fab Four chased by a bobby in the streets of Liverpool.
“Superstar Bob”, Bob Dylan in the back of a limousine.
“The Velvet Underground” by Guy Peellaert
“Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young” by Guy Peellaert
Soon after the success of “Rock Dreams”, Peellaert created the cover of The Rolling Stones album “It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll”, David Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs”. Many people know these classic album sleeves even if they don’t recognize the name of the artist who painted it.
“It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll”, Album cover art for The Rolling Stones by Guy Peellaert.
“Diamond Dogs” artwork for David Bowie.
Peellaert also designed striking posters for a number of iconic films, including Wenders “Paris, Texas” and “Wings of Desire” and Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. His most famous film poster design is probably the one he did for Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.
In the eighties, Guy Peellaert embarked on an extensive project with the American author Michael Herr, “The Big Room”, a homage to Las Vegas which conceived the city, in Peelleart’s words, as “a big hotel lounge where everybody comes in, out, with their luggage, their problems and their dreams”. It would take 11 years to complete. In 1999, Peellaert and Cohn teamed up again for “20th Century Dreams”, a surrealistic “alternative history” of the 20th century.
“Little Mockstory” – Elvis Presley in police uniform busting through the dormitory door of a pot-smoking Bill Clinton.
“La Bonne Trajectoire”. Genius Albert Eintein shows baseball legend Babe Ruth the perfect swing.
“Caesar’s Palace” – Famous painting of boxer Muhammad Ali, preparing for a title fight.
Guy Peellaert lost his own fight with cancer this week, he died on November 17th, 2008 in Paris aged 74. In 2003, Peellaert told Beaux Arts Magazine: “I’m not bothered about death. Not having any passion while you’re alive, that’s the terrible thing. That’s why “Rock Dreams” still works today. Emotions keep you alive. Rock will always represent the extravagant, the flashy, the fantasy. These pictures are a memento to that dream.”
For a complete overview of Peellaert’s work, exhibitions and bio, you can visit his website.