‘Face to face with him, the first thing you were aware of was the size of his lips and his mouth.’ This is John Pasche, the designer of the iconic tongue logo of the Rolling Stones, talking about Mick Jagger. Taking the frontman’s oversized mouth as his inspiration, Pasche is an artist who made art of another artist. One picture displayed at the Rolling Stones 50 Photographic Exhibition is a 2006 shot of the Stones’ performance at Superbowl XL where fans were licked by the red tongue of the mouth-shaped stage. This photograph is like a Chinese box -what it looks like when an artist makes art of the art another artist has made of an artist. Say it quickly five times.
On 12July 1962, the Rolling Stones went on stage for the first time at the Marquee Club in London’s Oxford Street. Fifty years later this one-off, free exhibition at Somerset House documents their career through previously unseen and rare material. The white space of the East Wing is broken by huge prints of the Stones gurning for the cameras; in the back of police cars by Chichester Magistrates’ Courts; standing skinny legged and only in pants on Malibu Beach. There is one of Keith Richards sitting in a pram and having a fag, his belongings strewn across his front garden after his house burned down, one of Mick sitting in a motorway café, and lots of big lips wrapped around cigarettes. There are many horrible jackets.
The photographs are real works of art; one of my favourites is the four black and white stills that merge to show their destruction of a banquet at The Gore Hotel, their top hats covered in cake. There is also the beautiful and ridiculous one at The Alamo where Ronnie Wood has a bright yellow souvenir t-shirt tied around his flared jean leg and an upsetting blouse hoiked up around his midriff and Jagger is draped in a British flag.
In 2001, The Alamo was the site of another piece made by artists and of artists. Jim Mendiola and Rubén Ortiz-Torres memorialised the incident of Ozzy Osbourne urinating against the cenotaph in Alamo Plaza by commissioning a wax sculpture of this desecration – Ozzy in his girlfriend’s dress, replete with a sensing mechanism that triggered a stream of water when approached by a viewer. This art can be as iconic as the stars themselves, look at Bob Gruen’s photo of John Lennon in shades and a New York City t-shirt or Mick Rock’s album cover of Queen II, which he described as a “sort of a knockoff of an old Marlene Dietrich shot”. That dark photo of a cardiganed Sylvia Plath in front of the bookshelves is famous in itself and Man Ray’s portrait of Salvador Dali made the cover of TIME.
One of the most famous portraits of an artist is called almost exactly that; Gilbert and George’s play on James Joyce’s bildungsroman ‘A Portrait of the Artists as Young Men’ is a seven minute video of the two standing there, weakly and lifelessly. It runs on a loop and the slowed down action suggests the long, scrutinising gaze of an artist examining his model – playing with these stock types just as Brassaï does in ‘Pablo Picasso and Jean Marais’, where Picasso mockingly poses as a painter of a painting that is not his, bought from an antique dealer.
When this Stones exhibition ends there will be plenty of opportunity to see more art of this kind: the Courtald Institute is running ‘Portrait of the Artist’, with works including Van Gogh’s haunting ‘Self Portrait with a Bandaged Ear’ and Sarah Lucas’s ‘Fighting Fire with Fire’ with a cigarette dangling from her lips, Jagger-esque.
Jagger is a musical artist who understands the importance of the visual image. He once said of his media coverage ‘As long as my face is on page one, I don’t care what they say about me on page seventeen’, and this sentiment seems to have been upheld by the exhibition’s curators.
There is some writing on the wall there but it’s not too prophetic; in big painted letters loom the words ‘I give the Stones about another two years. . .’ Mick Jagger, 1963.xhibition is relatively wordless.