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 Martin Ritchie Sharp  (1942 - 2013)

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Lived/Active: Australia/England      Known for: rock music album covers, collage, posters, portraits

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from Auction House Records.
(Man Walking on the Moon)
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Following is The New York Times obituary of Martin Sharp, December 5, 2013

Martin Sharp, 71, an Artist Who Shaped Imagery of Rock, Dies
By WILLIAM YARDLEY

He painted Marilyn Monroe blooming in a van Gogh vase, devoted decades to documenting the cultural significance of Tiny Tim and was sentenced to prison for breaking obscenity laws in his native Australia.

Martin Sharp, who died on Sunday at 71, pursued his distinctive Pop Art for half a century without much concern for whether it was popular. But for a brief period in the late 1960s, his muse helped shape the imagery of rock music.

It started with a beer at a bar in London in 1967. Mr. Sharp had arrived the year before to start London Oz, an extension of the irreverent Australian magazine Oz, for which he had been artistic director. At the Speakeasy Club on Margaret Street, he befriended two musicians. When Mr. Sharp mentioned that he had written a poem that might make a good song, one of the musicians said he had just come up with new music but needed lyrics. Mr. Sharp scratched out his poem and his address on a napkin.

A couple of weeks later, the musician dropped by and gave him a 45 r.p.m. record. He was a guitar player for a band called Cream. His name was Eric Clapton.

On the A side of the 45 was “Strange Brew.” On the B side was Mr. Sharp’s poem put to music, Tales of Brave Ulysses.

Mr. Clapton soon moved in with Mr. Sharp, their girlfriends and others in a group of studio apartments called the Pheasantry. By the end of the year, Cream had released the album Disraeli Gears. Strange Brew Tales of Brave Ulysses were on the record, and Mr. Sharp’s psychedelic artwork was on the cover, one of the most recognizable in rock history: a lush sprawl of color that blended photographs of the band members with a fluorescent garden of feathers and flower petals.

“Most people I know think that’s the first thing they saw that used DayGlo,” Norman Hathaway, who with Dan Nadel wrote the book Electrical Banana: Masters of Psychedelic Art, said in an interview.

“Nice and loose,” was how Mr. Hathaway described Mr. Sharp’s work. “It really did give a good conveyance of what taking LSD or speed was like — where it was very, very busy and great.”

Disraeli Gears reached No. 5 in Britain and No. 4 in the United States. Mr. Sharp had already drawn music posters in his Chelsea studio, but Disraeli Gears took his art to a much wider audience. Posters he had drawn of Bob Dylan, Donovan and Jimi Hendrix (one of his most famous, Explosion) became emblems of the era.

Yet instead of trying to ride the rock wave to greater fame, Mr. Sharp headed back to Australia in 1970.

Over the next four decades he became one of his country’s most prominent artists, making posters, paintings and collages that focused on Australian culture, politics and an unusual performer who played the ukulele and sang in a falsetto voice. His name was Tiny Tim.

Mr. Sharp saw him for the first time in London in 1967.

“I’d eaten a bit of hash or something, but he just amazed me,” Mr. Sharp recalled in Electrical Banana. “I’d been doing a lot of collage work, like a van Gogh figure within a Magritte landscape. I was fascinated by the language of art, and mixing and connecting things. Tiny was working with songs in a similar way. He had a quickness and breadth of songs that was breathtaking. I knew the language he was using. He was such a modern artist.”

Mr. Sharp made many portraits of Tiny Tim, who was born Herbert Khaury in New York in 1932 and died in 1996, and he spent years working on a film about him, Street of Dreams, which he never completed.

Martin Ritchie Sharp was born on Jan. 21, 1942, in Sydney. His father, a physician, recognized his skill as a draftsman and hoped he would become an architect. His mother encouraged him in art, allowing him to slice up her magazines for his collages. As a teenager, he drew cartoons for The Sydney Morning Herald.

He joined Oz when it was founded in Sydney in 1963. The next year he and the magazine’s editors, Richard Neville and Richard Walsh, were sentenced to prison for violating obscenity laws. One charge involved a poem Mr. Sharp had written, the other a photograph that showed Mr. Neville and other men pretending to urinate on a fountain made by the prominent sculptor Tom Bass. Their convictions were overturned on appeal.

Australian news outlets said Mr. Sharp had long had emphysema. Information on survivors was not immediately available.

Mr. Sharp was an only child and did not marry. He lived most of his adult life in a house where his grandparents had lived, nurturing camaraderie with other artists and the clutter of his many interests and influences.

“I think art is about tidying up, really,” he said once. “To tidy up, you’ve got to make a mess.”


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