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1942 – 2013
Regarded as this country’s most prominent Pop artist, Martin Sharp has made significant contributions to Australian culture since the early 60s, with his posters and record covers in particular receiving international recognition.
Martin Sharp began his career at art school contributing to the magazine ‘The Arty Wild Oat’ along with fellow artists Garry Shead and John Firth-Smith.
Martin’s contributions were noticed by Richard Neville, Editor of the University of NSW “Thuranka” and by Richard Walsh, Editor of Sydney University magazine “Honi Soit”. Both editors wanted to publish their own magazine and asked Sharp and Shead to become contributors. Australian “Oz” magazine hit the streets on April Fool’s Day, 1963. The popularity of “Oz” magazine continued to increase during the years it was published and gained Martin Sharp sufficient following to prompt his first one man exhibition at the Clune Galleries in Sydney in 1965.
After overturning convictions for printing an obscene publication in 1966, Sharp left Sydney for London’s pop art scene where he and Neville established ‘London Oz’. As well as being Oz art director and cartoonist, Sharp designed album covers and posters for Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan and wrote lyrics for band Cream. In 1969 Sharp returned to Australia and was instrumental in setting up the Yellow House, a multimedia art space. He also became involved with the Nimrod Theatre at this time. In 1973 Sharp, Richard Liney and Tim Lewis began redecorating the entrance towers and face at Luna Park. Recurring themes in Sharp’s work include entertainer Tiny Tim and Arthur Stace’s copperplate writing of the word ‘Eternity’.
Two of Martin’s most compelling paintings are “works in progress”; ‘Pentecost’ and ‘Courage My Friend’. Whereas ‘Courage My Friend’ is bright with simple direct composition, ‘Pentecost’ is a more complex work “Appropriating images from Matisse – the table and the leopard skin rug and the colour red; Magritte – the cloud bird; Van Gogh – the chair; Antoine De Saint Exupery – the star and the landscape with the Southern Cross and Australia by Sharp and the heart ash as the eye of the dove by a dear friend, the late Edda Walker”. The flames are from ‘Pentecost’ as in the tongues of the holy spirit.
Like much of Martin’s work, this painting has to do with ideas, the intellect, refined composition and colour. What else would one expect from an artist whose influences are the “History of Art”, Vincent Van Gogh, Tiny Tim, icons of contemporary culture, the Bible, other great books, songs and more songs and whose landscape is that of the imagination?
National Gallery of Australia
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Victoria and Albert Museum, London