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.

Coca-Cola Shiva by John Green

Coca-Cola Shiva painting by John Green, an animation student attending The New England Institute of Art In Massachusetts, USA. He created this artwork for a Coca-Cola art contest in his junior year of high school in 2005, working with oil paint, acrylic paint and colored pencil.

The Enduring Fame of Andy Warhol

Warhol’s influence on society has steadily grown in the two decades since his death in 1987 and has yet not reached its zenith. Warhol’s ideas were “far out” during his lifetime but are coming more and more to resemble life as we know it. Over the course of 30 years, more and more people have understood that Warhol’s
art opened up opened up a territory as large as the world itself: a large and fascinating universe including Hollywood stars, Coca-Cola bottles, underground movies and music, mysteries and terrors, humor and wit.

Tom Armstrong, the first director of Pittsburgh’s Warhol museum, describes the “Pope of Pop” as a key figure in contemporary culture: “More than any other figure of his time, Warhol challenged our way of thinking about art. Andy was a painter, a sculptor, a graphic artist, a filmmaker, a music producer, an author, a publisher. The scope of his creative activity was extraordinary and it touched on the entire range of popular culture”.

In the foreword of the book “Andy Warhol Portraits”, American art historian and curator Robert Rosenblum stated that this was only the beginning of the story: “Warhol quickly emerged as a leader of the Pop Art movement. His work provided an instantly intelligible chronicle of what mattered most to people, from the dead of Marilyn Monroe to the ascendancy of Red China.”
Rosenblum compares Warhol’s art to a March of Time newsreel: “An abbreviated visual anthology of the most conspicuous headlines, mythic creatures, personalities, movie and music stars, tragedies, artworks, even ecological problems of recent decades. Everything and everybody is here – with infinitely more speed and wallop than a complete run of New York Times on microfilm: airplane crashes and volcanic eruptions, electric chairs, President Nixon, and the Thirteen Most Wanted Men, giant pandas, the hammer-and-sickle, transvestites, Santa Claus and Raphael’s Sistine Madonna”.

Warhol’s greatest gift was probably his observational ability. From his ubercool stance as the silent watcher, Warhol took it all in and saw it for how it truly was.
Warhol’s art reflected the contemporary culture of the United States, and therefore of a world culture that was coming more and more under the American influence. He addressed the changes brought about in our society through mass productions and mass communications in a way that was daring and yet instantly accessible.
By creating artworks inspired by consumer goods as Coca-Cola bottles, Heinz boxes or Campbell’s Soup cans, Warhol presented the world with genuine philosophical challenges.

For the first time in ages, painting was addressing the world at large, and the world knew it was being addressed. But there was a second level to the mass media controversy: not what Warhol painted, but how. Some of his first Pop artworks were made by hand and showed evidence of great skill.

In his later works, Warhol’s hand became less evident. To produce his pictures of Marilyn and Elvis, he made silkscreens print of photographs, which he colored with the aid of stencils. This method offended art critics who wanted to see traces of the artist’s personality on the canvas, or proof of his hard work. But that objection seemed to miss the point.

Warhol had adopted the methods of mass production to make images of celebrities who were themselves mass produced. Marilyn Monroe existed not only as a flesh-and-blood person but as millions of pictures in magazines and newspapers, on album covers, movie screens and film posters. She was infinitely reproducible.

Warhol also understood America’s fascination with celebrity. The “celebrity concept” had an incredible impact on American culture and it quickly became the N°1 topic for Warhol and the Pop Art movement. By becoming a true celebrity himself, something that hadn’t been done before by any US artists, Warhol invented a new approach to America’s fascination with fame.
Andy Warhol’s life is a great example of somebody who courted fame and publicity, achieved it, yet never really gave much away about his “real” personality. Just as is the case with Coca-Cola’s secret formula, the public was really fascinated by the high level of secrecy Warhol managed to surround himself with.

Warhol had been obsessed with fame ever since his childhood when he collected autographs from stars, but what fascinated him the most about the subject was the difference between truth and reality in the world of Hollywood. Warhol subscribed to the postmodern concept of truth as a subjective value and adored the tabloids. In his book “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again”, Warhol talks a lot about fame: “A good reason for being famous is so you can read all the big magazines and know everybody in all the stories.”
Warhol even created his own magazine in 1969, Interview, which he claimed he started so that he and his friends would always be invited to the movie premieres and best parties. And of course, starstruck as he was, Warhol always liked to hang around with the popsingers, actors & actresses or other superstars.

Warhol’s most famous quotes are on the subject of fame and the fifteen minutes he felt everyone would get. When he made this statement, it may have sounded like a throwaway soundbite but fact is that in today’s world of cross-genre multi-media, obsessive celebrity madness, reality TV with it’s non-stop “new star” bombardments, Warhol’s philosophy has never been so closely felt.

Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame run on …

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