Michael English, who died on September 25 aged 68, created many of
the enduring posters of the 1960s among them a famous image of a
Coca-Coca bottle cap and later worked for the advertising industry
to finance his paintings of rainforests.
15 Oct 2009
Michael Jeremy English was born at Bicester, Oxfordshire, on
September 5 1941 and educated at boarding school before going on to
Ealing School of Art, west London, where he studied under some of the
leading British avant garde artists of the day.
After graduating in 1966, he embraced the hippy movement that was
then starting to hit London. He painted the shop fronts of two of the
most famous boutiques of the era, Hung On You and Granny Takes a
Trip, both in Chelsea. With Nigel Waymouth (a partner in Granny Takes
a Trip), he also produced psychedelic posters under the name Hapshash
& the Coloured Coat.
Some of the posters were used to promote gigs by bands such as Pink
Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and Soft Machine. In 1967 English and Waymouth
released an album, Hapshash and the Coloured Coat: Featuring the
Human Host and the Heavy Metal Kids.
By the early 1970s the hippy movement was all but dead, and English
ventured into other avenues. He produced limited edition prints for
mass production, and in 1973 began to paint, abandoning the
hyper-realism of the prints and concentrating on the dichotomy
between man-made products and the natural world.
During this period he created minutely-detailed close-ups of
machinery, as in Fanjet (1978); sometimes the man-made objects were
treated as pollutants, as in his painting No Deposit, No Return
(1979), in which a fractured Coke bottle litters a rich green
background of vegetation and small stones. In 1978 he created sets
for the Ballet-Théâtre Contemporain at Sadler's Wells.
In 1988 English made the first of several visits to the island of
Praslin in the Seychelles, where the rainforests became a new
inspiration for his painting. With his wife Jaki, he took photographs
which were later worked up into acrylic paintings on canvas. By the
end of his life he had completed about 20 of these pictures, which he
viewed as the most important project of his later career.
To finance it he had produced dramatic and colourful advertising
posters for some of the world's leading companies, among them
Swiss-Air, British Airways, Porsche, McDonalds and Bertolli. He also
created two sets of stamps for the Royal Mail, one based on early
buses and the other on old motorcycles; both sets proved highly
popular with collectors.
In 1995 English was invited by the BBC to take on the role of
artistic director for a projected serialisation of Mervyn Peake's
novel Gormenghast. For the first time he was working with digital
imaging, and he scanned in concept paintings to build virtual sets
and landscapes within which the actors would perform. The mounting
costs of this complex process, however, forced the BBC to call a halt
to the project.
Examples of English's work are held by the Arts Council, the Victoria
& Albert Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the British
Council, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, which in 2000 mounted a
retrospective exhibition of his work with Nigel Waymouth as Hapshash
& the Coloured Coat.
He published a book about his work, 3-D Eye (1979), and The Anatomy
of Illusion (1989), a short volume about airbrushing. English was
still working until the last week of his life, busy with inkjet silk
screen prints which feature a poem by the beat poet Allen Ginsberg.
Michael English is survived by his wife Jaki (née Abbott), whom he
married in 1983.