Mr Tambourine Man
colour screenprint on foil mounted on cardboard
Gift of Dick Richards 1999
Art Gallery of South Australia
Martin Sharp was a unique figure in Australian art. A pop artist, provocateur and connoisseur of popular and folk culture, he carved out a significant Australian and international career outside the gallery system. He was born in Sydney in 1942 and studied at the National Art School (Sydney). In 1963, with students Richard Neville and Richard Walsh, he established OZ magazine, which quickly challenged the conservative establishment and led to court cases over charges of obscenity. Sharp moved to London in 1966, where he continued to work on OZ magazine as art director and a designer, and on art exhibitions. While in London he created some of his most memorable images, designing record covers and posters for Eric Clapton (with whom he shared a studio) and other musicians. His distinctive aesthetic of collaged elements from art history, nineteenth-century engravings and popular imagery conveyed the hallucinogenic effects of marijuana.
Sharp returned to Australia in 1970 and opened the Yellow House in Sydney’s King’s Cross, which was inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s dream of a communal house for artists. Sharp worked with artists to decorate the house, which was open to the public twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and hosted concerts and happenings. Sharp was invited to repaint Luna Park’s famous façade in Sydney in 1973, becoming a vocal activist for its preservation. In his later years he worked as a theatre and set designer for Nimrod Theatre, Sydney, and continued to work on a film about musician Tiny Tim, which had preoccupied him for many years.
Throughout his career Sharp celebrated the potency of juxtaposing popular culture with ‘high’ art. He was an avid collector of comics, American and Australian cartoon characters, and fairground objects, which he bought together in unexpected combinations in his art and in his home, which he called his ‘Dreamuseum’. His idiosyncratic art was prescient of many developments now at the centre of contemporary practice: the elevation of ‘low’ art forms, folk and popular culture.
– Maria Zagala