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9 Beats: Yusuf Martin

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Yusuf Martin (b. London, 1951) is a writer, reviewer, digital artist, exhibition curator gaining his MA Art History & Theory and MA Gallery Studies at the University of Essex. He wrote for Off The Edge and numerous other magazines and newspapers, held exhibitions in opera houses and galleries, in England, as well as working with the National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, on many projects. He also writes short stories for publication and was recently invited as guest writer to the Singapore literary festival – Lit Up.


Understand that these images are not in any chronological order, neither of the time they were produced nor when I encountered them. These nine images are absolutely non-representative in-so-much-as the nine could be any nine at any
point in time, and it just so happened that I picked these out of some metaphorical hat containing perhaps billions of images, at this particular moment in time. These images are not intended to be the best of anything, just available to my short-term memory at a singular moment in time.

The images of my youth, in particular those years between the ages of 17 – 21, have haunted me for the past three decades, some are represented here. So, in no particular order are nine images which, to some degree, have rocked my little world.

Prince of Pop Art Andy Warhol suggested that we all might have 15 minutes of fame he, of course, had a great deal longer. This is Andy’s infamous Banana skin album sleeve to the Velvet Underground with Nico album (1967). The banana skin was peel-able, and when peeled revealed a very pink banana beneath – subtle huh! I first heard this album in 1968 and, as we used to say then, it blew me away. On occasions I still listen to this incredible album, in particular to Welshman John Cale’s electric viola and ‘ostrich tuned’ guitar. It was a milestone – I never imagined that music could sound like that, nor album covers peel.

I had been ‘into’ comics since a very early age. I’ve been a comic book collector on and off for probably five decades and owned my own comic shop at one point. It just so happened that I saw this cover in 1969, just after the Rene Magritte retrospective at the Tate Gallery London. Admittedly this image is by Jim Steranko – one of the finest comic book artists, and references Dali rather than Magritte, but it reminds me of seeing Surrealist art for the very first time at that Magritte retrospective. Later I was to meet British Surrealist and jazz man George Melly and study Dali under Dali biographer
– Dawn Ades. Many people forget the inextricable link between what is considered High and Low art, the many crossovers and referencing between arts. Comics/graphic novels have mostly had a raw deal when it comes to talking about art.

Summer of LOVE, hippies, beads bells and incense – we were all into things Indian. The Beatles sojourned in Rishikesh, India, Donovan wore a paisley kaftan on the cover of The Best of Donovan. We all were listening to Ravi Shankar. Jimi Hendrix produced this album with a cover which spoke directly to his buying audience. It is a rip-off of a Hindu devotional poster – first indication of postmodernism perhaps or just a rip-off. I believe you can still buy the original posters in Brickfields or Jalan Musjid India, KL, sans faces of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. This gatefold sleeve doubled as a nifty poster to state you claim on your in-crowd of choice, reveal your tribal affiliations and display the lurking hippie for all to see, even if you didn’t have a convenient headband to wear. Oh and the music was, er, groovy man.

Like the band Kula Shaker, the album cover was a retro gaze to the psychedelic era of the 60s, in some ways mimicking the Pop Artist Peter Blake’s 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s cover. It also looked back to albums like Roger Law’s Axis Bold as Love – Hendrix album cover. Again, it was a shrewd choice to have Dave Gibbons as the artist, as he is well known for his British
comic strips – especially in 2000 AD and Dr Who, not to mention American works like Alan Moore’s The Watchmen and Green Lantern Corps. Let us not forget that band leader/frontman Crispian Mills is the son of 60s actress and all round groovy chick Hayley Mills. He was initiated into Gaudiya Vaishnavism and his Hare Krishna name is Krishna Kantha dasa.

I love this work because I was going through an ‘I love everything Celtic’ phase, which may or may not have anything to do with the fact that I am half Irish. This included buying all I could on Irish mythology including The Mythology of the British Isles by Charles Squire. It was then I came across the works of Jim Fitzpatrick – Celtia, The Book of Conquests, The Silver Arm and The Children of Lir. He had also designed many of the Thin Lizzy album covers at that time. That was round about the time I was using an airbrush to paint. I was commissioned to airbrush a series of ‘Hell’s Angels’ motorcycle petrol tanks. My showpiece was based upon Celtic mythology and included the warriors seen at the back of this picture – in silhouette. Many years later (in 2008) Jim Fitzpatrick was to comment on a digital work (Peace) that I had
produced and had exhibited in Spain.

Known for his illustrations for Conan the Barbarian and ‘Art’ books like Opus, Barry Windsor Smith, in conjunction with Gorblimely Press, produced a number of stunning Fine Art print posters. Pandora was one such, available as a limited edition poster. It was one that I bought shortly after it came out, in 1975, and subsequently left in England when I came to Malaysia. Like the comic book artist P. Craig Russell there is always the Fine Artist trying to burst out from Barry Windsor Smith’s pen or brush. He treads lightly from the one world into the other, always leaving the faintest of scent of the Pre-
Raphaelites wherever he goes.

I admit to being a past YES fan. I was in a small town, in England, searching through a box of record albums in a second-hand shop. I saw this album cover and loved it, instantly. I bought the record and all the others with similar covers. There were four or five YES albums. Only later was I to love the music too. Roger Dean, airbrush artist and watercolourist extraordinaire, became an instant hero of mine way back in the days before Adobe Photoshop or CorelDraw. It was Roger Dean’s work which encouraged me to learn to use an airbrush.

Hector Hyppolite, the Haitian naïf painter, was discovered by the American De Witt Peters. He helped Haitian artists set up their first art gallery. I came across this picture when I was studying for my first Master’s degree and taking Latin American art. My thesis for that course was Haitian Naive Art. Since then, this image reminds me of that course and the lovely people I met there.

It is difficult not to repeat myself when writing about Zulkifli Yusoff. This work was my introduction to the genius of Zulkifli Yusoff. It and I met face to face in Galeri Petronas and it was love at first sight, well at least for me it was. Like many other of Zulkifli’s works it resonates deeply, while casually appearing to be slight. It is the careful juxtaposition of the symbolic imagery which tantalises and teases the visual palette. As an introduction to Zulkifli’s work this installation was the best that I could have imagined.


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