Artist written back into 'Sergeant Pepper' script: David Lister reports on a woman who helped to design a famous LP cover

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The Independent Online
JANN HAWORTH was recently playing Trivial Pursuit when the question came up: who designed the album cover for The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper?

She knew this one, as she had designed it herself with her former husband, the pop artist Peter Blake. Much of the concept, including the celebrities as cloth sculptures, in which she specialised, was hers.

But she got it wrong. Trivial Pursuit, in common with the art and pop worlds, credits only Blake. For more than two decades Haworth, influential pop artist, then a key figure among the ruralist group of painters, then an illustrator and teacher, has been written out of the script.

The Gimpel Fils gallery in London is showing her first exhibition in the capital for more than 20 years. It is an eclectic display of sculpture, figurative and abstract art, much of it related to the work of the writer Sylvia Plath.

One has words written on the wall in increasingly larger lettering giving the effect of screaming. Another is about the death of her father entitled You Could Have Been Nicer.

She does not like to dwell on her long exclusion from the art world, claiming she would rather be known for her Sylvia Plath sculptures than Sergeant Pepper, but says that it did seem to gang up against her.

For years she continued to offer work but never had an single exhibition in London, though Marco Livingstone, the author of Pop Art: A Continuing History, says that she 'brought a specifically feminine perspective to a predominantly male domain in her choice of subject matter'.

'The break-up with Peter was very messy,' she said, 'and suddenly the contacts in the art world weren't there any more. It was very, very painful at the time.

'I took plenty of work to people who had offered me shows before, all the galleries in fact, and they would say the work wasn't for them. I was an outcast. I had split up with somebody very important.

'I was very irritated when they gave Peter a platinum disc of Sergeant Pepper on the 20th anniversary celebrations. Why didn't I get one too? And I have lost out financially because if I put it on my CV now, it's like I'm making myself a liar.' (Blake now tries to emphasise her involvement).

Of that involvement in one of pop art's most lasting icons, she says: 'Peter and I were there, talking to Paul and John, and working out what it would be.

'I said I thought it would be very nice not to have real lettering on the cover, but to have something like clocks in civic parks, making the lettering an integral part of the piece.

'The old lady and Shirley Temple figure in the foreground were mine, and the idea of going for 3-D figures in a setting was something I was doing at the time. The crowd concept was Peter's.

'The fact that the art world excluded me did have a very positive side. It forced me into areas I would never have entered. Richard (her partner, the writer Richard Severy) wrote children's stories which I illustrated, and I founded and ran the Looking Glass art and craft school in Somerset.'

Rene Gimpel, who was persuaded by a mutual friend to look at Haworth's work, said yesterday: 'She is a real iconoclast.

'To have re-entered the art world now after disappearing, and re-enter with a splash, is highly unusual. She can still produce art that has this shocking, disturbing element.'

(Photograph omitted)