Guy Peellaert, The Michelangelo of Pop Art

Guy Peellaert, a major European Pop artist, died last week. The Brussels-born artist Guy Peellaert was a painter, illustrator, graphic artist and photographer, whose work has been exhibited around the world. He made his debut as a theatre decorator and as a comic strip artist and was one of the first artists to embrace the Pop Art movement that began in the late 1950s. Peellaert made no distinction between high art and low art. He approached the pop culture and mythology as a true fan. His style was influenced by comics, American Pop Art and psychedelic art. He painted using a very photo-realistic style and collage techniques. In 1974, Elle magazine called him the “the Michelangelo of Pop”.

“Tina Turner” by Guy Peellaert

Peellaert was born in Brussels in 1934 into an aristocratic family. He left home at an early age, and for many years refused to have any contact with his father. As a teenager, he studied fine arts in the Belgian capital and found refuge in the music of Nat King Cole, George Gershwin and Duke Ellington. He also devoured Amercian and British pop culture, film noir and pulp literature. Just as his example, the Britsih Pop artist Peter Blake, Peellaert hoarded and archived music magazines, books and pop memorabilia. He was one of the very first comic artists to process pop-art influences in his stories. His first comic strip, “Les Aventures de Jodelle”, was published in 1966. The psychedelic cartoon character Jodelle was inspired by he French popstar Sylvie Vartan. Peellart’s second comic strip heroine, “Pravda, La Survireuse”, made her debut in 1968 and was a brunette modelled on the chanteuse Françoise Hardy.

“Pravda & Coca-Cola”, limited edition silkprints by Guy Peellaert.

Rolling Stone Mick Jagger, one of the proud owners of Peellaert’s art.

In the late Sixties, Peellaert moved to Paris, where he worked variously in advertising, set design for the casino and the Crazy Horse nightclub, film and television. He also published a couple of experimental books, “Carashi!”, which consisted of redesigned photos, and “Bye, bye, bye Baby, bye, bye’”, which used a hyper-realistic style.
Peellaert quickly became a popular chronicler of rock and roll. He created amazing tableaux featuring rock luminaries in paintings that captured their personae in a way that photos never could. His paintings tapped right into our subconscious fantasies of rock stars’ secret selves & lives and earned him international cult status.

“Jimi Hendrix” by Guy Peellaert

Peellaert’s work became very visible in the 1970s, especially his book of rock star portraits “Rock Dreams”, created together with British rock writer Nik Cohn. With its fantastical and iconic images of the giants of rock and roll, the book served as a record of rock’s golden years. In a series of 125 paintings, Peellaert painted his heroes in situations echoing their mythical status or playing on their most famous lyrics. “Rock Dreams”, created together with British rock writer Nik Cohn. Published in 1974, the book had a huge impact when it was first published and went on to sell more than one million copies worldwide and established Peellaert as a major international artist. Many of the original artworks were bought by Jack Nicholson. John Lennon framed the cover of the book, which depicted him sitting at a lunch-counter with Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger.

“Elvis Presley’s Last Supper” with guests Cliff Richard, Tom Jones and Eddie Cochran, feasting on burgers and drinking Coca-Cola.

“Frank Sinatra” – Peellaert pictured Sinatra as a newspaper cutting. The “Frankie Goes Hollywood” headline later inspired singer Holly Johnson for the name of his band, Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

“The Beatles”, the Fab Four chased by a bobby in the streets of Liverpool.


“Otis Redding” by Guy Peellaert

“Superstar Bob”, Bob Dylan in the back of a limousine.

“The Velvet Underground” by Guy Peellaert

“Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young” by Guy Peellaert

Soon after the success of “Rock Dreams”, Peellaert created the cover of The Rolling Stones album “It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll”, David Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs”. Many people know these classic album sleeves even if they don’t recognize the name of the artist who painted it.

“It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll”, Album cover art for The Rolling Stones by Guy Peellaert.

“Diamond Dogs” artwork for David Bowie.

Peellaert also designed striking posters for a number of iconic films, including Wenders “Paris, Texas” and “Wings of Desire” and Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. His most famous film poster design is probably the one he did for Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.

In the eighties, Guy Peellaert embarked on an extensive project with the American author Michael Herr, “The Big Room”, a homage to Las Vegas which conceived the city, in Peelleart’s words, as “a big hotel lounge where everybody comes in, out, with their luggage, their problems and their dreams”. It would take 11 years to complete. In 1999, Peellaert and Cohn teamed up again for “20th Century Dreams”, a surrealistic “alternative history” of the 20th century.

“Little Mockstory” – Elvis Presley in police uniform busting through the dormitory door of a pot-smoking Bill Clinton.

“La Bonne Trajectoire”. Genius Albert Eintein shows baseball legend Babe Ruth the perfect swing.

“Caesar’s Palace” – Famous painting of boxer Muhammad Ali, preparing for a title fight.

Guy Peellaert lost his own fight with cancer this week, he died on November 17th, 2008 in Paris aged 74. In 2003, Peellaert told Beaux Arts Magazine: “I’m not bothered about death. Not having any passion while you’re alive, that’s the terrible thing. That’s why “Rock Dreams” still works today. Emotions keep you alive. Rock will always represent the extravagant, the flashy, the fantasy. These pictures are a memento to that dream.”

For a complete overview of Peellaert’s work, exhibitions and bio, you can visit his website.

Andy Warhol – Pop Art Revolution

Andy Warhol’s Pop Art plays on everyone’s fantasies of an inaccessible glamour and celebrity, as embodied in Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, Jackie Kennedy and Mick Jagger. At the same time, his art demonstrates, over and over, that Marilyn and Elvis, Jackie and Mick are available to everyone, as if they were a can of Coca-Cola.

With his pop painting incorporating images of consumer products and movie stars, Warhol addressed the changes brought about in our society through mass communications and mass productions. In a way that was daring and yet instantly accessible, he reflected the contemporary culture of the United States, and therefore of a world culture that was coming more and more under the American influence. Beyond that, by creating artworks that looked indistinguishable from consumer products such as Coca-Cola bottles or Campbell cans, Warhol presented us with genuine philosophical challenges – which, remarkably enough, everybody understood. As for Warhol’s impact on society, he invented a new approach to America’s fascination with celebrity. He became a celebrity himself, something that had been done before by only a few American artists.

“Everybody has their own America, and then they have pieces of a fantasy America that they think is out there but they can’t see. When I was little, I never left Pennsylvania, and I used to have fantasies about things that I thought were happening…that I felt I was missing out on. But you can only live life in one place at a time… You live in your dream America that you’ve custom-made from art and schmaltz and emotions just as much as you live in your real one”.
Andy Warhol, 1985

Warhol had lived in just such a fantasy America since his childhood days, when he began collecting autographed photos of movie actors.

Andy Warhol’s father Andrej Warhola, born in 1886, emigrated from Mikova, in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, to the United States around 1913 and found work as a coal miner. His wife Julia Zavacky (born in 1892), who had married Andrej in 1909, stayed behind; she was unable to follow him to America until 1921. The following year, Julia gave birth to her first child, Paul, and in 1925 to the second, John. Her youngest, Andy, was born in Pittsburgh on August 6, 1928. In Pittsburgh, Andrej Warhola became a laborer in heavy construction. To help support the family, Julia made paper flowers, which she planted in tin cans and sold door-to-door.

The young Andy loved drawing, painting, cutting designs from paper and reading, specially comics and magazines. With Julia’s blessing, Andy skipped grades one and five at elementary school and took free classes in studio art and art appreciation at nearby Carnegie Institute. A few years later, when Andy was 13 years old, Andrej Warhol fell ill and died from tuberculous peritonitis.

In 1945, at age 17, Andy enrolled in the College of Fine Arts of Carnegie Institute of Technology, where he majored in pictorial design. During his summer vacations, he worked as a window dresser at Horne’s department store. Warhol also taught art part-time at the Irene Kaufmann Settlement.
In 1949, a week after his college graduation, Warhol moved to Manhattan where he started a career as a commercial artist. His first assignment was to illustrate an article in Glamour magazine, “Success is a Job in New York.”

As Andy Warhol wrote in 1975, “What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke”.
The combination of celebrity worship and consumerism was the keystone of Warhol’s unique pop vision.