An Interest in Music and Art

 

George Underwood (born Richard George Underwood, 28 January 1947, Bromley, Kent) is an artist and musician. He is best known for designing album covers for numerous bands in the 1970s.

George Underwood attended Bromley Technical School where he developed an interest in music alongside classmates David Bowie and Peter Frampton. Underwood and Bowie’s band, George and the Dragons was short-lived due to Underwood punching Bowie in the left eye while wearing a ring on his finger, during a fight over a girl, causing paralysis in Bowie’s left pupil and his distinctive mismatched appearance. But the injury did not affect their friendship in the end, and Underwood went on to record one album with Bowie (in their band The King Bees) and also a solo record under the name Calvin James.

After deciding that the music business was not for him, Underwood returned to art studies and worked in design studios as an illustrator. Initially, he specialized in fantasy, horror and science fiction book covers, but as many of his colleagues were in the music business, they began asking him to do various art works for them. This led to him becoming a freelance artist. Underwood established himself as a leading art illustrator doing album covers for such artists as Tyrannosaurus Rex (Futuristic Dragon), The Fixx (Phantoms, Reach the Beach and Calm Animals), Procol Harum (Shine On Brightly), Mott the Hoople (All the Young Dudes) and David Bowie (Hunky Dory and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars). Over this period, he produced hundreds of book covers, LP and CD covers, advertisements, portraits and drawings.

He appears in the 2012 documentary David Bowie & the Story of Ziggy Stardust (BBC Cymru Wales).

To watch an album about George Underwood’s artwork, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/The-Genealogy-of-Style-597542157001228/?ref=tn_tnmn

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Icarus Descending

Dust jacket illustrated by George Underwood

 
 

The Man Who Fell to Earth is a 1963 science fiction novel by American author Walter Tevis, about an extraterrestrial who lands on Earth seeking a way to ferry his people to Earth from his home planet, which is suffering from a severe drought. The novel served as the basis for the 1976 film by Nicolas Roeg, The Man Who Fell to Earth, as well as a 1987 television adaptation.

 
 

Illustration by George Underwood

 
 

The original novel opened with the section Icarus Descending 1972, the revised version opens with Icarus Descending 1985. The second section of book is Rumplestiltskin, 1975, in the revised version this is 1988. The final section of the book is Icarus Drowning, 1976, and 1990 in the revised edition novel.

 
 

William Carlos Williams’ poem and the painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus appear side-by-side 22 minutes into the 1976 film, The Man Who Fell to Earth, starring David Bowie.

 
 

The painting seen early on in the film is Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, which (as we stated in a previous post) was long thought to be by Pieter Brueghel. In Greek mythology, Icarus succeeded in flying, with wings made by his father Daedalus, using feathers secured with wax. Ignoring his father’s warnings, Icarus chose to fly too close to the sun, melting the wax, and fell into the sea and drowned. His legs can be seen in the water just below the ship.

The film depicts the arrival of an alien, Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie), who has travelled to the Earth on a rescue mission to aid his dying planet (a prescient theme tapping into our ever growing concerns about global warming). His superior technology, and the unique patents it offers, allows him to play and control the markets and create a vast conglomerate. Amassing the financial benefits of the consumer products he has introduced, he sets out to create a space programme that will enable him to return to his world and bring his family back to Earth.

Pretty Things

“Wake up you sleepy head
Put on some clothes, shake up your bed…”

David Bowie

Oh! You Pretty Things

 
 

Terry Pastor’s airbrushed painting after a photograph taken by Brian Ward. Hunky Dory is hailed as being the second most iconic cover ever produced. The Beatles Abbey Road being the first

 

 
 

Oh You Pretty Thing, George Underwood, 1973. This was painted as a gift for David Bowie but became lost for nearly 37 years until George discovered.

Perfectly Satisfactory

Hunky Dory gave me a fabulous groundswell. I guess it provided me, for the first time in my life, with an actual audience – I mean, people actually coming up to me and saying, ‘Good album, good songs.’ That hadn’t happened to me before. It was like, ‘Ah, I’m getting it, I’m finding my feet. I’m starting to communicate what I want to do. Now: what is it I want to do?’ There was always a double whammy there.”

David Bowie

 
 

Hunky Dory is the fourth album by English singer-songwriter David Bowie, released by RCA Records in 1971. It was his first release through RCA, which would be his label for the next decade. Hunky Dory has been described by Allmusic’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine as having “a kaleidoscopic array of pop styles, tied together only by Bowie’s sense of vision: a sweeping, cinematic mélange of high and low art, ambiguous sexuality, kitsch, and class.” The slang hunky dory (of uncertain origin), would mean perfectly satisfactory, about as well as one could wish or expect; fine

 
 

The style of the album cover was influenced by a Marlene Dietrich photo book that Bowie brought with him to the photo session, which was taken by Brian Ward. Terry Pastor achieved the silk-screen printing appearance in the manner of Andy Warhol, using an airbrush. However,  the album’s sleeve would bear the credit “Produced by Ken Scott (assisted by the actor)”. The “actor” was Bowie himself, whose “pet conceit”, in the words of NME critics Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray, was “to think of himself as an actor”. George Underwood was also involved in the creative process of the album cover design.

 
 

The opening track, Changes, focused on the compulsive nature of artistic reinvention (“Strange fascination, fascinating me/Changes are taking the pace I’m going through”) and distancing oneself from the rock mainstream (“Look out, you rock ‘n’ rollers”). However, the composer also took time to pay tribute to his influences with the tracks Song for Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground inspired Queen Bitch.

Following the hard rock of Bowie’s previous album The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory saw the partial return of the fey pop singer of Space Oddity, with light fare such as Kooks (dedicated to his young son, known to the world as Zowie Bowie but legally named Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones) and the cover “Fill Your Heart” sitting alongside heavier material like the occult-tinged Quicksand and the semi-autobiographical The Bewlay Brothers. Between the two extremes was Oh! You Pretty Things, whose pop tune hid lyrics, inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche, predicting the imminent replacement of modern man by “the Homo Superior”, and which has been cited as a direct precursor to Starman from Bowie’s next album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.