Exhibition Preview: Ray Lowry London Calling
Paying tribute to Ray Lowry, 30 artists create reinterpretations of The Clash’s iconic ‘London Calling’ album cover
Presented by The Idea Generation Gallery in support of the Ray Lowry Foundation
18th June – 4th July 2010
By Guy Sangster Adams
London Calling is one of a handful of extraordinary albums that with every facet, from songs to sleeve, bring together and harness the talents of all those involved at just the right moment, that coalesce layers of inspiration, innovation, and insightful creativity, and that remain as powerful and influential on the day they are released as they are, in London Calling’s case, 30 years later. The Clash wrote (with three exceptions) and performed the songs, that include the seminal title track, The Guns of Brixton, Rudie Can’t Fail, and Train in Vain, Guy Stevens, the legendary manager, producer, and Mod DJ, produced it, Pennie Smith took the iconic photograph of Paul Simonon smashing his Fender Precision Bass on stage at The Palladium in New York City on 21 September 1979, which Ray Lowry incorporated into his design for the cover, which has become one of the most identifiable and loved album covers of all time.
Lowry met The Clash when they played at the Electric Circus in Manchester, supporting the Sex Pistols on the infamous Anarchy in the UK tour. A friendship began which lead in 1979 to The Clash inviting Lowry on their 1979 US tour to be, as Strummer dubbed him, the band’s “official war artist.” From there, Lowry was invited to design the sleeve for the band’s third album, London Calling, which was released in December 1979. An avid fan of 1950s rock and roll, Lowry was inspired by the cover of Elvis Presley’s debut album cover, from which he took the idea for the pink and green typography, and married it to Pennie Smith’s photograph of Simonon, which at first she did not want used because it is out of focus.
“The London Calling album cover had to feature the infamous pink and green rock ‘n’ roll lettering. God made me do that ….” Lowry said, “Actually I had no idea that it was out of focus. Half blind at the best of times and probably half pissed at the time, that simply had to be the one.”
Born in Greater Manchester in 1944, Ray Lowry had no formal art training, but became a renowned illustrator, cartoonist, and satirist. The 1960s counter-culture magazines, Oz and International Times, both published his cartoons which lead in the 1970s to the beginning of his long association with the NME, for which he produced pocket cartoons, strips and a wide variety of illustrations. He also became a regular contributor to The Guardian, Private Eye, and Punch, and also wrote a column for The Face magazine. Towards the end of life, Lowry had stopped working for periodicals, and was focussing primarily on paintings and drawings. Following an highly successful exhibition of his paintings in 2008 at the See Gallery in Rossendale, he had begun working on a series of paintings inspired by Malcolm Lowry’s semi-autobiographical novel, Under the Volcano, but he died suddenly on 14th October 2008.
To pay tribute to Ray Lowry, and to celebrate the 30th anniversary of London Calling, the exhibition features the reinterpretations of the famous sleeve by 30 artists who have been inspired by Ray Lowry. They include Paul Simonon himself, and key associates of The Clash at that time: Kosmo Vinyl, The Clash’s press agent, manager and spokesperson, Johnny Green, The Clash’s road manager, and Don Letts, whose 2003 documentary about The Clash won a Grammy Award. Plus a diverse line-up that attests to the breadth of Lowry’s influence and includes: Tracy Emin, Billy Childish, Malcolm Garrett, Julien Temple, Kevin Cummins, Humphrey Ocean, John Hyatt, John Squire, Nick Hornby, Keith Allen, Arthur Smith, Harry Hill, Cathy Ward, John Butterworth, Magda Archer, Ian Wright, Amy McDonaough, Sam Jackson, Luke Jackson.
Each artist has looked at how Ray influenced their art as well as the personal influence he had on their artistic output. As celebrated photographer, Kevin Cummins has said, “Ray Lowry’s cartoons, Pennie Smith’s photos and Nick Kent’s rambling prose were the three things in the NME that had me standing in the rain waiting for the newsagents to open every Wednesday at 7am. I couldn’t wait to devour it all so I could be as cool as they obviously were.”
All the new works will be exhibited, for the first time, alongside a retrospective of Ray’s work. The original sketches, designs and ideas for the album cover, private sketchbooks, personal letters and previously unseen photographs, paintings and more will be on show, to provide a personal insight into the mind and work of Ray Lowry and reveals his motivations and working practice.
The exhibition also marks the launch of the Ray Lowry Foundation which has been created by Samuel Lowry, Ray Lowry’s son, and Julian Williams and Jackie Taylor, the directors of the See Gallery, and will work in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University to provide a scholarship to a student studying a course in art to a higher degree level, and also to make financial awards linked to individual art based projects. As the Ray Lowry Foundation exlain, “Ray valued further education and would have liked to have supported his interest with more formalised training but due to family circumstances this was not an option. Ray wanted to study, he wanted to improve his skills and develop new styles, Ray would probably have been a challenging student bringing a edgy controversial twist to the art world. The foundation has been set up to help fulfil dreams for others that Ray was not able to.”
Following the run at the Idea Generation the exhibition will tour the world, before the new works created for the exhibition are auctioned in aid of the Ray Lowry Foundation.