Thursday, 12 December 2013

Hapshash and the Coloured Coat: UFO Coming

I have loved Hapshash and the Coloured Coat (aka Michael English and Nigel Waymouth) psychedelic 1960's posters since, er, the sixties. I bought two in, I think, 1968: Pink Floyd CIA v UFO and Jimi Hendrix at the Fillmore.

These are beautiful artworks, printed on silver and gold paper, bright and day-glo colours with fantastic imagery drawn from rock music, science fiction, mythology, ancient art and the psychedelic experience itself. One of my favourites, though, was the poster called UFO Coming.

UFO Coming

This is a wonderful poster and an amazing design: the bold lettering at the top bleeds out of a maroon/very dark red sky with flying saucers (similar to those in the Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix posters) and Chinese influenced topography; the naked woman in the centre wears a long, poppy strewn headscarf which obliterates the sky which cascades stars upon her head bearing a horned medallion on her brow; an erect penis ejaculates over her triangle of pubic hair and from this penile 'body' grow butterfly wings marked with targets like Paolo Uccello's dragon.

Andy Warhol's take on Uccello's St. George and the Dragon
Under her left arm is a bird's head curving over a sphere on which are the astrological signs for Cancer and Virgo. These symbols occur elsewhere in the posters and I think they are the birth signs of Michael English (Virgo, born September 5 1941) and Nigel Waymouth (born 1941, more than that I cannot find) and these links to our artists are emphasised by the two caricatures below her and to either side: on the left is Michael English (with sky in his hair and stars on his ears - I think this poster predates Tyrannosaurus Rex's My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair... But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows) and to the right Nigel Waymouth with Cancer the crab. Between them are daisies and then a sweeping line closes the border and below it are the UFO Club concert details: June 16 Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Soft Machine, June 23 Liverpool Love Festival (1967.)

It was only because we can now view many of these images on the web that I began to realise that not all UFO Comings were the same and I began to make some detailed comparisons. 

The above copy of UFO Coming is signed to the bottom right by Nigel Waymouth and Michael English: it is widely copied on the web. It is, though, cropped at the bottom which may just be a photographic error. But other copies show what should be there on the bottom edge, lefthand side: 

OA 104 Osiris Visions, Lefthand details

However, some copies had no printed details at all at the bottom and some had it towards the righthand bottom of the poster in a more handwritten script:

OA 104 Printed by the Osiris Agency, Righthand, signed Nigel Waymouth
Others varied in the stars falling onto our lady's head: most had seven stars to the right of her face and six on her head-dress whilst just a few had twelve to the right and seven on her head-dress.

UFO Coming with more stars

I turned to my books for guidance. I have four which are relevant: 3-D Eye, Michael English; Get On Down, Mick Farren; High Art, Ted Owen, and Summer of Love, Christopher Grunenberg. Michael English himself chose the version I show at the top, signed by the artists. Christopher Grunenberg and Mick Farren have the version with the printing details at the bottom left but (in my copy of Get On Down at least) the stars and poppies to the right of our lady's face are partially obliterated. Ted Owen chooses the one with the righthand printing details. All have seven stars to the right. Searching the web I found very few with more stars and I then discovered that (I believe) all these are the Yarrowstalks variants.

Yarrowstalks was a Philadelphian magazine of the late 1960's. The paper, following the lead of editor and publisher Brian Zahn, moved toward Eastern philosophies.  It was available at universities, sympathetic bookshops, and at “head” shops.  It was free and sustained by advertising from the new stores that were opening in some parts of the city, and the resources of its publisher. On the site WorthPoint I found more:

Sometime during the Fall of 1967 Yarrowstalks Newspaper landed at the doorstep of Indica Books on Southampton Row in London. Indica Books also published IT, the InternationalTimes, a fellow underground newspaper. There was also an Indica Gallery, in Masons Yard, Duke Street St. James, run by John Dunbar who produced many successful art openings. John Lennon met Yoko Ono there during her show. We had just published the first comic issue of R Crumb, featuring Mr. Natural, in the States, and were looking for a space in the UK to spread the laughter. When John Dunbar was anxious to travel to the Himalayas, Yarrowstalks Newspaper briefly took over the Indica Gallery and renamed it the Yarrowstalks Gallery. Yarrowstalks' most exciting show was with London’s Michael English and Nigel Waymouth, partners in the poster company, Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, who’s artwork promoted the Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendricks and Soft Machine at the UFO Club, Round House and Saville Theatre...Hapshash agreed to have Yarrowstalks publish a very limited edition of some of their posters

All the indicated Yarrowstalks variants have both more stars and no 'printed by' details at the bottom of the poster but I am not clear whether they were published in Philadelphia only, or also in London in 1967. They also have one other feature which sets them apart from the 1967 English originals: the lefthand edge of the left butterfly wing is marked out, whereas the Hapshash and the Coloured Coat originals do not have this line, the wing and the woman's body just merge into one another (compare the two versions of UFO Coming posted above.)

As regards the 'printed by' details, I decided to look at the earliest Hapshash and the Coloured Coat Osiris Agency poster - OA 101 The Soft Machine Turns On. Again these printed details on this poster varied in a similar way and I have eventually concluded that the details which are handwritten are the earliest versions (copyright 1967 by OSIRIS AGENCY) and the printed details (copyright OSIRIS VISIONS Ltd) are a slightly later print but are identical otherwise.

I wonder who the woman is. Oscar Wilde in The Sphinx has:

 And did you talk with Thoth, and did you hear
the moon-horned Io weep?
And know the painted kings who sleep beneath
the wedge-shaped Pyramid? 

The ancients connected Io with the Moon and in Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound, where Io encounters Prometheus, she refers to herself as "the horned virgin". Could this poppy wearing woman with the orgasmic butterfly be the horned Io?

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