In the Window of Snap Gallery’s latest exhibition by artist Morgan Howell is a quote by Johnny Marr of The Smiths. He says “The seven inch single, as an entity, is an absolutely powerful, possibly otherworldly object”.
It certainly would be powerful if one of Howell’s creations landed on your toe, because this exhibition is of super-sized art – amazing over-sized replicas of 45rpm singles of classic records such as T-Rex’s Metal Guru and Chuck Berry’s classic “You Never Can Tell”. Howell hand paints the sleeves, cleverly “ages” them – which also lends a 3D aspect to each piece – and slips in a vinyl disc (complete with hand painted record label) into the bag. The end result is difficult to describe or to grasp in print, but in the flesh is simply stunning.
Some of the pieces on display here were created especially for this show, including Springsteen’s “Born To Run” and The Kinks‘ “Waterloo Sunset” the latter of which, in a lovely attention to detail, even comes complete with a (peeling) sticker on the cover denoting who the record belongs to. As Howell explains “Sometimes you find the owner’s name is written in pencil, and that’s part of the history and heritage of the piece”. Each one of these super-sized artworks, it seems, is based upon an actual single. It’s lovely to look at, and as a result, Howell’s work is attracting something of a cult following with famous owners including Ozzy Osbourne and Neil Diamond as well as music industry moguls and enthusiasts.
Johnny Marr’s profound statement about the impact of the 7″ single is spot on. We all remember the first single we bought or owned. In my case it was Stars on 45 – a horrendous Beatles disco compilation that I won in a school disco dancing competition aged eleven. Unperturbed by this set back, the first thing I did a few years ago when I bought a record player again was to buy up – for a pound or two – some original old singles of my favourite songs by Dylan, The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks and David Bowie (see photos below).
They sold in their millions, and they weren’t expensive, but there was something about those old record company sleeves (Colombia for Dylan, RCA for Bowie, Pye for The Kinks, Parlophone for The Beatles, Decca for the Stones) that reeked of the history not only of rock n roll, but also of the ownership of the record. Many had pen marks written on the label or sleeve (because people brought records to parties and needed to identify them again) or old price tags (The Kinks’ You Really Got Me: 30 pence). This makes them wonderful to own – and play. Playing The Stones’ “Have You Seen Your Mother Baby (Standing In The Shadows)” on a mono record player somehow made that song instantly more powerful and stand out like it had never done for me before.
Viewing the exhibition of super-sized versions of familiar objects is arresting. Whilst size may not be everything (ahem), such scale and beautiful (and realistic) detail in every single gives the uneasy impression of having walked into a rock n roll version of Alice’s adventure in Wonderland…
The effect that these slightly old fashioned objects have had on the world is remarkable. Songs have lifted spirits, brought hearts together, given hope, expressed dissatisfaction, called for change or simply given us something to dance to. This exhibition cleverly captures the feelings these seven inch singles evoke in us and celebrates them.
You can commission Howell to recreate any favourite record in a 32″ x 32″ framed piece – fifteen times the size of the original. When you have done so, that piece will never be made again, so if someone has beaten you to your favourite record, it’s too late. It’s a great idea, and fortunately for Howell, there are enough great records out there before he is reduced to making copies of Bananarama’s Shy Boy or In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins…
This exhibition also allows people with more restricted budgets to join in – 16″ x 16″ prints of original pieces are available in limited editions (of nine). In the case of The Clash’s “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” the sleeve originally came in four colours – so the four together give a Warholian impression.
There’s no truth in the rumour that Howell is going to make a supersized record player to play any of these on, sadly.
Record #223: The Rolling Stones – Brown Sugar