Guy Peellaert: Artist who designed albums for Bowie and the Stones

The iconic book Rock Dreams, created by the Belgian artist Guy Peellaert with the British rock writer Nik Cohn, had a huge impact when it was first published in 1972, and went on to sell more than one million copies worldwide. Issued under various titles, it told the story of popular music, from the crooners of the Forties to the glam days of the early Seventies. In a series of 125 striking tableaux, Peellaert displayed an amazing gift for recreating the likenesses of his heroes while putting them in situations echoing their mythical status or playing on their most famous lyrics.

Frank Sinatra was pictured as a newspaper cutting, the "Frankie Goes Hollywood" headline later inspiring Holly Johnson and his Eighties group, Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Eddie Cochran, Tom Jones and Cliff Richard were drawn as guests at Elvis Presley's last supper, feasting on burgers and drinking Coca-Cola. The Beatles were depicted in a series of images, from being chased by a bobby in the streets of Liverpool to having tea with the Queen.

For Peellaert, though, the Rolling Stones were the most louche band of all. He painted them holding court at the Ad Lib club; he recreated the food fight at the launch of their Beggars Banquet album; he portrayed them in Gestapo uniforms surrounded by pre-pubescent girls; and he anticipated Keith Richards's cameo in the film Pirates of the Caribbean – At World's End by 35 years when he depicted the guitarist and Mick Jagger as buccaneers dancing on a coffin. "Whose coffin is that?" the Stones singer had asked Peellaert pointedly when they met in Germany in 1973. "I replied: 'I don't know, Mick'," recalled Peellaert. "He knew very well it was supposed to be Brian Jones." Jagger suggested that the artist create the group's next album cover, following in the footsteps of Andy Warhol and David Bailey.

Peellaert got on famously with Jagger, even after the artist broke his promise of exclusivity and designed the cover of David Bowie's Diamond Dogs, which came out in June 1974, four months before the Stones' It's Only Rock'n'Roll was released. Peellaert's depiction of Bowie as a grotesque creature, half-Ziggy, half-dog, with balls on the back of the gatefold sleeve – quickly airbrushed after the first batch went out – is arguably the singer's most striking cover. In 2000 EMI commissioned Peellaert to design the packaging for the Bowie at the Beeb collection.

Peellaert was a painter, illustrator, graphic artist and photographer, and happily played with all of these roles to create Pop Art with a dark side. He added computer technology to his palette for the book Twentieth Century Dreams (1999), on which he collaborated with Cohn again. For this project, the pair drew on the iconography of a whole century and engineered unlikely meetings between Cassius Clay and Jackie Kennedy or De Gaulle and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. "I seem to be someone who has eaten up a lot of images and who is spitting them back as best he can," said Peellaert in 2001. "I don't even mind if you call it kitsch. The juxtaposition of characters is not gratuitous and their meetings aren't as incongruous as they might seem at first glance."

Peellaert was born in Brussels in 1934. An indifferent pupil while at school, he nevertheless managed to secure a place to study fine arts in the Belgian capital and found refuge in the music of George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole. He also devoured film noir, pulp literature, pop culture and Pop Art. Indeed, he seemed in thrall to that movement when he created the psychedelic cartoon characters "Jodelle" – a dead ringer for the French yéyé artist Sylvie Vartan (1966) – and "Pravda, La Survireuse", a brunette modelled on the chanteuse Françoise Hardy (1968).

In the mid Sixties, Peellaert moved to Paris, where he worked variously in advertising, set design (for the Crazy Horse saloon and the Casino de Paris), television and film. He also contributed to the satirical magazine Hara-Kiri. Peellaert first met Cohn after moving to Germany to work in animation. He was trying to make a TV series loosely based on Cohn's book Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom, a history of rock published in 1969. "The first episode would have been about a singer in Nashville, a kind of tragic hero. Johnny Cash was interested but the producer insisted on the German star Udo Jurgens," he recalled. "We decided to turn our stories into a book."

Out of the débâcle, the pair hatched the idea for Rock Dreams. "Nik was the music specialist and I was the dreamer, the fan. It was quite a nice marriage," said the illustrator, who slaved away for three years while Cohn reportedly only spent a fortnight on the copy. "We made a list of people we wanted to talk about. We wanted to make the book believable and straight drawing wasn't enough. We had to get this lived-in quality into the images, what people now call photo-realism."

Peellaert hoarded and archived magazines, books and pop memorabilia, the ground floor of his Paris atelier reminiscent of Peter Blake's workshop in London. He was also a big film buff, named his son after Orson Welles, and made posters for Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, Robert Altman's Short Cuts and the Wim Wenders films Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire.

He exhibited internationally and his work was often compared to the twilight world of Edward Hopper. "I like city rats, in the noble sense of the word, the sex-appeal of neon lights and Formica," he said about The Big Room (1986), his second coffee-table book, which took him 10 years to complete and attempted to encapsulate the surreal beauty of Las Vegas with pictures of Joe DiMaggio, Liberace and Marilyn Monroe.

Elle magazine may have exaggerated when it called him "the Michelangelo of Pop" in 1974, but Peellaert was hugely influential and collectable and remained in great demand.

"I'm not bothered about death," Peellaert told Beaux Arts Magazine in 2003. "Not having any passion while you're alive, that's the terrible thing. That's why Rock Dreams still works today. Emotions keep you alive. Rock will always represent the extravagant, the flashy, the fantasy. These pictures are a memento to that dream."

Pierre Perrone

Guy Peellaert, artist, painter, designer and photographer: born Brussels 6 April 1934; married (one son); died Paris 17 November 2008.

News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits