Ten years ago, curator Joan Adan put together her first exhibition at Forest Lawn Museum called “Revolutions,” which featured original art for album covers, posters, magazine illustrations and other visual-arts ephemera tied to the music industry. At the time, Adan was restricted by space and schedule; the museum has three rooms, and she was able to exhibit in only one for three months. “It was not long enough at all, and it was very popular,” Adan recalls.
A decade later, the entire 5,748-square-foot museum is now dedicated to “Revolutions 2,” making it the institution's biggest contemporary art exhibition to date. With over 175 works by more than 35 artists, the current exhibit delivers an overwhelming range of rare, music-related photographs as well as original studies, sketches, comprehensives and even finished products for album covers, concert posters and other kinds of promotional material. With genres ranging from classical and blues to pop, rock and rap, there's work depicting everyone from rock pioneers such as Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix to Madonna, Prince and Eminem. Not only does “Revolutions 2” now need three rooms, you might need three days to see it all.
The show opened this past Saturday, Feb. 28, to a crowd of 1,500, including artists with work on display such as Hugh Brown, Ernie Cefalu, Ingrid Haenke and Ron Kriss. Among those with the most art in Revolutions 2 are Drew Struzan and William Stout, whose careers as illustrators in the music industry eventually led them both to working as artists in film. Still, both recall the days of working in music in the late '60s and early '70s with a special fondness. “It was such an exciting time to be doing that stuff,” Stout says. “We were free,” Struzan adds.
Today, Drew Struzan is a semi-retired illustrator with a long and successful career designing for movies, but it all started when he began working in music after graduating from art school. He found himself literally walking around to different Hollywood studios with his portfolio in tow: “I'd try and get work, and the only work I was getting was from album covers, and it wasn't enough, because they paid so very little: You'd do a whole painting for 150 bucks, so we weren't living too well.”
Luckily, he landed a full-time job at the art agency Pacific Eye & Ear, designing covers for whomever came down the pipeline, from Joan Baez to Black Sabbath. Once people in the film industry saw Struzan's stuff on billboards, he found himself working for the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and got into movies. Either way, Struzan is doing what he wants.
“How many people get to work at what they love?” he asks. “That's why I just kept doing it, regardless of the reward. 'Cause I loved to do it, and admittedly, I don't know how to do anything else. And I'm still here, so I guess it worked out all right.”
One of Struzan's most compelling pieces in the show is a romantic ink-and-watercolor illustration from 1974 for Mary Travers' Circles, the fourth solo album by the woman best known as part of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary. The work represents the era's fascination with the art nouveau movement, a style especially popularized by Rick Griffin, whose work is in the show, too. Struzan's front and back covers for Black Sabbath's Sabbath Bloody Sabbath from 1973 are another interesting part of the exhibit, beautifully rendered in color pencil and acrylic.
“I bought that just for the cover,” William Stout says of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. While Struzan designed legitimate record covers, Stout's career encompasses a range of projects that included making art for more than 40 bootleg albums. He recalls trading each bootleg illustration for $50 with a mysterious guy in a coupe with tinted windows on the corner of Selma and Las Palmas. Of his bootleg album cover work, Stout says, “I thought it should evoke the band somehow, not just be some crappy photo.” He's also done legitimate LP art, CD covers, band fliers and tour posters, and designed the logo for Rhino Records.
In the exhibit, Stout's most engaging pieces include a controversial illustration for an album of Fab Four novelty-style tribute tunes called Beatlesongs, which features a caricature of John Lennon's murderer, Mark David Chapman, at a Beatles fan convention. There are also many small original works from Stout's critically acclaimed book Legends of the Blues.
All told, “Revolutions 2” spans about 50 years. Among the many eye-catching artworks on display: Gary Null's 1973 photographic print and proof sheet “Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii,” featuring an iconic black-and-white image of Presley with popped butterfly collar and a cape, crooning soulfully into his mic; David Edward Byrd's alternate concert poster for the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the Fillmore East in 1968, which Prince commissioned as his own concert poster in 2013; Guy Webster's photos of Michelle Phillips and Brian Wilson circa 1967-68; and the original Rolling Stones mouth-and-tongue logo by Ernie Cefalu, owner of Pacific Eye & Ear, where Struzan worked.
While the exhibition represents a wide range of styles, media and artistic approaches — from organic to futuristic, and everything between — there is a cohesion to all the works, as well. “Revolutions 2” pays homage to the nearly lost, mostly nondigital commercial and fine art of the music industry and also evokes and celebrates a specific kind of passion for music before the dawning of the age of the MP3.
“Revolutions 2” is on view through Aug. 2 at Forest Lawn Museum, Forest Lawn Memorial Park Glendale, 1712 S. Glendale Ave., Glendale. (323) 340-4792. Open Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission and parking is free.