Martin Sharp

Iconoclastic designer, cartoonist, illustrator and ‘Oz’ co-founder whose work evoked the Swinging Sixties

Martin Sharp’s exuberantly colourful posters and album covers encapsulated the spirit of the Swinging Sixties.

Although he became one of Australia’s best-loved artists in later years, he remained an iconoclast, uninterested in material wealth or the opinions of the mainstream art world. Art was Sharp’s life, and his enduring passion. Even when receiving weekly blood transfusions at a Sydney clinic before his death from emphysema, he was never without a sketchbook. His talents were diverse, encompassing film-making, songwriting and set design as well as cartoons and graphic art.

Idiosyncratic, irascible and obsessive, Sharp never married. However, he enjoyed lifelong friendships with the likes of Richard Neville and Richard Walsh, with whom he founded the satirical magazine, Oz, in 1963. The trio stood trial on obscenity charges; twice they were convicted and given prison sentences before being acquitted on appeal. It was Sharp’s work in London, designing posters for Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Donovan, and distinctive album covers, which cemented him as one of the defining artists of the Sixties counterculture.

Born in 1942, he grew up in well-to-do Bellevue Hill in Sydney. He was encouraged along the artistic path by his mother, Joan, a painter, and went to what became Australia’s National Art School. Oz was a “magazine of dissent”, which – as Neville wrote – aimed to “shake Sydney from its pompous Fifties torpor”. Robert Hughes, the future art critic and art historian, was an early contributor. Sharp produced cartoons, illustrations and striking covers, including one featuring a topless Mona Lisa.

The first issue, which carried a centre-spread on the history of the chastity belt, sold 6,000 copies in half a day. Subsequent editions sparked a series of obscenity charges. A photograph of Neville and two friends pretending to urinate on a public sculpture led to Sharp, Neville and Walsh being arraigned in 1964 before a Sydney magistrate, who warned them not to turn his court into “a circus”. Sharp caricatured him in Oz as a vicious clown.

The following year, a Sydney gallery staged Sharp’s first major show of pop art, “Art for Mart’s Sake”. It was a sell-out, and a critical success. In 1966, he and Neville set off for London, travelling overland through Asia. A British edition of Oz proved equally controversial.

Sharp lived in the Kings Road, sharing his digs with, among others, Germaine Greer and Eric Clapton. The pair had met in a nightclub, where Sharp showed him a poem he had just written; Clapton turned it into the lyrics of Cream’s classic song “Tales of Brave Ulysses”. Sharp also designed covers for the band’s Disraeli Gears and Wheels of Fire albums.

In 1970 he returned to Sydney and set up an artists’ collective, the Yellow House, inspired by the Van Gogh painting. He designed posters for the Sydney Opera House and Circus Oz, as well as theatre costumes and sets. He was artistic adviser on the Peter Weir film Picnic at Hanging Rock. In later decades his output became more sporadic. He would sometimes spend years on a painting, and he became fixated with certain themes and subjects, including the American singer Tiny Tim.

His friend and fellow artist, George Gittoes, called him “a sparkling spirit, often confused and disappointed by the ways of this world”. He was “a stranger in a strange land”, Gittoes wrote. “He never really fitted here, but he’s left a wonderful trail of stardust.”

 

Martin Sharp, artist: born Sydney 21 January 1942; died 1 December 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Barnardo's: Corporate Audit and Inspection – Retail Intern (Leeds)

Unpaid - £4 lunch allowance plus travel to and from work: Barnardo's: Purpose ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Receptionist

£15000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Barnardo's: Young Carers Wirral Intern

Unpaid - £4 lunch allowance plus travel to and from work upon production of rec...

Barnardo's: Business Development Intern (West Midlands)

Unpaid - £4 lunch allowance plus travel to and from work: Barnardo's: Purpose ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future