TVD Radar: “The Art of Hipgnosis” Exhibition Honors 50 Years of the Revolutionary Design Studio

VIA PRESS RELEASE | A breathtaking collection of over 60 historic pieces from fine art prints to original artwork from the legendary design team of Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell—better known as Hipgnosis—will be on exhibit and available for sale at the San Francisco Art Exchange.

The Art of Hipgnosis, Inventors of the Dramatic Album Cover celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the first album cover created by the British design studio for Pink Floyd’s 1968 album, A Saucerful of Secrets. Over the next two decades, Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey ‘Po’ Powell would revolutionize album artwork by creating daring and instantly memorable surrealist images for bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, the Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Yes, and dozens more, including their most iconic piece, the prism/pyramid design that is arguably the most valuable album art of all time, for Pink Floyd’s 1974 album, The Dark Side of the Moon. As Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin recently said, “They were as cavalier as we were. I liked that!”

Powell will be on hand at the opening of The Art of Hipgnosis on November 10th, and the exhibition will run through January 5th, 2019. It showcases a broad selection of Hipgnosis’ masterworks including signed limited-edition prints, signed proof sheets, objects, and original artwork designs for such album covers as Pulse (Pink Floyd), Never Say Die! (Black Sabbath), Presence and In Through the Out Door (Led Zeppelin), Peter Gabriel (‘Melt’), as well as others. Preview the featured artworks and request a fully illustrated catalog (PDF) here.

Many of the images have never been seen before, such as a stunning collection of photographs Powell took of the Rolling Stones in 1972 for their album Goat’s Head Soup. The shots remained unused and the negatives filed away for the past 46 years. In addition, there are rare, intimate photos of Pink Floyd co-founder Syd Barrett, Paul McCartney backstage, along with striking onstage shots including Jimi Hendrix and the Who.

“We’re thrilled and honored to present the work of Hipgnosis,” says Theron Kabrich, gallery co-founder and creative director, who curated the exhibition with Powell. “Over the course of their career and on the hundreds of album covers they designed, Storm and Po changed the way album art—and the music it accompanied—communicated to us. Contemporary surrealists and visual punch-line artists, they created images that were memorable and magical, resulting in album art that became a dramatic event. I believe people like Banksy and Shephard Fairey must have dined, at least a little, on Hipgnosis as artistic food to evolve into who they have become.”

Powell quotes, “Hipgnosis was famous for being out of the ordinary, and we were very deliberate about our efforts to disrupt the norm. We called our album covers ‘non-covers,’ because they were designed to be art pieces. Record labels hated us. We rarely put band photos on the front, and in many cases we didn’t even put the name of the band or the album title. But the artists appreciated that we were creating change hand in hand with their music, so they empowered us to do whatever we wanted.”

Black Sabbath – Never Say Die! album cover by Hipgnosis

The San Francisco Art Exchange has enjoyed a long history with Hipgnosis, having presented four prior exhibitions with Storm Thorgerson (who passed away in 2013). The gallery is the first to have presented and sold original Hipgnosis artworks—its premier exhibition of the design studio included the premier showing of the original artwork of The Dark Side of the Moon. Other exhibitions premiered the original artworks of Wish You Were Here, Animals, Never Say Die! and Ummagumma, along with two dye transfers of In Through the Out Door and others.

These exhibitions came about through Kabrich’s friendship with Roger Dean, the renowned British artist and designer who is best known for his exotic landscapes on Yes albums such as Fragile and Close to the Edge. Dean was a close colleague and friend of Storm Thorgerson. Kabrich had remarked to Dean on several occasions that he was keen on presenting an exhibition of Hipgnosis’ work. He recalls how one day, his SFAE partner James Hartley called his office and said, “There’s somebody here to see you.” “I came downstairs and saw Storm sitting in a chair next to Jim’s desk,” he says, “I looked at Storm and said, ‘It’s about time!’ We immediately started working together.” In addition to presenting various exhibitions, Kabrich would serve as associate producer on the 2011 Hipgnosis documentary Taken by Storm, which had its world premiere at South by Southwest.

Although Thorgerson and Powell pushed the limits of photography-based techniques, they didn’t skimp on creating dream-like images by staging them in real life. “What they did was equal parts surrealism, deconstructionism and spectacle,” Kabrich says.

“They would embark on artistic adventures that broke boundaries in both concept and execution,” he continues. “If the concept included a man on fire, then a man had to literally be on fire. If a pig had to fly over a large power station, then an inflatable pig had to be suspended on tethers high above the station. If a man has to appear to be drowning in a phone booth filled with water, then a waterproof phone booth would have to be built and filled with water while a man held his breath long enough for the photo to be taken. Storm always said he did not want to fake a concept. No matter how outrageous and difficult, the content of the image had to be staged for real.”

Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy album cover by Hipgnosis

The Art of Hipgnosis, Inventors of the Dramatic Album Cover will kick off with an invitation-only opening reception on November 10, with Aubrey Powell in attendance. Signed copies of Aubrey Powell’s book Vinyl. Album. Cover. Art – The Complete Hipgnosis Catalogue will be given to all purchasers of artwork.

“I’m thrilled to work with the San Francisco Art Exchange on this exhibition to celebrate 50 years of Hipgnosis work,” says Powell. “Theron and Jim have a lot of sympathy and respect for the kind of work that we did. They’re prepared to put the radical ideas that we came up with and display them to the public as art. I admire them the same way that I admire the artists who employed us.”

About San Francisco Art Exchange | The San Francisco Art Exchange focuses on popular iconography from the worlds of film, art, music and history guided by the thesis that popular iconography is the language a culture uses to speak to itself in real time and later memorializes those communications as important parts of historical record.

SFAE has sold original artwork of iconic album covers for the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, among many others. The gallery has also concluded landmark sales of rare photographs of Marilyn Monroe, Martin Luther King, Jr., Johnny Cash and Muhammad Ali, to name a few. In addition, SFAE has represented treasured music and movie-related artifacts from private and celebrity archives, such as the Playboy Collection and the Brown Derby Collection.

At its downtown San Francisco gallery, SFAE has hosted live events by everyone from music superstars Brian Wilson and Graham Nash, to civil rights legend Clarence Jones and Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm. The gallery’s most recent project was the sale of a rare portfolio of photographs of President John F. Kennedy, celebrating the centennial of his birth in cooperation with the Kennedy Foundation, with a percentage of the proceeds benefitting the foundation.

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