Category Archives: Classic Rock

David Bowie is – la Philharmonie de Paris: fine exhibition, superlative venue

Aladdin Sane photo on David Bowie is poster in Paris

David Bowie is poster directing you to la Phiharmonie de Paris

David Bowie is, now showing at la Philharmonie de Paris, is a fine exhibition. The venue – the brand-new-but-not-quite-finished Philharmonie – is superlative.

David Bowie is: rich content

David Bowie is gathers together a rich array of content from a wide spectrum of media, much of it supplied by Bowie himself.

Apart from the kind of artefacts you’d see in any rock art exhibition – photographs, album cover artwork, gig posters, ephemera, handwritten lyrics, instruments, video and audio clips – you also get designs, drawings, stage sets and costumes, and clothing, tracking David Bowie as an indefatigable style icon.

That’s what you’d expect: David Bowie is a multi-faceted creative – songwriter, singer/musician espousing innumerable genres, serial creator of personas, choreographer, film actor… .

David Bowie is also, of course, an occasional painter: he mounted his first solo show, New Afro/Pagan And Work, in 1995 at The Gallery, Cork St, London W1.

Sexual ambiguity, forays into high culture and regular Zeitgeist-challenging changes of direction add to the allure of David Bowie as a subject for a rock art show. David Bowie is doesn’t disappoint.

David Bowie is: strengths

My lasting impression of the David Bowie is exhibition is of the iconic photography and, especially, the compelling album cover artwork.

David Bowie is Paris exhibition

Entering David Bowie is at la Philharmonie

My preferred album covers include: Brian Duffy’s Aladdin Sane portrait (1973), used as the exhibition poster by la Philharmonie; the striking monochrome Masoyoshi Sukita portrait for “Heroes” (1977); and Guy Peellaert’s appropriately disturbing artwork for Diamond Dogs (1974).

David Bowie is: weaknesses

David Bowie is has no obvious weaknesses. It’s a rich collection, well curated. There’s even a sumptuous hardback catalogue which will take pride of place on fans’ bookshelves.

My attention lagged, however, when confronted by stage costumes, sets and fashion. They interest me far less than they would most David Bowie fans, I’d imagine.

David Bowe is Paris catalogue

Catalogues/merchandise, David Bowie is

David Bowie is: la Philharmonie de Paris

Familiar with David Bowie is from 2013’s inaugural exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, I spent most of my visit admiring the magnificent new building hosting the show.

La Philharmonie de Paris, designed by Jean Nouvel, was opened after much delay in January – still, embarrassingly, unfinished.

La Philharmonie de Paris

The newly-opened, not-quite-finished Philharmonie de Paris, at Cite de la Musique, venue for David Bowie is

Located in la Cite de la Musique, at Porte de Pantin in NE Paris, just inside the Peripherique, la Philharmonie is easily accessible by Metro and tram.

Approaching the site on foot, I saw an unpromising hulk rising above the hyper-urban transport hub. Maybe it’s a temporary storage facility for grit used to de-ice the Periph in winter, I mused.  “Please don’t let that be la Philharmonie,” I pleaded aloud to the God of Architecture.

Thankfully, that view from distance is misleading. Close up, la Philharmonie is an exciting addition to the Paris cityscape, with its challenging shapes, high quality materials and impressive build quality.

It all adds up to a building which is easy to navigate and a pleasure to explore. It seems fit for purpose, too – I’ll be confirming that by attending a concert there just as soon as a suitable gig entices me.

La Cite de la Musique already had an impressive track record of curating an unparalleled programme of rock art shows. In recent years, I’ve seen outstanding Miles Davis and Bob Dylan exhibitions and just missed shows devoted to Great Black Music, and Punk.

David Bowie is: the first global rock art exhibition

I’d guess that London’s Victoria & Albert Museum was tempted to create the David Bowie is exhibition by the myriad creative possibilities of a rock art show devoted to a polymath like David Bowie. That, and its tempting audience potential.

The enormous customer base of David Bowie fans – almost by definition, receptive to artistic, even avant-garde, expression – presumably emboldened the V&A to create a show at the junction of pop and high culture, popular but also acceptable to major public galleries acting as gatekeepers of the artistic canon.

After successful spells in London, Chicago, and now Paris, David Bowie is moves next to Melbourne, Australia (16 July-1 November) and then Groningen, in the Netherlands (15 December-13 March 2016).

The David Bowie is exhibition is the first large-scale global rock art show.  Bravo the V&A and its international partners!

David Bowie is runs at la Philharmonie de Paris until 31 May. If you’re a Bowie or rock art fan with access to Paris, you won’t want to miss it.

If you’re a fan of bold, contemporary architecture, you’ll soon be visiting la Philharmonie de Paris anyway, regardless of David Bowie is.

Copyrights: text and photographs © Gerald Smith, Rock Art Editions. David Bowie images © David Bowie Archive. Aladdin Sane photograph by Brian Duffy. Exhibition posters © la Philharmonie de Paris. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.

New Joni Mitchell box set, Love Has Many Faces: peerless music, disappointing package

The new Joni Mitchell box set, Love Has Many Faces, released yesterday, contains peerless music – in a disappointing package.

Make no mistake – the box is a superlative collection of music. It demonstrates how Joni Mitchell’s songbook surpasses those of nearly all other twentieth century musicians. Love Has Many Faces is an admirable selection from her catalogue: some of this material is simply celestial – people will be enjoying it a hundred years hence.

Joni Mitchell box set

Love Has Many Faces, new Joni Mitchell box set

And the package is well-designed, housing CDs, a Joni Mitchell commentary and lyrics in a stylish book-shaped box.

The art of the box, though, is underwhelming. Having owned the music for decades, I ordered Love Has Many Faces for the packaging, especially the “Six new paintings” promised in the promo.  There are, in fact, only two “paintings”, the lovely self-portrait on the front cover and what look like several fragments of another painting inside.

The “paintings” are printed as part of the box: you can’t frame and hang them on your wall, as I was hoping, perhaps naively. So the new Joni Mitchell box set is hardly a must-have rock art collectable.

Other disappointments? The “book”, promoted on the product sticker as a “52-page autobiographical novelette by Joni Mitchell”, turns out to be a 16-page essay by the musician, plus lyrics and production details.

Joni Mitchell’s piece, an intermittently absorbing account of the process of creating this compilation, is diminished by some graceless passages.

The “53 lyrical poems” heralded in the promo are, er, the songs’ lyrics.

The recordings are proudly promoted as “digitally remastered”: I’m not sure that many buyers really care.

Embarrassingly, the new Joni Mitchell box set contains a loose insert facsimile of a hand-written letter from Joni apologising for the fact that the track list on CD2 is incorrect.

And my order, impressively delivered by Amazon on release day, contained three, not four, CDs.  I’m not sure who’s to blame, but record label Rhino must be the default prime suspect.

Love Has Many Faces, Joni Mitchell box set

Defective delivery: my box had only three of the four CDs

I’m a Joni Mitchell fan – I find her songwriting, singing and musicianship deeply impressive, often inspiring.  I admire her cantankerous refusal to accept horse crap. I also enjoy her painting: Joni Mitchell is a key rock artist.

But Love Has Many Faces is a missed opportunity.  A more ambitious artefact – a few rarities on the CDs, a bigger book, with more Joni text, a few paintings (loose, frame-able), some photos – would have been a more appropriate showcase for such an outstanding talent.

Had Rhino released such a product, they could have bumped up the price.  And they could have published a deluxe limited edition, at a much higher price.

Love Has Many Faces, the new Joni Mitchell box set, could have been a contender.  Sadly, it’s a misfire.

It’s not too late: a songbook as stellar as Joni Mitchell’s demands a more fitting celebration.

Rock Art in October: David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan…

Davis Bowie from Aladdin Sane shoot

David Bowie Is exhibition catalogue © The David Bowie Archive

October sees some major rock art shows, with David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan among the featured musicians.

Here are some of the exhibitions I’d like to attend.

DAVID BOWIE: David Bowie Is, originally held at London’s V&A, has just opened at The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the only US venue on its world tour. The exhibition showcases 400+ objects, mainly from the David Bowie Archive, including handwritten lyrics, photographs, and album cover artwork, as well as costumes and sets. Admission $25, $10 children 7–12, free for the under-6s. 23 Sept-4 Jan 2015. Supported by a desirable catalogue ($35 paperback/$55 hardback).

MICK JAGGER by Richard Hamilton: Richard Hamilton’s magnificent retrospective, featuring mixed media tableaux of a handcuffed Mick Jagger, and originally shown at Tate Modern in London, has now opened at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain. To 13 October. Highly recommended.

BOB DYLAN by Richard Avedon: Richard Avedon People – Perth, Western Australia exhibition of 80 photographs by Richard Avedon, including an evocative shot of Bob Dylan on a cold February 1965 day in Central Park. Art Gallery of WA, Perth, Australia. To 17 Nov.

KEITH RICHARDS, LOU REED, AMY WINEHOUSE in Paris: Sonic is a new exhibition of portraits of musicians by Hedi Slimane, photographer and Yves Saint Laurent designer, at Fondation Pierre Bergé–Yves Saint Laurent, in Paris. It showcases shots of Lou Reed, Keith Richards, Amy Winehouse and Brian Wilson taken in London, New York, and California. 18 Sept-11 Jan 2015. Fondation Pierre Bergé–Yves Saint Laurent

PETER BLAKE: A new permanent mural, Appearing at the Royal Albert Hall, on display near the Cafe Bar, Royal Albert Hall, London. Free. Gathers 400+ performers who have appeared since the Hall opened. Notable rock musicians include Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Queen, The Rolling Stones, and The Who.


You are strongly advised to check details with a venue’s website before travelling – some shows require advance booking and details can change, often at short notice.

Have you seen any of these shows? What did you think of it? Your comments are very welcome. Have I missed an important show?

Visitors and galleries: please tell us of any show we have missed, for inclusion in next month’s round-up. Please send comments/details of shows to ROCK | ART | EDITIONS via “Leave a reply” at the top of this post.

Compilation © ROCK | ART | EDITIONS 2014

Leonard Cohen art: a beginner’s guide

Leonard Cohen art? For investors and collectors?


Leonard Cohen art isn’t as well-known as the work of some other rock musicians, but his limited edition prints demand inclusion in any self-respecting collection of rock art.

The art of Leonard Cohen appeals to the intellect: it has something worthwhile to say. And to the heart: it evokes emotions. It also has a worldview consistent with Leonard Cohen’s better-known creations as a writer, musician and performer.

Maybe because it’s dominated by sparse line drawings, the art of Leonard Cohen takes me back to that of 20thC French creative polymath Jean Cocteau. Like Cohen, Cocteau’s glittering creative trajectory started with poetry. He added visual art to his eclectic cv later.

Leonard Cohen painting and drawing

Leonard Cohen – Grecian Woman, © Leonard Cohen

The art of Leonard Cohen focuses on a handful of key themes – portraits (self-portraits constitute a substantial part of his work), women, often without clothes, and domestic, everyday scenes.

Leonard Cohen pictures, occasionally accompanied by fragments of his writing, are by turns poignant and witty. They are nakedly honest. Some are frivolous, many are dark.

Drawing for pleasure

According to his diligent biographer Ira Nadel, Leonard Cohen has been drawing for pleasure for over half a century – he documented his stay at Columbia University, New York, in 1956-7 in notebooks filled with drawings and caricatures.

Until recently, though, the art of Leonard Cohen remained private. Claims that many of his books and album covers incorporate his artwork don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Even the artwork for his first book, Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956) – which Cohen himself produced and self-published – used illustrations supplied by a friend. Ira Nadel recounts several cases where Cohen’s artwork, intended for book and album covers, was rejected by publishers.

So, while several Leonard Cohen album covers carry drawings and paintings, few are by Cohen. The only CDs clearly using Leonard Cohen artwork are Songs From A Room and the later Dear Heather and Old Ideas.

The artwork of the CDs Greatest Hits, The Future, Cohen Live, More Best Of, Recent Songs, and New Skin For The Old Ceremony is not credited to Cohen. Nor, as I see from today’s Amazon delivery, does Popular Problems carry any Leonard Cohen artwork.

Sharing, for free

Leonard Cohen started sharing his art, effectively giving it away, in 1997. You can still enjoy/download/print/share images on the Blacking Pages section of The Leonard Cohen Files, the exemplary (approved) fan website. And on a dedicated page of the official Leonard Cohen website, which presents 55 images to “view and share”.

An appreciative Stina Lundberg Dabrowski, in a Swedish TV interview (2001), had been surprised to hear that Leonard Cohen drew pictures for pleasure, gave them away, was not interested in commercialising them… had never had an exhibition… .

Many of these images were later published in print form in Book of Longing (2006).

Leonard Cohen art

Book Of Longing, © Leonard Cohen 2007

Leonard Cohen art goes commercial

Soon afterwards, of course, Cohen was forced to rebuild his finances with an unprecedented burst of activity – touring, recording… and monetising his art.

So a selection of line drawings was enhanced by colour and produced as limited edition prints, numbered and signed by Cohen. Edition sizes are typically 100 (for 30″ x 20″ prints) and 20 (30″ x 40″).

Leonard Cohen limited editions have been sold mainly via exhibitions in small commercial galleries in Canada and Europe, including:

June: Drawn to Words, Drabinsky Gallery, Toronto.
July: A Private Gaze, Richard Goodall Gallery, Manchester, England.
A few dozen pigment prints of drawings and sketches. Priced at £1,000-£3,000, according to a report on the impressively detailed Leonard Cohen Through The Years website.

Brian D Johnson (, 12 Jun 2008) asked Cohen: “How did your art exhibit do? Leonard replied “It did very well. And continues to do very well… I was able to pay a lot of lawyers…”

December: Linda Lando Fine Art, Vancouver.

Feb-May: The Leonard Cohen Artworks, Montreal High Lights Festival.
About 50 works, priced at $1,500-6,000, according to a report from The Canadian Press on Leonard Cohen Through The Years.

August: Galleri Ramfjord, Oslo, Norway.

March: The Poet/The Painter, Mayberry Fine Art, Winnipeg.
35 pieces, priced $2,500-7000, according to Carolin Vesely in the Winnipeg Free Press, on Leonard Cohen Through The Years.
August: Galleri Ramfjord, Oslo, Norway.

The highest profile dealer currently selling Leonard Cohen art is the Richard Goodall Gallery, Manchester, England, which lists 56 items in its online shop, inviting potential customers to “contact us for a price”.

Leonard Cohen painting

Leonard Cohen – The End of the Day, © Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen art: the legacy

For the first three quarters of his life, Leonard Cohen chose to keep his artwork to himself. Recent years have seen it receive long-overdue public exposure.

Leonard Cohen art is a fine body of work, enriching his legacy of outstanding albums and live performance and a (slightly less impressive) shelf-full of poetry collections and novels.

If I were curating an exhibition of essential works of rock art, I’d feel compelled to include one or more of Leonard Cohen’s evocative limited edition prints.

Further information

Researching this post in my private library and online, I found the following sources helpful in verifying and cross-checking information. They will enable you to dig deeper.
* Ira B Nadel, Various Positions: A Life Of Leonard Cohen, Bloomsbury, 1996
* Jeff Burger (ed), Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen, Omnibus, 2014
Leonard Cohen official website
The Leonard Cohen Files
Leonard Cohen Through The Years


Van Morrison album cover in fine London exhibition of photographs by David Wedgbury

An image from a Van Morrison album cover steals the show at a fine exhibition of rock art photography I visited in Piccadilly, London last week.

Them album cover shoot by David Wedgbury

Them © David Wedgbury/Snap Galleries 2014

The photograph is from the shoot for Van Morrison’s first LP, Them (Decca, 1965), which had memorable tracks like Gloria and Bright Lights, Big City.

Eagle-eyed readers will have realised that the photo is not quite the image used for the album cover, but you have to look closely to tell the difference.

The Beat Goes On

The exhibition, The Beat Goes On: Classic Images from the 1960s by David Wedgbury, also features photographs of Eric Clapton, Rolling Stones, Small Faces, The Who, David Bowie and Marianne Faithfull, among others.

It evokes the essence of rockpop at a particularly creative time and place – early- to mid-1960s England – with photographs from album shoots and lesser-known news/documentary images.

David Wedgbury

So who’s David Wedgbury?

I hadn’t heard of him either, though many of his images are very familiar from 1960s album covers.

Who could forget his “Beano” cover from the classic John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers LP?

Snap Galleries

The Beat Goes On runs at Snap Galleries, 12 Piccadilly Arcade, London SW1 until 23 July. It’s recommended, but you need to hurry – it closes next Wednesday.

The images on display are available to buy, in limited editions.

Alain Bashung grave: public Rock Art #3

Grave and headstone of Alain Bashung

Grave of Alain Bashung, Pere Lachaise

Since the first generation of rock musicians started leaving the stage for good, their graves and headstones have become places of pilgrimage.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris is best known as the final resting place of Jim Morrison of The Doors. On a recent visit there, I also took time to search out the grave of the recently deceased French rocker Alain Bashung/(Baschung on the headstone).

My first sight of the Bashung grave moved me to tears. I think it was the grave’s formal beauty. It’s a fitting monument: its quiet elegance is entirely in keeping with the man himself. But it also tells you that he was a recording artist.

The talented Alain Bashung was a rarity – he wrote and sang credible rock songs in French.

Because of its precision and its distinctive vowel sounds, French doesn’t easily lend itself to rock music. Hence the absence of francophone rock artists who have reached a global market. Johnny who?

Rock Art in public places – mainly murals and statues – is becoming ever more popular. ROCK ART EDITIONS is keen to explore this exciting new artform.

If you come across a piece of public rock art like the grave of Alain Bashung, please consider ROCK ART EDITIONS – please send me a photograph with details (who/what, where, by whom…) for inclusion here

Billy Fury mural: public Rock Art #1

Rock Art in public

Billy Fury mural, London

Have you seen the new Billy Fury mural in north London?

It’s a piece which surprises – even shocks – you when you first stumble across it. It’s at the entrance to a passageway near the two West Hampstead railway stations in north London.

It’s an evocative wall painting which captures the essence of Billy Fury – an easy, glamorous, if slightly louche, charm, with a hint of poignant vulnerability.

Rockpop fans of a certain age will recognise the mural instantly as Billy Fury, even before they spot the new street sign for the passage renamed as Billy Fury Way.

Billy Fury Way

The mural is painted on the wall of a building which used to house Fury’s recording studio. The long, narrow, sloping passageway runs between the nondescript building and a railway line. You might not want to risk it on a dark night.

Billy Fury Way in London

The renamed Billy Fury Way

Billy Fury was the leading English rockpop singer in the late 1950s. Marketed as a local Elvis, he registered numerous sultry pop hits, most notably Halfway to Paradise and Jealousy.

Billy Fury Way and its mural embellish the cultural landscape of this corner of north London.

Rock Art in public places – mainly murals and statues – is becoming ever more popular. ROCK ART EDITIONS is keen to explore this exciting new artform.

If you come across a piece of public rock art like the Billy Fury mural in north London, please consider ROCK ART EDITIONS – please send me a photograph with details (who/what, where, by whom…) for inclusion here.

Weird Scenes Inside The Goldmine by The Doors: a striking new album cover

The much-loved compilation from The Doors, Weird Scenes Inside The Goldmine, finally on CD

Weird Scenes Inside The Goldmine © Rhino 2014

Weird Scenes Inside The Goldmine, the new (on CD) release by The Doors has an album cover with a striking design.

The tentative composition and the muted colour palette remind me of the work of two of my favourite 20thC painters, Raoul Dufy and Ben Nicholson.

I already own all the Doors recordings on the new release but I’m very tempted to buy Weird Scenes Inside The Goldmine by The Doors purely for the album cover, by Bill Hoffman.

It wouldn’t be the first time: I bought The Very Best Of The Doors, the 40th Anniversary remixes, in 2007 for the remarkable album cover photography by Joel Brodsky.

The Doors’ record labels have been well served by their art directors.

Jimi Hendrix photographs by Gered Mankowitz on show in Leeds

Jimi Hendrix by Gered Mankowitz, 1967. (c) Gered Mankowitz 2014.

Gered Mankowitz is a key figure in rock art.

He’s best known for his photographs of the Rolling Stones. Most famously for the covers of Out Of Our Heads (the original UK Decca release, repeated on December’s Children in the USA), and Between The Buttons.

His 1967 portfolio documenting the explosive arrival in England of Jimi Hendrix captures the Swinging London Zeitgeist just as well.

Having colourised some of his original monochrome portraits, Mankowitz has been exhibiting them for several years.

The Experience: Jimi Hendrix at Mason’s Yard 1967 is currently showing at White Cloth Gallery, Leeds, until 12 May.

(Mason’s Yard was the London location of the photographic studio of Gered Mankowitz).

If you can’t make it to West Yorkshire, you can buy the set in the hardback book of the same name, published in October 2013 by Castle Books, available via Amazon for about £10.

If your pockets are somewhat deeper, these Jimi Hendrix images are also available as large format limited editions.

Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and John Lennon portraits in Bailey’s Stardust exhibition

Bailey’s Stardust exhibition catalogue

Portraits of Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger and John Lennon are the rock art highlights of Bailey’s Stardust, a career-spanning exhibition of the work of David Bailey running at London’s National Portrait Gallery until 1 June.

Bailey’s Stardust features over 250 works by the celebrated English photographer. It includes a whole room devoted to shots of the Rolling Stones.

According to the Gallery, “Bailey photographed the Rolling Stones for a number of album and single covers and made candid portraits of the group backstage on tour, as well as formal portraits of Jagger with friends and family.”

Fellow members of the LDUFCM (Lord, Deliver Us From Celebrities Movement) will be relieved that Bailey’s Stardust goes well beyond the celeb focus suggested by its title, covering, for example, his photographs of native people in Australia, Sudan, India and Papua New Guinea, as well as the badlands of London’s East End.