Album Cover Hall of Fame’s Interview with artist Jann Haworth
Jann Haworth/SLC Pepper – photo by Chad Kirkland
Posted December 7th, 2020 by Mike Goldstein, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com
As a key member of the troupe that created what many consider to be the most-memorable (and, certainly, the most-parodied!) record package of the past 60 years – and winning a Grammy Award for her work on the cover image for The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band which, if I’m not mistaken, looks to be one of just two “official” album cover credits – it’s been a goal of mine to be able to interview artist Jann Haworth and share the results of that effort with my readers. I’ve been including bits of info about her career for several years now, including an item in my September summary about her newest (and Pepper-related) project in Salt Lake City, UT, but it wasn’t until late that month that collector/curator/friend of the ACHOF Richard Forrest was able to make an introduction on my behalf and that I was then able to ask her a few questions about that project (thanks again, Richard!).
Those of you who recall my previous life as a gallery owner will remember that I sold fine art prints of this image that were produced by Mediacom/Record Art in the early 1990s and, although I committed to significantly reducing the number of prints in my own art collection, there are just some items that must remain, and my Pepper’s print (#6039/9800, complete with reproductions of each band-member’s signature) is one I’m happy to look at each and every day, making it a sure “keeper”.
Much has already been said about her Sgt. Pepper’s work, and I was perhaps unsure as to whether she was tired of answering questions about it at this point but, as I supposed that she might have a unique perspective on the world of album cover art, I thought that the best approach would be to simply send her a few more-general questions designed to get her take on album cover imagery/packaging (it’s value, where she think it “fits” in the fine art world, etc.). After a few emails back and forth, I do believe that I have been able to put together something that lets us both learn a bit more about this truly accomplished and influential artist and her take on the album cover’s place in the world of Pop Art, so let’s get on with it….
Interview with Jann Haworth (done via emails from September through December, 2020)
Mike Goldstein, Album Cover Hall of Fame.com – Jann, thanks so much for working with me on this. I’m very happy to see that you’re willing to answer a few questions for me – anything you’d be willing to share would be greatly appreciated by both me and my readers. My first question to artists is usually about their feelings about album artwork-related design, photography and production you see these days and whether there are any musical acts, labels, art directors, etc. that you think are keeping the field alive or important. Between my own research and reading other interviews you’ve done already gave me a little insight, so while I understand that you may have been impressed with a number of different covers over the years – and the talents of the people that made them – do you think album art and packaging matters much to music fans anymore?
Jann Haworth, artist – The scale has changed, and that does have some bearing on the ‘collection’ feel, I think. The CD sort of made that point. When you saw covers reproduced on the much-smaller CD scale, it was kind of an “ehh?” moment. And music now goes straight from digital recordings to digital devices without stopping off at the local music store, so does it really need packaging? There are covers that you glance at and say to yourself, for example, “oh-nice… Tom Waits has pulled off another corker there”, but I don’t think you dwell on it as we did once – we move too fast. We will dwell over new street art and graffiti thinking about location, context, scale, meaning, etc, but not so much music packaging.
Mike G – You mention something about what Tom Waits has done – can you tell me what you’re referring to?
Jann H – So Tom Waits popped into my mind when I was thinking about your first question. In fact, the CD I’m referring to was a present to me – I rarely – if ever – go out and buy music, though I listen to music a lot, so the packaging barely crosses my consciousness. The CD I’m referring to is Mule Variations and I just love what that chap does. It is always skewed, unexpected and outside the norm. His lyrics are unparalleled and he matches that with such a range of sound, from jazz piano to megaphone to sticks. The complexity of his work sets him apart and leaves you slack-jawed.
MG – So, with the “resurgence” of the collecting of vinyl records and the “special products” that are being released to appeal to collectors, it seems that folks of all ages are still somewhat interested in building personal music collections not stored on a hard disk. For example, I just bought a newly-packaged Let It Bleed box by the Rolling Stones that, in addition to the inclusion of two vinyl LPs, came with a wonderful photo and info book and three limited-edition prints – if you can call an edition of 27,000 copies “limited”! – of various states of the artwork produced by Robert Brownjohn. What’s your take on those products? Also, although music is mostly sold in digital formats, don’t you find it interesting that people still use album covers – albeit in thumbnail size – to search thru their phones, music players, etc.?
JH – Well you have to have something, and what alternative is there? Getting back to your question about whether album art matters much any longer… Well, it’s rather like pondering whether old music sheets matter anymore. It matters to a sufficient number of people to support and justify the marketing and super-structure that pitches it out there – and gets enough consumers to buy it – so that the super structure business can pay itself to make more products. Whether that ‘matters much’ depends on your value system, disposable income and cultural consumer taste. To me, as a non-collector in that zone – it doesn’t matter as much as a rock-hound trip to Topaz Mountain, where I will collect rocks that amaze me. I am not much of a consumer. I’ll buy books – I used to collect graphic novels – but, for the most part, I don’t buy stuff- and as I am I guess atypical – maybe you should discount whatever I say.
MG – I’m honored to be able to interview you, so I’d never discount anything you’d have to say…so, continuing on…when you were working on an album art package or any commission for your own clients, do you consider your efforts to be true works of self-expression? What I mean is, did you look to impart something of your own style, or did you take your lead from your client? How much did the music you were helping to promote influence the visuals you created for your client?
Jann H and daughter Liberty Blake with the Work In Progress mural at the Pallent House Gallery, UK
JH – Different artists, different interfaces between client and artist. To put it extremely, some artists are in a position to dictate and some are not. Personally, I think it’s like a tennis game. You need to learn how to listen, when to adapt, when to say “no”…how you incorporate yourself into a project is an art form in itself and one with which I have a LOT of deep experience. Community-driven murals like my Work In Progress panels and the ones in SLC require all that and more. The participants become part of the collage of ideas, mistakes, new ideas and possibilities. I love this sort of collaboration. And, when done, I love getting back into my studio work where I am the sole, self-anointed dictator over the artwork.
Each commission is different – on some, you find yourself with a very unexpected series of profound changes while on others, the first sketches pretty much hold all the way through. Both work for me- I like an adventure. I like pulling out and finding form with a second or third person or, as per the Utah Women 2020 mural we just finished, 178 community members. It might be something like being in a band, or co-authoring a book.
Close-up of Utah Women 2020 mural – photo by Alex Johnstone
MG – so, let’s spend a moment more about your take on today’s music marketplace. With the electronic delivery of music products now the dominant way they’re brought to most consumers, what are your thoughts about the degrees to which musical acts and their record labels should be investing time and money in imagery and packaging for any and all methods of promotion and delivery, the object being to create visuals that might help their products stand out?
JH – Well, it is a bit like the book market. We don’t see many awards being handed out for book covers. I think the creative energy might better go towards making online images or animations or films or slide shows that you might see as the track is played on YouTube or whatever. That has more scope and is now within reach of most artists. Filmmakers might dominate that scene, but there is no reason a visual artist shouldn’t take the lead on that. When we see a single still image as a ‘cover’ for a song that we have brought up on You Tube—we move on pretty quickly. I think that may be partly that the images are not so arresting, or it may be that we are increasingly restless. Steve Earle’s covers always stopped my eye- why is that? It could just be my taste; it could be that quality ‘art’ does that. We like puzzles and detail, things that arouse our curiosity or that ask questions. I’d say maybe it is time to go to “fine artists” and “street artists” for covers, rather than graphic designers. We need to go back to the hand-made line.
MG – You bring up a point that I’ve always subscribed to – that is, that people with a keen eye and design skills can always – with some effort – apply those talents to work in other visual media. When I worked in music television, one of the things I tried to do was to convince commercial graphic artists, videographers, photographers, editors, etc. that they could bring their talents to gigs in “new media”. Some took to it like a fish to water, while others – I called them “cold type setters” – were stuck in their ways and didn’t want to learn how to use a computer or any of the newer tools. As you might guess, they found themselves having difficulty finding anything but hyper-specialized work. One success story I recall was my work to convert a VERY talented illustrator I knew from the gig poster business – who was in his 70s at the time – from using only pen-and-ink and to try out Adobe Illustrator. At first, he was dead set against it but, after he tried it and realized that he could both easily fix mistakes and also try different color schemes before settling on one, he was hooked. So, while I know that you’re best-known for your hand-made works of art, I’m curious as to how much you use computer-aided design in your work? A little? A lot? If not, why not?
JH – It depends on what I am doing. If it is a comic-strip, I first draw, then scan and then color fill, while sometimes it is all drawing and color work, likewise by hand. With the new Utah Women 2020 mural, all the artwork was done by hand on paper by the 178 artists and community members who participated, and then my son photographed all the original artwork. He then Photoshopped it and used the computer to digitally collage a 5000 sq ft mural on banners that were then hung on the side of a seven-story building, so this work was part ‘by-hand’ and part digitally supported.
Just to “unpack” my process a bit… when I am painting, I sometime will sometimes include material that I’ve sourced online and then print a newspaper article or an image directly onto canvas that I am going to incorporate into these works I call “patched canvases”. These works are made using a new process that I developed that stitches clear vinyl with fine art, oil-painted canvas and double-layers the image so that there are two layers of canvas in each work. It is pretty difficult to photograph – they are works that need to be seen in person as are the cardboard pieces, which use the reflections of the viewer to put the viewer into the march that is depicted. The patched canvases have another relationship to the viewer in that the composition animates slightly as the viewer shifts positions due to the change in the relative positions of the front canvas and the back canvas so that the viewer sees a slightly-different relationship of the subject of the painting to its back drop.
MG – Sounds fascinating! It’s great to be able to rely on the talents of others to expand the dimensions of your own projects, right? So, let’s dig a bit more into your thoughts about the relationship between pop art and pop culture…Do you think album cover art helps us document human history? I believe that iconic album cover art – in many ways – has had a noticeable effect on Pop Culture. What’s your take on this – is the imagery and music providing the direction, or is it reflecting the culture, or something else?
JH – Advertising, poster and album covers did once, but now HMMM … I’m not seeing it as a thing now. I don’t think that the “under 30s” have time for that. They’ll give things a four second glance, if that. Films, if short- as they’re moving, they get a look. Why is that? It’s because our brain is wired that way – we have to note movement, otherwise whatever it is might eat us. So, yes, it did document one part of culture. All art reflects, it is just that the very word ‘reflection’ has telescoped and changed. I think we have to accept niche audiences and the fact that our outreach is likely to be to specialized groupings and that the turn-over of lead “culture-makers” is going to be faster.
MG – We used to call it “short attention-span theater”. It is still possible to get folks to linger on an image, but it requires rewarding them somehow, like when a click on an item brings them additional info or awards them points in their quest. I would say though that there’s a fair amount of album art today that is meant to elicit a response or get viewers to think more deeply about the images they see – a lot of political statements or views into lives we seldom see. An album like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, for example, has a cover that, at least for the musician, was an attempt to illustrate how he felt about how the US Government and the courts – not very well, was my take. Will the image be remembered as a statement or simply something interesting to look at, or neither?
JH – Regarding whether the image will be remembered as a statement or simply something interesting to look at…Why is Sgt P looked at so much and another album not so much? It’s because each inch has a puzzle. As all game designers know, we like puzzles and we’re therefore engaged a bit longer. I like to create images that have reasoning behind every bit of them. So, on one level, a painting that I do has “art historical positioning” and quests for answers and resolutions and continuity. On another level, I am experimenting with the viewer’s eyes… I am loading the image with intricacies and compositional tricks and skills, putting in images within images that maybe a point to dwell on and ask the question “why”? All of this is in the hope that the work deserves more than just a glance.
MG – Jann, please help me better-understand what you mean by “art historical positioning”?
JH – Well, I consider what has gone before… First, I don’t want to repeat something that has been well covered before and, secondly, I want to invent new paths and new ways of doing things, looking at traditional subjects in a new way. I have to know what went before if I want to invent something new. So, this is NOT about positioning myself IN Art History… it is about using and reviewing the legacy of inventions and concerns of the past as a foundation for my thinking.
Finally, just to be credited is both a curse and a pleasure. One has to ask how much does it really matter. The actual joy in any endeavor is the making of it. When praised, it’s nice but, for me, the gratification just doesn’t live there. What matters to me are when a few close friends and my families ‘laugh’ about it all. The rest is an “after the fact” thing, and the only thing to be gained, as I see it, is that it might get you to the MAKING point again, which is where the invention, the discoveries, the joy and the frisson is.
I have had so much more joy, fulfillment and well exercised mental muscles with the mural projects in SLC than ever I had with the original Sgt P. They strike deeper, mean more and give more – although, to a much smaller audience – than the original ‘Peppered’ experience. I think that there is more heart in them.
MG – Let’s conclude with a question that always elicits a broad range of responses from the people I interview. I know your primary works have been split between those for the public sphere and those for the fine art world, which leads me to think that your take on this is even more important to know…So, while doing the research for a book project and for some of the bios featured on the ACHOF site, I found examples of something that made me want to work harder to make sure that credits are given where due. Over the years, I’ve seen a number of incidents where an artist’s work had been used and, on occasion, abused by labels, print publishers, licensing companies and other musical acts without permission or without giving proper credit for the work being used. It seems that, in an age where people seem to find it permissible to “borrow” – it sounds so much better than “steal” or “plagiarize” – other artists works to help them promote and sell their own products, folks that create original art have been forced to police the print and digital media outlets to do what they can to either stop this unauthorized use or, at least, receive credit for the work they’ve done. Have you – or any artists you know – ever been victimized in this way? Is there anything that can or should be done about it, or do you simply chalk it up to being one of the costs of doing business these days?
JH -You know a book needs to be written taking up this question. Let me side-step a moment to the POP Art arena to ask a question – Could most of Pop Art be seen as plagiarizing the work of other creatives? I mean all the unsung photographers and graphic designers…who took the photo of Marylin Monroe that Warhol used, or who did the original Campbell’s soup tin or the Brillo Pad graphics?. And it’s not just Warhol…I’ve stated it over-simply, but there is a complex relationship here – is it parasitic or symbiotic? Is it like Ouroboros – the snake swallowing its own tail – when an artist uses someone else’s art to make his or her own?
Of late, the whole “credits question” has become a bit of a circus or perhaps a Wonderland ‘Caucus Race’ that, like the record itself, goes around in circles. Who credits Joe Ephgrave for the drum skin on Pepper– or the photographers who took the images of the heads, or the guy who brought the flowers and made the flower guitar?
I wish I could see justice done for me and my fellow artists, but I fear I never will.
For sure, credit on Sgt Pepper’s has been horribly mixed…for example, Paul McCartney now claims 100% authorship of the concept for the cover, which is an utterly fabricated memory. Peter Blake also claims 100% – that he did it all while I claim 50%, so it is a 250% baby! I can’t gnaw at this bone. It is only a record cover, and not Rosalind Franklin’s photo of the structure of DNA which, for me, is a far more powerful breakthrough.
All things said, I wouldn’t allow myself to pout about being a victim. I’d rather invent a new idea than dine on sour grapes or chew old cud.
MG – So many of the artists I know have a story like yours. Some of them are fairly famous, with R. Crumb getting $600 for his cover for Janis Joplin being a great example and my research has uncovered many others. I interviewed Gerard Huerta, the artist who did the AC/DC logo, and the several people who claim to have done the “original” “Lips & Tongue” logo for the Rolling Stones and, in both cases, these works for hire – whether that was stipulated in a contract or not – gave the artists that created them next to nothing in payment while they’ve generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues/profits for the license-holders who, usually, are the musical acts or the record labels or the licensing agencies they’ve hired. Several have been able to go back and re-negotiate some form of one-time payment or a small ongoing percentage royalty, while others have figured out that they’re able to sell fine art prints of their work, stripped of titles or the like. Photographers who have the original images they shot for album covers, for example, have been able to, in most cases, sell “art editions” online or thru galleries of these works, without much interference from all but the most-litigious of the big acts, such as The Beatles, of course, and Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, etc..
The drum head you commissioned, from what I recall, wound its way into various collections before once being sold in the early 1990s at one auction house and then again in 2008 by Christie’s. As this is an art object, ownership is determined mostly by possession unless it’s possible to prove that it was stolen, so I wouldn’t hold out much hope that Mr. Ephgrave’s son could recoup anything from that sale. Although The Beatles might give him a problem – I’m not suggesting that he do this or not, since I’m not a practicing lawyer – but I’d venture to think that he might be able to negotiate a license with them to sell prints of any original photos he might have of the work. A chum of mine in LA negotiated a deal with Apple Corp to be able to sell limited-editions of recreations he does of certain album images. I used to sell the Yellow Submarine album cover recreation he did in my old art gallery. Of course, if you decide to do something along these lines, I’d love to be able to interview you and help you publicize it when it comes out!
Editor’s Note #1 – The full production credit on the Sgt. Pepper’s album reads: “Cover by MC Productions and The Apple; staged by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth; photographed by Michael Cooper”. MC Productions was photographer Michael Cooper’s company, with The Apple being The Beatles’ company.
Editor’s Note #2 – In an earlier interview, Jann notes that it was she who brought in fairground painter Joe Ephgrave – someone who had painted wardrobes for both her and her mother – to paint the now-famous drumhead seen on the Sgt. Pepper’s cover. Jann recollects that Joe was paid £25 for the work, while she and her husband received £200 for their efforts (although they split the credits, the £200 fee and the Grammy statue, only Blake received a platinum disc plaque when the record reached that lofty sales plateau). Of course, the image has been used and re-used and licensed many times over the past 50+ years. While the original was on display in Ringo Starr’s London flat in 1968 and later discovered in another flat undergoing renovation in the 1970s, the drum head was included in a 1994 auction at Sotheby’s (where it sold for £52,100, or approx. $1.6X dollars at the time) and then, in 2008, it was the keynote item in another auction at Christie’s, where it sold for £540,000 or, at the time, just over $1 million. For many years, Beatle Paul McCartney proudly displayed a second, alternative version of the drum head he has that Ephgrave also painted at the time.
About the interviewee, Artist Jann Haworth –
(b. March, 1942) Born and raised in “Tinseltown” (i.e., Hollywood, California), it was her parents – Miriam Haworth, a distinguished sculptor, printmaker and painter whose works are included in the Smithsonian and Ted Haworth, an Academy Award-winning production designer and art director who worked on such films as Some Like It Hot, The Getaway, The Longest Day and Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, among many others – who ensured that she’d be exposed to artistic talent in many forms and would certainly have a strong influence on her artistic development and aspirations. After experimenting with art in different forms as a youngster, Jann enrolled in classes at UCLA in 1959 and, two years later, moved to London to study art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art while also working in the studios of the Slade School of Fine Art. It was while she was at school that she started using some of the sewing techniques she’d learned from her mother to create soft sculptures – first of items found in still life paintings and then life-sized doll figures, many of which referenced American pop culture icons.
Establishing herself as one of the first female figures working in the British Pop Art movement, Jann had her first major exhibition in 1963 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts which were followed by shows at noted art dealer (and friend of the Beatles and the Stones) Robert Fraser’s gallery. In 1963, she met and married another Pop artist – Peter Blake – and, following up on a recommendation Fraser made to his Beatle friends that Haworth and Blake would be just the right team to create a memorable cover for their upcoming Sgt. Pepper’s album, the duo took on the commission that would ultimately win them a 1967 Grammy Award for Best Album Cover (Graphic Arts) at the 10th annual Grammy Awards (in addition to work in design/assemblage, Jann did the hand-tinting color work on the life-sized photos and added the soft sculptures of the “Old Lady” and Shirley Temple, who was decked out in a “Welcome The Rolling Stones” jumper. It was also Haworth who envisioned the band’s name written out in a flower bed).
In 1979, Jann and Peter founded a small arts-and-crafts-focused primary school in Bath, England known as The Looking Glass School. After the couple split later that year, Jann entered into a relationship with fantasy book author Richard Severy (Mystery Pig, Angel and others, featuring Haworth’s illustrations) and began to devote more time to raising six children. She’d take on commissions for book covers and, as an author herself, wrote three “how to” art books for children. In 1997, Jann won a fellowship that had her return to the U.S. to study quilt-making. Setting up camp in Sundance, Utah, she then went on to launch the Art Shack Studios and Glass Recycling Works (which offers guests/students classes in pottery, ceramics, printmaking, photography, glass-blowing and several other disciplines) and a charter school. In 2004, she reached back to her most-famous creation (i.e., the Sgt. Pepper’s cover) as inspiration for a huge public mural in downtown Salt Lake City known as SLC Pepper. The new image, completed in 2005 and done with the help of a slate of over 30 other artists, first featured a new set of “heroes and heroines of the 21st Century”.
In 2014, as part of the Recording Academy’s special coverage of “Trailblazing Women”, Jann was highlighted as the first woman to share in a Grammy Award for “Best Album Cover” (with her then-husband, Peter Blake). 2016 marked the beginning of a collaboration with her daughter Liberty Blake to create a large-scale mural (60 feet wide, on 15 eight-foot-tall panels, for portability) titled Work In Progress that features images of over 100 women (representing over 3000 years of recorded history) who were change-makers in the sciences, arts and social activism and, in 2020, Haworth and her son, Alex Johnstone, worked with 178 people (including 30 professional artists, with the rest handled by community members) to create another masterfully-created collage, this time, in honor of 250+ women from the past and present who’ve helped shape the state of Utah’s history (and its future) as part of the state’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote. The 5,000 square foot mural, created with support from a local bank, was, according to Ms. Haworth, “the most extraordinary of my career because of the arc of time during which it is being made.”
As of the date of this writing, Jann also serves as the Creative Director of The Leonardo Museum in SLC and continues to work as an advocate for feminist rights – particularly those to increase the representation of women in the art world.
Her work is found in the collections of noted art establishments including the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC; the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MN; the Sao Paolo Museum of Modern Art in Brazil; the Museum Folkwang in Germany, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in Salt Lake City, UT as well as several museums and galleries in the U.K.. Jann’s pieces have also been featured in dozens of solo and group shows, including exhibitions in Amsterdam, Milan, Paris, Rome, Bilbao, London and many other cities throughout the world (a complete listing of these shows can be found on her website at http://www.jannhaworth.com/exhibitions.html).
Late 2020, when this interview was done, found Jann’s works in two exhibitions – one at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art called Material Issues: Strategies in Twenty-First Century Craft and another at the Gazelli Art House in London, England titled Jann Haworth – Mannequin Defectors.
More information on this artist can be found on her web site at http://jannhaworth.com/
Except as noted, all images featured in this story are Copyright 2020 by Jann Haworth – All rights reserved – and are used by the artist’s permission for the purposes of illustrating this article. Except as noted, all other text Copyright 2020 – Mike Goldstein, AlbumCoverHallofFame.com (www.albumcoverhalloffame.com) – All rights reserved.