If it wasn’t for youknowwhat, myself and the rather stupidly talented pop artist Morgan Howell – aka SuperSizeArt – would have already traded a shivery London for the somewhat weirder and wilder streets of Austin, Texas, for a couple of giddy, laughter-soaked weeks. Strictly business, of course.
If it wasn’t for youknowwhat, a collection of the paintbrush wielder’s flippin’ ginormous paintings of 7inch 45RPM singles depicting some of this globe’s greatest hits by the likes of Bowie, The Clash, Prince, The Who & Marvin Gaye would already be hanging seductively from the walls of the British Music Embassy at the 2021 South By South West festival. While youknowwho would be proudly gawping at them over a Jalapeño Margarita or two while being pleasured by the latest breakthrough sounds from our somewhat talented musical isles.
That’s exactly what we were meant to be doing in March 2020 too. Alas, youknowwhat put paid to that.
We made it there in pre-pandemic 2019, courtesy of the UK government’s Department of International Trade, exhibiting these mighty fine and collectable artworks as the BBC broadcast live from the throbbing, cauldron-like venue, launching the Stateside careers of Irish punk poets Fontaines DC and chanteuse extraordinaire Celeste, nominees for 2021 Grammys and Oscars respectively. We will never curse being covered in the sweat of strangers and accidentally sploshed Lone Stars ever again.
And this was all supposed to herald the US launch of our super-slab of a coffee table book – Morgan Howell At 45RPM – beaten only to the top of the Amazon art book chart by His Royal Highness Banksy, don’t you know (we’ll settle for that). One of the book’s contributors, strumming Scottish songstress KT Tunstall, had even agreed to warble at an unveiling, in the presence of the international music industry’s shakers and movers.
This 240-page labour of love kept us lockdown busy. The hulking great tome is the size of an album so slips into one’s vinyl collection rather nattily, hernia-permitting. The time-bending lockdown has actually made it a better book. It features 95 of Morgan’s eminent artworks accompanied by some tidy wordery from legends such as The Smiths’ Johnny Marr (who owns a T-Rex), Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber (a Howell original of The Stones’ Satisfaction adorns a wall of his Manhattan pad), producers William Orbit, Dan Carey and Dave Eringa, Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays, The Specials’ Horace Panter, Dave Davies of The Kinks, musicologists Mark Lewisohn, Jon Savage, David Hepworth and Greil Marcus, authors Peter Robinson, Tony Parsons and Ahdaf Soueif, TV producer and writer Donick Cary and photographer Gered Mankowitz.
There’s more. Piers Morgan off the telly was even persuaded to log off Twitter temporarily to contribute some insightful words of wisdom on The Beatles’ Hey Jude.
Landing a suitable luminary to pen the foreword felt as difficult as The Killers’ second album. We approached a mutual hero, the godfather of Pop Art, Sir Peter Blake, alongside BBC social history and political über-brain Andrew Marr. Amazingly, and indeed on the same day, they both obliged. So, yes, the book has two forewords.
Rewind a decade or so. Morgan came up with this mad idea, somewhat recklessly jacked in his job as a graphic designer and bought a load of hulking lumps of black vinyl and colossal canvasses. He then intricately painted and replicated- with method, application and mind-blowing detail- the sleeves of popular music classics, with super-realistic crumples, rips, scribbles and scuffed price tags to boot. They would soon become beloved by a tribe of art collectors and music junkies around the world.
Jude Law has one on his wall. So has Ozzy Osbourne. And Neil Diamond, Edgar Wright, Fatboy Slim, Blur and The Stone Roses. Oh, and there’s a permanent SuperSize exhibition at the BBC and London’s Barbican (when it’s open). Morgan has also exhibited at the Royal Academy and is a Fellow of the Royal Society Of Arts. Sony CEO Rob Stringer treated himself to a couple of them too.
Morgan Howell captures the intersection of music, art and popular culture like no other. Many of the songs and their sleeves reflect what was happening on the streets and behind nations’ net curtains at that moment in time. The giddy positivity of the early 60s, mutating into Bowie’s androgynous 70s then exploding into the fury of The Clash and The Specials in Thatcherite Britain, as expressed via the artwork and choruses of their singles. And beyond.
These irresistible works of artistic ingenuity kneel at the altar of the 45, saluting such cultural artefacts and honouring the effect of a noisy sliver of inky plastic on youth and wider society. And youknowwhat will never take that away from any single one of us.
Morgan Howell At 45RPM by Morgan Howell and Dominic Mohan is available now