Design is more complex than art. There is good-good design, bad-good design, good-bad design, and bad-bad design. Art is just art.
The British youth of the 1960s were familiar with the mordant style of cartoonists like Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman, who propagated their anti-establishment satire in Private eye, and later with the absurd animations of Terry Gilliam in the BBC television series Monty Python’s Flying Circus. This revolutionary imagery of swinging Britain was the real pop-art of the times, rather than the elite works of artists such as David Hockney and R B Kitaj. As the artistic director of The Yellow Submarine, Heinz Edelmann helped to make the Beatles famous but his name is less well known today.
Edelmann was born in Czechoslovakia in 1934. After studying at the Düsseldorf Art Academy he became a successful illustrator, drawing satirical cartoons for the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. He began his career as a designer of theatre posters and provided cover illustrations for the youth magazine twen and also schule magazine. Illustrations from the latter, shown below, are strangely reminiscent of the cartoons of Edward Lear. Magazine production in the 1960s was relatively primitive and relied on the kind of typographical tricks used by Edelmann in the Sophia Loren poster below.
He also illustrated children’s books, an example of which is shown below, which also has a 19th Century flavour with the swift cross hatching and the dynamism of the striding figure.
During the 1950s Edelman worked in advertising, with the Cologne agency Putz, and also as a teacher, which was his main occupation during the later years of his life. He lived and worked in several countries, including Germany, England and the Netherlands. In the 1960s, he became involved in developing the story for the Beatles’ film Yellow Submarine and created the drawing style and many characters used in the animated film. A drawing of the Fab Four in the design stage is shown below.
Visiting the Tate Gallery one day, the producer of The Yellow Submarine, Al Brodax and Brian Epstein had been impressed by the colours in Turner’s Burial at Sea, and this helped to overcome Epstein’s resistance to appointing Edelmann artistic director, as he was an artist capable of realising such a vision. Although a chain smoker, Edelmann insisted that he had never taken LSD and that his knowledge of psychedelic experience was second hand. Despite this, his colourful creations became the visual signature of the drug enthused generation of the 1960s. There was clearly a political element as well, epitomised by the Blue Meanies, who so presciently anticipated the cruel regime of Margaret Thatcher, who became Prime Minister a decade or so later and put an end to the joyful era ushered in by the Beatles. The flying glove, based on the US flag, was a symbol of puritanism and a wonderful evocation of the US imperialism of the Vietnam War.
An important reference in The Yellow Submarine to the drug culture was the song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, which was featured in the film.
Edelmann was a professor at the State Academy of Art and Design at Stuttgart until 1999, when he became professor of illustration at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart. He recorded his own experience as an art student as follows:
When I was a student, my teacher impressed on me the obligation to pass on the Wings of Art, across the Gulf of Centuries! But seriously: it took many years to perfect my stand-up-comedy-act, and I needed a captive audience.
He also designed the cover for the German edition of Lord of the Rings, and did illustrations for an edition of Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the willows.
Heinz Edelmann died of heart disease and kidney failure on July 21, 2009, aged 75.
Tony Thomas was born in England in 1939, and is a retired bureaucrat living in Brisbane, Australia. He has an Australian wife, two adult daughters, a dog and a cat. He holds a degree in economics from the University of Queensland. His interests are catholic, and include: philosophy, writing fiction, poetry, and blogging.