One of the great joys of collecting this and that is the opportunity, every so often, to bet on your instincts and indulge in a bit of detective work.
Recently, among many shabby lots of house-clearance prints and paintings at my local auction house, I spotted an unusual-looking framed picture. On closer examination, I could see that what had been glazed for posterity was an old piece of graphic artwork, in a distinctive psychedelic style, featuring the hand drawn lettering – Whiskeyman.
I Googled Whiskeyman on my phone and was intrigued to find pictures of the cover of The Who’s 1967 album, A Quick One While He’s Away. It was The Who’s second album, and the first to feature songs written by the group’s bass player, John Entwistle. One of those songs was called Whiskey Man.
Immediately I could see a common shimmering style between the album cover illustration and the dusty framed “painting”. Luckily no-one else at the auction sale seemed very interested in what I’d found, and so I was able to buy it. Naturally, I was and am excited to have what my instincts tell me is probably a piece of original 1960s artwork by Alan Aldridge… though maybe it isn’t.
Alan Aldridge is undoubtedly one of the greatest illustrators in British “pop culture” over the past 50 years. He’s best known for his work with The Beatles and Apple, but he was also a superb illustrator of posters and book covers, notably for Penguin, and famous for his own creations such as The Butterfly Ball. He sure wielded a mean airbrush, as Pete Townsend might have said.
So, what do I know about my mystery purchase? It’s a piece of artwork, drawn and painted on the kind of board – CS10 – that airbrush illustrators used to favour and which is now out of production. Someone valued the artwork enough to go to the trouble of mounting and framing it – presumably to display it with pride. It’s a standalone illustration of a song, Whiskey Man, in the same style as the The Who album cover that contains a song of the same name. Perhaps all the songs on the album were originally going to have a separate illustration by Alan Aldridge (maybe on a gatefold sleeve) in the same style as the cover. Maybe Aldridge or The Who gave away or sold rejected artwork to their fans. Or maybe it’s a piece of derivative graphic design created (by the looks of it, as long ago as the 60s) in “homage” by someone who was both a creative devotee of Alan Aldridge and The Who, and who was so proud of his/her handiwork that they had it framed. Or maybe it was just someone who really liked whiskey…
If it looks like an Aldridge, and “smells” like an Aldridge… is it an Aldridge? If anyone who reads this can help identify the creator of my mystery artwork, I’d love to hear from you. I’m glad to say that Alan Aldridge is still alive and living in Los Angeles. I’m going to try to make contact with him to see if he can solve my “case”. If I get a definitive answer, I’ll let you know. For the time being, I’m still enjoying that special collector’s feeling that I might have spotted something out of the ordinary when no-one else did…