British artist Morgan Howell paints super-sized hyper-realistic versions of classic 7″ singles.
“There is no point in painting them the same size,” reflects Morgan Howell, as he prepares for the latest exhibition of his over-sized 7″ “portraits”, opening at Proud’s Chelsea gallery next week. 27″ x 27″, tucked snuggly inside dog-eared sleeves, “portraits” seems like an apt description for objects that collect as much history as these, for they are not just images of iconic recordings, but paintings of specific records, where every crease, rip and smudge tells a story.
“Initially the pieces were drawn from my personal family history,” Howell explains, attracted to what he calls their “life” and “utility”; for Howell “the more care worn the better”. And it’s a concept that has struck a chord, sitting at the intersection of the communal consciousness evoked by these classic recordings and their personal use in the lives of their owners.
Now commissioned to produce specific pieces for others, Howell has found his images playing their own role in this continuing narrative, his copy of David Bowie’s “The Jean Geanie” hanging at Sony Music HQ, as well as next to Elton John’s piano in the Radio 2 Green Room.
Evoking memories and tapping into a uniquely personal form of cultural nostalgia, Howell’s exhibition at Proud Chelsea will celebrate the golden age of the 45 and feature the most iconic recordings of the 20th century. In the build up, Howell has been good enough to provide us with a selection of images from the exhibition and share his thoughts on just what helped define the 45 as the most elemental format in pop history.
What do the images reveal about the objects, the music and the eras in which they were produced?
They are a wonderful insight into a world which was incredibly fast paced. I think the old range bags were designed for an earlier time and the inertia of pop sales meant that all they could do was give it a number and get it out the door. I love the fact that a multi-million seller would have exactly the same package as an unknown on the same label. My macro examination of them also reveals really interesting aspects which I’m still trying to fathom. For me the objects themselves have an otherworldly quality. How else could an object made in America in 1956 still play on my device in St. Albans in 2014 and make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. How else could Jerry Lee Lewis be ‘in the room’ with me?
There’s often a greater focus on LP cover art, is it high time the humble generic designs on the 7″ sleeves got their dues? They have a very distinct design and style.
I think so. Most people bought singles before they could afford albums so the connection runs deeper. Most have forgotten the object even though it often delivered something which remains hard wired into the brain for life.
Do the actual records you base the paintings on hold any personal relevance to you?
The Beatles’ double A-Side ‘Get Back/Don’t Let Me Down’ is of great significance. I was actually there when The Beatles performed for the very last time, live on the roof in Savile Row. Albeit as a 3 year old in the back of my father’s overheating Ford Zephr Zodiac, caught in the traffic below. Some 40 years later my giant 3D facsimiles of them were hanging at Radio 2 in the green room next to Elton’s piano. Quite a moment. Oh and we wore the grooves out trying to work out the lyric to ‘Heatwave’ so we could cover it in our band. I was 15 and were pretty crap. I had to sing the same verse over and over. No one cared.
Do they reflect your own tastes? How would you best describe the records in your collection?
I love music of all kinds. I’ve never actually been asked to paint anything that’s not worthy. Although I have been asked to paint the same thing twice which I had to decline. Even though the commission was from Max Hole at Universal and he wanted the 1st Beatles number one, ‘Please Please Me’.
Everyone gives me old 45s so I couldn’t even begin to tell you what’s in my collection. It’s a constant surprise and I love that.
45 Revolutions by Morgan Howell opens at Proud Chelsea on 10th July and will run until 2nd September. Visit the Proud website at www.proud.co.uk for further information.