Happy Birthday Alan Aldridge — The Man with the Kaleidoscope Eyes

English artist Alan Aldridge
Today is the 69th birthday of English artist, graphic designer and illustrator, Alan Aldridge (click here to visit his site). His distinct airbrush work adorned numerous books and albums in the 1960s and ’70s and helped define the aesthetic of the era — equal parts whimsy and menace.
Alan Aldridge Painting Finale
Aldridge appeals to me, in part, due to the way he draws upon older artists from very different traditions. The grotesque, fantastical characters echo the febrile visions of Dutch Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch. The invasive, sometimes threatening vegetation reminds me of the vegetable portraits of Italian Mannerist Giuseppe Arcimboldo. The soft, velvety folds and textures of clothing remind me of French Neoclassicist Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres‘s almost single-minded focus on mastering the technique of depicting textiles.
As a young child, when I was first exposed to Aldridge, I hadn’t yet heard of any of those artists. I don’t remember ever even asking who Alan Aldridge was, but it was clear even that his particular synthesis of influences and ability to simultaneously captivate and repulse was immediately recognizable as the work of one artist, whatever work it adorned.

     

Aldridge was born in East London in 1943. One of his first jobs as an illustrator was for The Sunday Times. He was hired in 1965 by Penguin Books‘ chief editor, Tony Godwin, to serve as art director after impressing them with his freelance covers. Examples of his work can be seen on numerous science-fiction revised editions c. 1967 and The Penguin Book of Comics (1967), and The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics (1969).

  

In 1968 he started his own graphic design firm, INK, who ended up designing a number of iconic album covers through the 1970s, as well as the graphics for Jane Arden‘s play, Vagina Rex and the Gas Oven in 1969.

The Butterfly Ball, and the Grasshopper Feast Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy

My sister owned a copy of the picture book The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast (1973), an amazing children’s book illustrated by Aldridge full of beauty and a creepiness that eludes description. My mother owned a copy of Elton John‘s concept album, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy (1975). I gave it a few curious spins but his music never did much for me. The artwork, however, again the work of Aldridge, held me spellbound. Although I didn’t realize it, when a couple third grade classmates and I attempted to provide a literal illustration of The Beatles‘ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” we were probably unknowingly influenced by Aldridge (and probably a bit of Heinz Edelmann and Milton Glaser) although it goes without saying that our results were slightly less accomplished.

The Who's A Quick One (1966), Andy Warhol Chelsea Girls Poster  George Harrison's Wonderwall Music (1968)

A few of the iconic designs Aldridge was behind include the cover for The Who‘s A Quick One (1966), Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey‘s Chelsea Girls (1966), George Harrison‘s Wonderwall Music (1968), and later albums like Tears for FearsEverybody Loves a Happy Ending (2004) and Incubus‘s Light Grenades (2006).

Alan Aldridge -- The Ship's Cat  The Peacock Party  The Lion's Cavalcade

He also illustrated The Ship’s Cat (1977) and two sequels to The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s FeastThe Peacock Party (1979) and The Lion’s Cavalcade (1980).

*****

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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