Michael English

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The Rocky Horror Show logo by Michael English

Michael English (5 September 1941 - 25 September 2009) was a British artist known for poster designs he created in the 1960s in collaboration with Nigel Waymouth and the design company they established, Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, and for several series of hyper realist paintings in the 1970s and 1980s.

English's career was launched in London during the 1966, when he began to work with Nigel Waymouth, who owned the shop Granny Takes a Trip in the King's Road, which was a burgeoning counter-culture and bohemian centre of Swinging London. English continued his business relationship with Waymouth when they established the graphic design company Hapshash and the Coloured Coat in 1967, producing poster art that had a strong influence on the youth counter-culture, similar to work being done in the United States by poster artists such as Jacqui Morgan. He contributed artwork, including two covers (issues 4 and 13) for the radical OZ magazine as part of Hapshash a collaboration which continued for two years. Throughout this time, English produced posters for leading performers such as Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix. He also created posters for the 1968 Liverpool Love Festival, and Love Me Film Productions.

Michael English has been credited with creating "an English form of psychedelic poster art". English's works used contemporary Op Art techniques to create a visually jarring effect for the viewer, and had a bold, carnivalesque style similar to Pop Art. He also used evocative references to the decadent spirit of the 1890s Art Nouveau influences, such as Alphonse Mucha's posters, and the works of Aubrey Beardsley (a popular 1966 exhibit of Beardsley's works was held at the Victoria and Albert Museum). Other influences were eclectic and culturally wide-ranging, such as William Blake, Max Ernst, Magritte, Disney animation, Hindu symbolism, Japanese and Middle Eastern decorative designs, engravings of indigenous Americans, and other cultural ephemera that George Melly described as "a visionary and hallucinatory bouillabaisse".

In the 1970s, English moved away from psychedelic imagery towards Hyper Realist work, employing airbrush. He produced several different series of paintings, The Food Paintings (1969–70), including Fried Egg and Ketchup, The Rubbish Posters (1970), with the iconic 'Coke', an airbrush image of a used Coca Cola bottle cap, and the Strikes Water Prints (1971) with images such as Ball Strikes Water. English's posters from this period sold in the millions. In 1973, he created the iconic air-brushed illustration of Columbia for The Rocky Horror Show, which was used to promote the play and was adapted for use on the Roxy Cast LP cover.

His shift towards a focus on concrete decadence perhaps prefigured punk rock in London. English also experimented with environmentalist happenings and oil lamp projections. In the mid to late 1970s and the 1980s he focused more keenly on two seemingly contrasting themes, the Machine Paintings, which are highly detailed sections of trains, planes and trucks and the Nature Paintings, which provided close-up fragments of nature images such as ivy leaves often juxtaposed with hard man-made surfaces. His interest in both these themes continued to play a major part in his subsequent career resulting in several large scale paintings.