Under the Influence – an ongoing series by Kirsten Anderson for Hi-Fructose, which explores artists of other eras who influenced today’s contemporary art.
You may not be immediately familiar with the name Alan Aldridge, but you most likely know his work. A legendary graphic designer (who continues to do masterful work to this day), he is known for his iconic cover of Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy album, as well as the provocative poster for Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls (which earned him not only admiring praise but a warrant for his arrest under obscenity charges), and his seminal work with the Beatles, to touch on just the tip of the iceberg of Aldridge’s formidable career.
Called “Beardsley in Blue Jeans” (after the notorious fin-de-siècle artist Aubrey Beardsley), his playful, flowing illustration style and psychedelic imagery helped shape the graphic design style of the ’60s and ’70s, but it is his magnificent illustrations for several children’s books that truly showcase his visual virtuosity.
Books like The Butterfly’s Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast (1973), The Peacock Party (1979), and The Lion’s Cavalcade (1980) feature rich, sumptuous paintings of anthropomorphic animals and insects. These decadent, velvety images are saturated in miniscule detail and an almost pop rococo flourish. While the images share a similarity with fanciful animal illustrations of earlier eras, the glossy sheen and cartoony roundness that permeates his images make them absolutely 20th century. Aldridge’s masterful use of color creates images that fairly pulsate with life, and the fascinating, almost Bosch-ian complexity within his some of his paintings is entrancing.
Clearly the use of anthropomorphic animals (whether social political statement, archetypal symbol, or even just for fun) is pervasive in contemporary art, and it is seen in the work of too many artists to count although artists like Femke Hiemstra, Marion Peck, Camille Rose Garcia and Mark Ryden might be names akin to the sensibilities of Aldridge’s work.
It is Aldridge’s homage to the painting style of some of the more fanciful 19th-century painters along with a sleek pop tendency that peeks out that puts him as an influence on some of today’s younger artists.