'Legalise Cannabis' poster by Martin Sharp
Poster, 'Legalise Cannabis', colour offset lithograph printed in red and black ink on gold metallic foiled paper, designed by Martin Sharp, London, 1967.
The designer of this poster, Martin Sharp (designer/painter/cartoonist and filmmaker, b. Sydney 21 January 1942) is an internationally renowned Australian Pop/psychedelic poster designer. He is closely associated with Pop and psychedelic art both in London in the 1960s and Sydney in the 1970s. In 1969, Sharp won a coverted New York Art Director's Prize for Best Album Cover design for his Cream's 'Wheels of Fire' album cover (Powerhouse Museum collection 96/1592). In 1998, he was the only Australian poster designer to be included in the Victoria and Albert Museum's major international poster exhibition, The Power of the Poster.
Sharp's Cannabis rally poster was one of at least two posters (eg Michael McInnerney's Legalise Pot Rally poster illustrated in Julia Bigham's article 'Day-Glo mind blow' in eye magazine, Issue 42, 01) advertising the 1967 public rally for the legalisation of marajuana, an illegal, yet increasing popular, mind-altering substance.
This poster was one of two posters which led to Peter Ledeboer (who had been responsible for finding printers for the controversial Oz magazine with which Sharp had been associated since its inception in Sydney in 1963) founding London's Big O poster company in September 1967. Interestingly, Sharp's Legalise Cannabis poster never made it onto the streets, as the billposter employed by Ledeboer, sold all of the stock (Bigham).
The designer's close association with the outrageous satirical Oz magazine (published Sydney and London 1963-1979) led to his conviction under Australia's Obscene and Indecent Publications Act. Although he was sentenced to a jail term with hard labour, the decision was later quashed on appeal. However, the ensuing publicity gained Martin Sharp a considerable public following, prompting his first one-man exhibition at the Clune Galleries in Sydney in 1965. 'Art for Mart's Sake' virtually sold out on the opening night, thereby broadening the designer/artist's horizons. Sharp left Australia for England where he established London Oz with Richard Neville in February 1967 (Oz ceased publication 1973) and later produced many ground breaking poster designs for Big O posters.
Legalise Cannabis demonstrates Sharp's strength and originality as a Pop and psychedelic poster artist. With its foil background and its combination of hand drawn typography collaged around portraits of South American Indians appropriated from 19th century ethographic engravings, it demonstrates the designer's interest in surrealism, the playful juxtapositions of ideas and the then-popular, naive romanticization/exoticization of ethnicity. Phillipe Garner writes of the sixties in his book, 'Contemporary Decorative arts- 1940 to the present day', that the 'major ingredient of the 'hippie' cult was the fashion for ethnic clothing and interior decoration, the by-product of a naive, if deeply-felt ideological rejection of materialism' (p41). He also writes that the so called 'flower children' movement which took shape in 1967 combined an endearing 'faus-naif' romanticism with the more sinister exploration of the hallucinatory state, providing the exotic imagery of pschedelic experience. Martin Sharp's designs of this period convey contemporaneous graphic responses to these and other creative (eg the short lived Op and Kinetic Art movement) expressions of a now well-documented, popular culture era based primarily in London and San Francisco from the mid- to the late-1960s.
Julia Bigham,'Day-Glo mind blow', eye magazine, Issue 42, 2001
Jane Conners, Laughing at the Royals, in Australians and the Monarchy, 1993 - http://www.arts.monash.edu.au/ncas/teach/resources/austudies/latr.html.
Cygnet Online, February 2004 http://www.library.uwa.edu.au/collection/australian/page3.html.
Berwyn Lewis, 'Viva Vincent,' The Australian Magazine, July 14015, 1990 p39.
Richard Neville, Hippie, Hippie Shake, William Heinemann Australia, 1995.
Peter Mudie, UBU: Sydney Underground Movies 1966-70, UNSW Press, 1997.
Oz magazine, London - alt.venus.co.uk/weed/zines/oz01_04.htm - 4k - 6 Mar 2004
Tony Palmer, The Trials of Oz, Blond & Briggs, 1971. (Detailed document of the Oz case, the longest obscenity trial in English history, incl. transcripts. Drawings by Feliks Topolski.)
Yvette Steinhauer, Face to face: along the Yellow House road, Good Weekend, 16 April, 1988 p8.
Nick Waterlow, Larrikins in London: An Australian presence in 1960s London exhibition catalogue, Ivan Dougherty Gallery, UNSW, 4 September - 11 October, 2003.
Greg Weight, 'Martin Sharp - Australian Artist' - http://www.greenplanet.com.au/gallery/msharp/workin.htm.