Guy Peellaert's Early American Dreams in Paris

Edward Hopper (1882-1967). New York Movie (1939)

Edward Hopper (1882-1967). New York Movie (1939)

"The Age of Anxiety", a small but triumphant show currently on view at Paris' Musée de l'Orangerie, examines the enthralling new forms of expressions which arose in the aftermath of the economic crash of 1929, revealing how a troubling social reality allowed for a great diversity of artistic sensibilities to bring forth a distinctively American sense of modernism in painting. 

Opening with Georgia O'Keefe's enigmatic still life Cow's skull with Calico Roses (1931) and Grant Wood's iconic American Gothic (1930)—both on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago—and closing with Edward Hopper's Gas (1940), the show provides a unique opportunity for European audiences to contemplate a number of masterpieces rarely, if ever, exhibited outside the US.  

Guy Peellaert's appreciation of Hopper is well-documented and the American master's signature use of the negative space provided a key reference point for the Las Vegas, the Big Room series. The pensive woman from New York Movie (1939), off-centered from the stage and reclining against a wall, exemplifies a sense of isolation dramatically contrasting with the popular entertainments from a new urban age of escapism that are the focus of the show's strongest room, titled "Show Town".

But it is the raw energy of the street as captured by Reginald Marsh—a long disregarded painter virtually unknown in Europe who nevertheless counted among Peellaert's personal heroes—which exudes the most peellaertian vibe : the Belgian artist's composition for 42nd Street from Twentieth Century Dreams (1995-1999) bears a strikingly similar composition to that of Twenty Cent Movie (1935), Marsh's exuberant egg-and-tempera rendition of the craze for burlesque theaters in New York City. By his own admittance, the garish billboards and thrill-seeking city dwellers that were the hallmarks of Marsh's populous spectacles were a revelation to the young Peellaert, who discovered them in the pages of Life magazine in the 1940s. Growing up in a conservative bourgeois household in Brussels, the young Peellaert found in these "vulgar" paintings a liberating sensory escape that would prove decisive in shaping his own future aesthetic.

Reginald Marsh (1898-1954). Twenty Cent Movie, 1935 

Reginald Marsh (1898-1954). Twenty Cent Movie, 1935 

Guy Peellaert. 42nd Street (Luis Bunuel, Jack Johnson, Frederico Garcia Lorca, Salvador Dali) from Twentieth Century Dreams (1995-1999)

Thomas Hart Benton is another popular American painter whose legacy would be largely overshadowed by the advent of Abstract Expressionism in the post-war period. In Europe, the young Peellaert could only have come across the former illustrator's work through the pages of Life or Saturday Evening Post. Benton, a Regionalist painter whose favored subject matters included ordinary people and common lore, is known for his soulful depictions of the American midwest, in particular his native Missouri. Peellaert often cited Benton's life-affirming large-scale murals, such as America Today, as a formative influence, as he made particularly clear in the bold cinematic composition of his Gerswhin Frieze (1991). 

The highly stylized rural scenes from two of Benton's less grandiose undertakings on view here, Haystack (1938) and Cotton Pickers (1945) bring to mind Peellaert's little-known Cinema Blues, which was originally created as the cover art for the jazz album of the same name in 1993. Peellaert's evocative depiction of a lovelorn bluesman, executed in pastel over a photographic base, seems to reference Benton's characteristic sinuous landscapes as well as his ability to infuse paintings with an emphatic sense of rhythm and sound, although Peellaert injected his homage with a characteristic dash of sex-appeal in the form of a curvaceous babe in high heels and skintight faux-leather dress walking into the distance, suitcase in hand.

Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975). Cotton Pickers (1945)

Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975). Cotton Pickers (1945)

Guy Peellaert. Cinema Blues (1993)

The 1930s also marked the advent of the car as a central motif of the American Way of Life. In a room titled "Nightmares and reality" hangs Grant Wood's famous Death on the Ridge Road, where the emblem of modernity and mobility takes on menacing qualities as two vehicles enter a collision course with a red truck atop a narrow and curving hillside road. The 1935 painting, which once belonged to Cole Porter, was a clear source of inspiration for Peellaert's untitled 1994 depiction of a wartime ambush, originally commissioned as a promotional poster for the Claude Lelouch film Les Misérables. The dramatic perspective and fierce lines of force from Peellaert's high-octane composition seem to take several cues from Wood's ominous narrative of pending disaster. 

"The Age of Anxiety" is on view until January 30th

Grant Wood (1891-1942). Death on the Ridge Road (1935)

Grant Wood (1891-1942). Death on the Ridge Road (1935)

Guy Peellaert. Untitled (1994) 

From Etienne Daho, a New Lease on "Lives on Mars"

Guy Peellaert. Pour Nos vies Martiennes (Etienne Daho) 1988.

Etienne Daho, the trailblazing French singer-songwriter who burst onto the musical scene in the early 1980s with a singular, intimate yet infectious blend of electropop and rock, continues to forge his own unique path to rock royalty. On the strength of a distinguished career spanning over 30 years, Daho has in recent years emerged as a Godfather figure, a key inspiration, collaborator and facilitator to a new generation of French-born musicians who came of age under the influence of his sophisticated and romantic sounds.

As Mr Daho, who turned 60 this year, puts the finishing touches on a new album to be released in 2017, this end-of-year sees a major reissue of his 1988 classic Pour Nos Vies Martiennes, which offers a remastered sound and no less than 36 tracks, of which 25 are exclusive to the new set. Wildly successful upon its release—and certified gold on the very first day it became available—the album was titled after David Bowie's Life On Mars, and its sound deftly eschewed the easier pop of Daho's previous albums in favor of a self-professed "poetic spleen" firmly rooted in rock.

In another nod to Bowie, Daho asked Guy Peellaert to create the cover art. The artist, who had vowed to stay away from such commissions since the release of the Rolling Stones' It's Only Rock 'N Roll, nevertheless agreed to the collaboration and thus put an end to a 15-year hiatus. In the resulting work, which arguably counts among the highlights of the period, Peellaert revisited not only the Rock Dreams technique, based on a signature photomontage and airbrush painting process, but a specific image from his 1970 series, titled The Promised Land, which sought to capture not a famous persona but a mood, a bittersweet reverie about teenage seduction and romantic longing against a backdrop of flaming Las Vegas casinos.  

The new composition reprised the vibrant blue-yellow color scheme and some of the key elements from The Promised Land, most notably the central character paired with another male figure, standing right beside him yet somehow faintly removed from the scene, which traded the Vegas neons for the garish entertainments of the Foire du Trône, the popular Paris amusement fair where Peellaert had shot his source photographs.

Like many of Peellaert's artworks based on the Rock Dreams technique, Pour Nos Vies Martiennes presented a number of challenges before it could be shown again. Although Mr Daho, having kept the original painting since its creation, had allowed the Estate of Guy Peellaert to photograph the piece at his home, the work was plagued by an all-too-common characteristic : the photosensitive inks favored by Peellaert at that time had faded considerably, turning vivid blues and warm yellows into dull grays, altering the painting's singular mood beyond recognition. To make matters worse, all photographic records of the artwork had been inexplicably missing from the artist's archive at the time of his death, and Virgin Records, which had released the album in 1988, could not locate the original reproduction material even after several months of research.

Eventually, it took a desperate intervention from Daho himself to retrieve the Holy Grail : a 1988 transparency which finally allowed for a perfect digital reproduction of the artwork in its original incarnation. 

Guy Peellaert. The Promised Land, from Rock Dreams (1970-1973)

The newly remastered edition of Pour Nos Vies Martiennes

The newly remastered edition of Pour Nos Vies Martiennes

In Memoriam : Fidel Castro (1926-2016)

Guy Peellaert. Hara Toro (Fulgencio Batista, Fidel Castro, Ernest Hemingway, Ernesto Che Guevara, Ava Gardner) from Twentieth Century Dreams (1995-1999).

"Hemingway is in Havana. It is the 1950s, his fat period. Big white beard, cigar, loud fisherman's shirt worn outside his trousers. He is in a casino nightclub with Ava Gardner and President Batista. The young Castro is at the next table, whispering words of love into the ear of a chorus girl. Ava Gardner is on the dance floor, doing the mambo with Che Guevara. Hemingway watches them with an old man's hatred and despair."

(from a correspondance between Nik Cohn and Guy Peellaert, c. 1995)

Five Lives of Bob Dylan, Nobel Prize Winner

Guy Peellaert, Superstar Bob, from Rock Dreams (1970-1973)

When in 1970 Nik Cohn and Guy Peellaert embarked on their collaboration for the Rock Dreams series with the aim of capturing the "daydreams" that had shaped popular music as a collective fantasy from Frank Sinatra to David Bowie, they chose to deal with Bob Dylan with a suite of four distinct images under the title Robert Zimmerman, His Journeys and Adventures. The ensemble was conceived as an odyssey depicting the young Zimmerman at defining turning points, from frail runaway teen to "Voice of a Generation", and from international stardom to reclusive family man. 

Twenty-five years later, Cohn and Peellaert's Twentieth Century Dreams series, building on similar principles to convey the "secret history" of the past century, did not leave out Dylan. This time, the elusive folk legend was paired with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in a "dream" that encapsulated several of the musician's incarnations : the drug-hazed poet, the would-be painter, and the Jewish bard. 

Could Cohn and Peellaert ever have anticipated Zimmerman's latest incarnation as the Nobel Prize Winner for Literature ? As the world impatiently awaits Mr Dylan's comments, Peellaert's works remind us that images really are worth a thousand words.

Guy Peellaert. Robert Zimmerman, His Journeys and Adventures : Hobo Bob, from Rock Dreams (1970-1973)

Very young and frail, Bob left his home one day and set forth to seek his fortune, with his possessions knotted in a red-spotted handkerchief and his pussycat at his heels. Then he slept in logging camps, in ditches and swamps and mudflats next to railroad tracks and inside county jails, with only his guitar to keep him company, and he journeyed all through America.

Guy Peellaert. Robert Zimmerman, His Journeys and Adventures : New York  Bob (Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg) from Rock Dreams (1970-1973). 

Itinerant minstrel, he sang and played as he travelled and, somewhere on the road, his eyes opened wide and his soul was filled with purpose, a spirit of crusade. From that moment forward, his path was set and he bent himself to the ceaseless combatting of tyrannies, the righting of wrongs and overthrow of hypocrisies, until peace and love should spread to all mankind. Thus, when at last he reached New York, he did not hesitate but rushed pellmell to Bleeker Street, where his message might be best understood. In bars and dimlit cellars, he sang through his nose and preached, and all who heard him were thunderstruck. 

Guy Peellaert. Robert Zimmerman, His Journeys and Adventures : Superstar Bob, from Rock Dreams (1970-1973)

Soon his fame spread and he toured, grew rich and was worshipped. Messianic, he need only point his finger and the temples trembled before him. Now he travelled the world, a potentate, whose person was sacred, whose every word was scripture, and the multitudes flocked to see him, and touch him, and bend to kiss his feet.

Guy Peellaert. Robert Zimmerman, His Journeys and Adventures : Country Bob, from Rock Dreams (1970-1973)

However, even Messiahs must have hobbies, and Zimmerman’s was his motorbike, which proved to be his downfall. For one night, he fell off and broke his neck, and very nearly died. Thankfully, he was spared and, in time, he made his recovery. But, in the meantime his tastes had changed and age had made him mellow, so that he no longer played at potentates. Instead, he grew plump and became a Jewish patriarch, with six children and a homestead, where he sat at the kitchen table, the American dream personified, eating country pie…

Guy Peellaert. Promised Lands (Bob Dylan and Gold Meir) from Twentieth Century Dreams (1995-1999).

When pressed to explain the ideas behind Promised Lands, Peellaert offered the following :

"Dylan had always dreamed of an ideal Israel, so this image of Chagall-esque hallucination evokes that... Of course we know Israel is far from that ideal, as are the kibbutz of the beginnings. As Dylan is hosted by Golda Meir as part of a state visit, he escapes to his room pretending to be sick and lights up a joint. Seeing him pallid, Meir arrives with a broth like a good Jewish mother. It's all a bit of a joke about Israel."

From Peellaert to Kubrick, remembering Michael Herr (1940-2016)

With the passing of author Michael Herr on June 23rd at age 76, the handful of key surviving Peellaert contributors is dwindling fast. 

Herr was best known for Dispatches, the seminal account of the Vietnam War which he gathered from his notes as an Esquire correspondent, sent to cover the front lines between 1967 and 1969. It would take years of gestation and a nervous breakdown before Herr was able to revisit the terrors he had witnessed, but his inspired fusion of visceral prose with the literary outbursts of "New Journalism" produced arguably the most original and vivid depiction of the Vietnam experience. Dispatches, which finally came out in 1977, would become an instant classic, unanimously praised for its poetic approach to conveying the feeling of war, cutting through the conventions of the more mundane historical accounts and helping Americans understand the conflict from a unique subjective perspective. It was hailed by John Le Carré as "the best book I have ever read on men and war in our time", while Hunter S. Thompson tipped off his hat to a new hero of gonzo journalism : "We have all spent 10 years trying to explain what happened to our heads and our lives in the decade we finally survived - but Michael Herr's Dispatches puts the rest of us in the shade." 

The success of Dispatches came about as the "New Hollywood" was ready to tackle the subject of Vietnam, and the cinematic potential of Herr's hallucinated prose was not lost on its most prominent directors. Francis Ford Coppola famously based Apocalypse Now on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, but it was Herr's testimony which was adapted specifically for the narration sequences of the 1979 classic. In the following decade, Stanley Kubrick—who since 1980 had developed a close intellectual friendship with Herr—enlisted the author to co-write the screenplay for 1987's Full Metal Jacket. In 2001, two years after Kubrick's death, the reclusive Herr would briefly come out of a writing hiatus to publish Kubrick, an intimate account of his friendship and collaboration with the legendary director. 

In the early 1980s, when Peellaert hit a roadblock in his collaboration with an erratic Tom Waits and was desperately seeking a new writing partner who might put words to his tragic portraits of show-biz legends defeated by the great emptiness of a metaphoric Las Vegas, Sonny Mehta suggested Herr and played matchmaker. Mehta, who as editor of Picador in London presided over a stable of writing luminaries such as Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Brett Easton Ellis, had published Dispatches in the UK, as well as Peellaert's Rock Dreams. There were interesting parallels to be drawn between the two men, who both concealed tempestuous inner lives and haunting wartime experiences behind a quiet, self-effacing demeanor. They hit it off instantly, and Herr provided a remarkable new preface to the 1982 reissue of Rock Dreams. "We couldn't have fought Vietnam without rock music", Herr would remark. His text, highlighting the religious, iconic nature of the Dreams series, would remain unsurpassed. The author officially teamed up with Peellaert on the Vegas project, by then over 7 years in the making and threatening to send the artist over the edge. “We went for a weekend in my ramshackle house in the dunes in Normandy, wheeled around our babies, who were the same age, and talked out the ’50s and the ’60s and the ’70s, Peellaert recounted in a International Herald Tribune interview. On the way to the airport, we just said, ‘Well, we’ll just do this together.’ ”

After Peellaert had thrown away years of work in frustration and discouragement, he would credit Herr's contribution with finally providing a way out of the impasse. "Michael's commitment had a liberating effect on me. I wasn't the only wacko anymore." Herr rolled up his sleeves and dug as deep as Peellaert had before him. While investigating the history of the formation of Las Vegas, he came up with the title The Big Room, invoking the sprawling main stage of the casinos where top-billed entertainers get to perform. With Herr's involvement, the Big Room and all of Las Vegas became a metaphoric placeholder for the peculiar emptiness lurking underneath the gaudy surface of the American cult of success. "Everybody wants the big room, and they say if you really want it badly enough, you can have it", Herr wrote in his opening text, before moving on to the meditative vignettes accompanying Peellaert's individual portraits. 

Like Nik Cohn's enlightened haikus from Rock Dreams a few years before, Herr's written contributions—in some instances just a short piercing excerpt borrowed from another writer, other times an extended contemplation sparkling with literary energy—allowed for a stunning experiment in the interplay between words and images.

Despite its status as the ill-fated project that would engulf the artist's post-Rock Dreams success, alienate key partners and cement Peellaert's reputation as an artiste maudit, The Big Room displayed the two men's uncompromising talents to the full. It shines today as an immaculate, unknown masterpiece long overdue for a thorough reappraisal. 

For more on Michael Herr, read the obituaries from The New York Times and The Guardian.

Guy Peellaert, A Face in the Crowd (Bobby Darin), from The Big Room (1976-1986).

In 1984, Michael Herr and Guy Peellaert were photographed together in the artist's Paris studio for Libération, two years before the release of their collaboration on Las Vegas, The Big Room. Photographed by Olivier Descamps.

In 1984, Michael Herr and Guy Peellaert were photographed together in the artist's Paris studio for Libération, two years before the release of their collaboration on Las Vegas, The Big Room. Photographed by Olivier Descamps.

Triumph and tragedy : two sides of Muhammad Ali (1942-2016)

Muhammad Ali as depicted by Guy Peellaert in Caesars Palace (1985) from the Las Vegas, The Big Room series (1976-1986)

The recent passing of boxing legend Muhammad Ali provides an opportunity to look back on two important works by Guy Peellaert, set apart by over twenty years and wildly different themes and techniques.

One of the most influential athletes of all time and a near mythical hero of the American experience, the three-time world Heavyweight champion seemed an obvious subject for Peellaert, an artist with a lifelong fascination with boxing—the precarious rags-to-riches aspirations, the desperation and the sheer cruelty of the sports—and a peculiar approach that used the collective imagination associated with public figures in order to tell stories and direct emotion via carefully constructed, one-image "movies". Ali was depicted by Peellaert in two of the three major portrait series that punctuated the artist's career (only Sinatra and Elvis appeared in all of them).  

The first portrait, realized in 1985, is emblematic of the Las Vegas, The Big Room series. At first sight, this is another incarnation of the "Greatest of All Time" : the towering Ali is standing in the ring inside a gilded arena, his steely gaze anticipating another triumph. But something is off : the scene takes place between rounds, and a cutman is tending to a bloody patch. The imposing moldings on the ceiling, spreading dynamically over half the composition, take on a menacing quality as if ready to engulf its subject. And then the title gives us a clue : for Ali, "Caesars Palace" is not a name synonymous with triumph : it is where, on a fateful October 3rd 1980, the shopworn legend—who was likely in the early stages of Parkinson's disease—was matched up against the younger and stronger Larry Holmes in a fight billed as "The Last Hurrah" and suffered a humiliating defeat that precipitated his retirement.

The Vegas series aimed to capture the mighty at an often tragic turning point : the gods as lonesome "monsters" taken aback by a moment of truth in which the frailty of their human condition becomes apparent.

With "Freeway", from Twentieth Century Dreams, Peellaert went the opposite direction and depicted Ali as the personification of the American Dream to conjure up the series' only unequivocally hopeful "dream". Relishing in the early, heady days of his 1960s triumphs, Cassius Clay elopes with  Jacqueline Kennedy aboard a convertible, a vision of two star-crossed lovers momentarily transcending race, class struggles and obligations to enjoy an elating romp across the highway, that most American of landscapes.

But as always with Peellaert, there was also a darker, more cynical way of interpreting this fantasy. Behind closed doors, as stately J.F. Kennedy transcended his own Wasp condition by frolicking with a desperate Marilyn before discarding her, the prim and proper First Lady might as well have had her moment of fun with a stud from the wrong side of the tracks.

Jacqueline Kennedy and Muhammad Ali as depicted by Guy Peellaert in Freeway, from the Twentieth Century Dreams series (1995-1999).

Preview : Faux-Pas features exclusive interview with Orson Peellaert

Kembra Pfahler by Guy Peellaert, from the Fashion Dreams, part 2 series (2008) 

The debut issue of London-based Faux-Pas magazine, out this month, features an exclusive interview with Orson Peellaert about his father's work. In the following excerpt, a conversation with editor Nour Saleh, Peellaert discusses the legacy of The Adventures of Jodelle, Pravda and Rock Dreams, as well as Guy Peellaert's last published series, Fashion Dreams. 

Guy Peellaert’s ‘Rock Dreams’ created a huge sensation when it first came out, he created album covers for the Rolling Stones and David Bowie, amongst many other innovative and spectacular works. Could you share with us what were some of his interests and passions?
I would say his raison d’être as an artist coming of age in post-war Europe was to contend with and make sense of the overwhelming dissemination of images—whether cinematic, photographic, or even symphonic with the emergence of jazz and later rock music—that came from the US and captured his imagination in a powerful way. From imported magazines such as Life to the golden age of Hollywood productions which he would see at least three times a week as a young man, this flood of images was the epitome of modernity as well as the opportunity to break free from his bourgeois family background and from a desolate Old Continent and its suffocating traditions. Throughout his career, in very different forms, he never ceased to digest, repurpose, question and ultimately transcend the images that had « colonized his mind ».

How he did he come up with the image for the Diamond Dogs album by David Bowie, and what message was he trying to convey with it?
Bowie already had the vision of himself as a half-dog, half-man creature for the Diamond Dogs album sleeve, and the idea came from a picture of Josephine Baker posing as a panther. Peellaert had recently promised Mick Jagger to create the artwork for the Stones’ next album, and Bowie, who was at the top of his game, went behind his friend’s back and almost tricked Peellaert into collaborating with him. They met for breakfast in London and Bowie invited Peellaert to come and hang around the photoshoot he had planned with Terry O’Neill and the greyhound dog. Peellaert ended up directing the now famous shoot and Bowie eventually convinced him to create the final image, which is partly based on the photos O’Neill took that day. Peellaert always worked from photographic material, and he realized a sophisticated photomontage with scenes from a Coney Island freakshow—a typical Peellaertian reference which combines Americana with grotesque elements—before using the elaborate airbrush paint technique he had developed for Rock Dreams. The dog’s genitals were removed at the request of the record company, and the few uncensored copies of the album that did get out are now worth an absolute fortune.

In 1965 he created ‘Les Aventures de Jodelle’ and then in 1967 ‘Pravda La Survireuse’Can you tell us about these two women heroines, and what they represent?
Jodelle was Peellaert’s big breakthrough. It was a tour de force of pop art, reversing and subverting the logic behind Warhol and Lichtenstein’s appropriation of mass media images : while they took comic strips and repurposed them for canvases destined to be admired in the art-world institution, Peellaert was doing the opposite. He was interested in the promise of pop art as effectively demolishing boundaries between high and low, or between art and life, and experimenting with the book form as a multiple, like Warhol’s silkscreen prints proclaiming the end of the fetish of art as a unique object, but liberated from the bourgeois values associated with the art world at the time, especially in Brussels (his hometown) and Paris, which was among the most conservative art capitals. As a character, Jodelle doesn’t have a « meaning », she represents an experiment. The story is a pastiche of Hollywood B movies, espionage and peplum, and the heroine is modeled after Sylvie Vartan, a famous French pop singer. Jodelle has an unmistakable literary nonsensical humor that is influenced by the poetry of Boris Vian and Eugene Ionesco, who were both published by Eric Losfeld, who also financed and released Jodelle
Although she was created barely a year after Jodelle, Pravda is a very different animal, created from the outset as an iconic encapsulation of the « Truth » of the time—an era caught between rebellion, the struggle for emancipation and utopia— and also the artist’s alter ego. Gone is the voluptuous eroticism of the Jodelle style : Pravda is all about screaming acid colors, elastic shapes under the influence of LSD, the disenchanted American dream, anarchic storytelling and the transition from pop to a rock sensibility. Think the Velvet Underground, the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix taking the place of the Beatles. For all its fluorescent color palette, Pravda is a lot darker than Jodelle. 

Pravda is also known for her iconic image, where she is holding a Coca-Cola bottle, what does that image represent?
This image has so many layers of meaning, it would deserve an entire essay. Of course that’s why it works so well, and it was indeed intended to be something of an enigma. The basic composition is inspired by Gustav Klimt’s « Veritas Nudas » in which a naked red-headed allegory of the Truth holds up a mirror to the viewer, inviting self-examination. Pravda (« Truth » in Russian) is holding up a Coke bottle to make us reflect on consumer society, and it’s an ambivalent play on the fetish of advertising-derived imagery that functions like propaganda (like many artists involved in pop art, Peellaert had worked in advertising in a former life). Pravda, of course, is also the name of the famous Soviet Communist newspaper created by Lenin, and in the context of the Cold War and Peellaert’s obsession with America, this takes on yet another meaning. 

There is a photo of Mick Jagger with the painting behind him of Pravda that says, ‘Pravda is Free, Pravda is a Loner, Pravda is Quiet But Pravda Acts’, were these words part of Guy Peellaert, in other words, how he felt about himself? 
He never claimed it for this particular image, but he did reveal late in his life that Pravda had been his female alter ego. This famous image was created specifically as a high end silkscreened poster around the time of the student uprisings of 1968. It was meant to sum up the « values » of the character, a self-sufficient, reluctant heroine who embodies freedom and independence, and is defined by her actions, not her words. In the context of Peellaert’s life and career, it’s hard not to draw parallels, as he stood alone on his own singular path, and rejected the status as well as the pseudo-conceptual discourse that came with being an « artist » in the institutional sense of the word. He wanted the art to speak for itself. These are very much his own values and attributes.

There were often political messages in Guy Peellaert’s work, even perhaps from the choices of his heroine’s outfits. Was one of his aims with his works, to shake up society?
He would have found it pretentious to set out to shake up society, and said he was more interested in conveying emotions, but his work repeatedly caused stirs, from Jodelle and Pravda who defied censorship and coincided with the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s, to Rock Dreams and its often controversial portraits of the Stones in drag or as Nazi officers entertained by prepubescent girls, right until 2000 when he created an outrageous painting for the official New Year card of Jean-Pierre Chevènement, then France’s Interior Minister. He was very much apolitical and would be best described as « libertaire », although the word has very different, almost contrary connotations in English. His work often reflected a committed, uncompromising point of view on the world and its leaders, but he was not interested in actual politics, which he viewed as narrow-minded and ludicrous. 

Guy Peellaert worked on Fashion Dreams and Fashion Dreams II for ‘Next’ the art supplement of Liberation, could you tell us about those projects? And what messages lay behind the images?Fashion Dreams is a two-part series of « imaginary portraits », or « dreams » in the spirit of Rock Dreams, all done in the computer-collage technique Peellaert had developed for Twentieth Century Dreams. Part One paired Peellaert with designers such as Rick Owens and Paul Smith, and the aim was to visually convey the « feeling » associated with those designers’ collection. There is a haunting portrait of Serge Gainsbourg and Catherine Deneuve walking up a flight of stairs after a boozy night out in Paris. Part Two essentially took the same approach with womenswear, this time designers were asked to name a woman who embodied the spirit of their collection. Karl Lagerfeld picked Amy Winehouse, and Peellaert created a melancholic collage about her struggle with addiction, but I think the most striking was the ghoulish portrait of Kembra Pfahler, who was suggested by Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy. Both series were realized in 2008, and they turned out to be Peellaert’s last published works, as he passed away in November that year. 

How did he view fashion in general, and also in his work?
I would say he had a love-hate relationship with fashion, as many artists do. On the one hand he was stimulated by fashion as an image-driven system. As someone who defined himself as an « image-maker »—for lack of a better word, as « artist » made him cringe, although it’s really the only one that applies—he knew the tremendous potential of fashion when it comes to disseminating images on a certain scale and allowing them to have impact. On the other hand, he was unfit for the rampant commercialism, uniformity and self-promotion that has defined fashion in the last couple of decades. He never could have operated like many of today’s prolific, productivity-oriented « image-makers », setting himself up as a business and employing a support system of dozens, churning out hundreds of images every month. He had great fun with fashion in the Sixties, but that was all about experimentation and his process really was that of an outsider considering fashion as a kind of performance art, never as a commodity. Whenever his work was plagiarized by fashion or advertising in general—and it happened a lot throughout his career—he would just break the mold, move on and never look back. That is not to say he wasn’t grateful when the fashion world allowed his work to benefit from the exposure, such as when Carla Sozzani organized a mini-retrospective in her 10 Corso Como gallery in Milan, or when Céline sponsored an installation based on Pravda in Tokyo, but he typically always maintained a cautious and knowing distance.

IN MEMORIAM : PRINCE (1958-2016)

Prince and Diana Spencer as depicted by Guy Peellaert in Secret Places, from the Twentieth Century Dreams series (1995-1999)

Diana, Princess of Wales, was once asked by a reporter to name her favorite singer, and she replied "Prince." 

That statement was the starting point for an infamous image from the Twentieth Century Dreams series, Guy Peellaert's first foray into digital art in the mid-1990s. In a lurid photomontage titled Secret Places, Peellaert and collaborating partner Nik Cohn imagined a stealthy rendez-vous between the rock star and the future Princess in a seedy motel.

"She always was an impetuous girl", read Cohn's caption. 

The Velvet Underground experience gets museum treatment in Paris

Nico, John Cale, Maureen Tucker, Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison as depicted by Guy Peellaert in the Rock Dreams series (1970-1973).

Few artists are as tied to a specific time and place as The Velvet Underground are to 1960s New York, when gritty Manhattan and a Beat-influenced reaction against Flower Power provided the perfect storm for an explosive new blend of pop and avant-garde art. If the band of misfits only lasted 5 years and remained largely unknown from mainstream audiences, it nevertheless changed the course of rock and became a model for countless artists and musicians.

Following last year's successful David Bowie Is retrospective, the Philharmonie de Paris is currently hosting New York Extravaganza, an ambitious exhibition tracing the roots of the experimental band co-created in 1965 by John Cale and Lou Reed, and briefly yet memorably associated with Andy Warhol. 

Guy Peellaert was vocal about the Velvet's influence on his 1960s work. The band's short-lived existence between 1965 and 1970 eerily mirrors Peellaert's so-called Pop period, which saw the playful, candy-colored eroticism of The Adventures of Jodelle (1965) give way to a darker, more radical, drug-fueled nihilism with Pravda La Survireuse (1967), which Peellaert claimed had been created almost entirely while listening to the Velvet Underground's first album (to be fair, the electric rage of The Rolling Stones was another strong facilitator).

When the artist created the Rock Dreams series between 1970 and 1973, the band had already dismantled, and Peellaert portrayed its five members as creatures of the night roaming the streets of Manhattan, like moths chased away by the majestic light of dawn—presumably on a "Sunday Morning". As he did typically throughout the Rock Dreams series, Peellaert had encapsulated the essence of the Velvet's ethos, the flow of emotions, lyrics and rhythms of their music, all into a single constructed image. Peellaert and Lou Reed would bond over this portrait at the Rock Dreams exhibition in New York, in 1974, where the solo portrait of Reed, biting his nails as frenemy David Bowie looks on from the background, was also on view.

In 1990, when the Fondation Cartier organized an Andy Warhol retrospective which saw Lou Reed and John Cale (later joined by Maureen Tucker and Sterling Morrison) share the stage once again to perform their tribute album Songs for DrellaPeellaert lent his own copy of the famous "Banana" album to be exhibited alongside other Warhol artworks.

It should be noted that the piece on view at the Philharmonie exhibition, which appears alongside works by Nan Goldin, Gus Van Sant or Douglas Gordon, is not the original painting, but a large digital print issued by Peellaert in 2003. In 1974, the painting was included in a wish-list ordered by David Bowie but the singer, who would be credited with popularizing the Velvet Underground throughout the 1970s, ultimately wasn't able to complete the purchase. It is not currently known where the Velvet painting is located.

Read more about the exhibition from The New York Times here.

A signed edition of the Velvet Underground's first album is featured in the Philharmonie exhibition.

A signed edition of the Velvet Underground's first album is featured in the Philharmonie exhibition.

IN MEMORIAM : MERLE HAGGARD (1937-2016)

Guy Peellaert's "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive" (Merle Haggard) from Rock Dreams (1970-1973)

Country music legend Merle Haggard passed away on April 6th, the day he turned 79—and Guy Peellaert's own birthday.

In the Rock Dreams series (1970-1973), Haggard was depicted as the ultimate "outlaw hero", lighting up a cigarette in a stock car wagon against a cinematic western sunset. Nik Cohn borrowed his captions from the singer's "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive" which also gave the painting its title :

"Down every road there's always one more city, I'd like to settle down but  they won't let me. A fugitive must be a rolling stone. I'm on the run, the highway is my home."