Pictures at an Exhibition
Emerson Lake & Palmer / Island Records 1971/ reached No 3 in the U.K. top album charts December 1971.
This work has a special place in my archive, it was the only album cover I originated, painted and art directed throughout. Whats more, this classical piece by Mussorgksy was a particular favourite of mine from childhood. I greatly admired E.L.P for their musical direction too, anyhow we were friends, therefore this album cover was a gift of a commission for any rock artist. I was very aware of its significance right from the start, the fact that it was slipped out as a budget album, and never considered to be their 3rd album was of no consequence, for any artist this surely had to be a dream commission come true.
Once the original idea was agreed they left me to it, and went on tour, when they came back one month later they played the Drury Lane Theatre London, where we met up, and the finished album was in their hands, ........one amazing time!
The original paintings were hung at the Hammersmith Town Hall London, and photographed by the late Keith Morris assisted by Nigel Marlow, two former graduates with me from Guildford Art School. The paintings size is intentionally obscure due to the large titles of the paintings beside them, though infact they were huge oil paintings on canvas. The paintings are full of ELP symbolism, eg; the Tarkus background in the "Hut" and "Promenade" has a white dove embossed into the Titanium white oil paint, which is purely for the observer of the original to enjoy, it was never intended to be seen on the printed cover.
Naturally I am delighted to have been associated with a work that has become a firm favourite with ELP fans over the years. Without doubt it has turned millions towards the classics, and is literally a "Classic Rock" album, though it has remained a strong defining visual part of the proggresive rock era too.
There remains another reason why "Pictures at an Exhibition" was special to me. The next ELP album turned out to be "Trilogy" It was "a tour de force" of some of the most thrilling and as then, untried ideas for album cover design. We were also riding on two album covers that had shown great success, yet what turned out was the complete opposite. It was a frustrating time for us all to see some of the most intensly thought out and adventourous ideas, so close to fruition, being picked to pieces and disgarded. It is obvious now with hindsight why no agreement could be reached, Trilogy was a great album, a significant milestone for the band, it was not however, a true concept album. This quote from author Martyn Hanson will appear in a new publication on progresive rock by the American author Will Romano....... it sums it all up, ...."looking back it appears that Neals original idea for Trilogy had gone further than anyone had gone before in the field of album design". ( to find out exactly what that was, you will have to read the book!...see foot note) This was an appropriate time to move from the graphic arts to the fine arts, with out doubt "Pictures at an Exhibition" gave me the confidence to do exactly what I am doing now almost 40 years on and more than 40 exhibitions later.
Will Romano/and Martyn Hansons books