John Lennon

Larry Smart

I first met Larry in 1967, when he was in the dance troupe Exploding Galaxy.

They would perform free-style dance at the weekly hippie gathering, the UFO Club, in between sets by the Pink Floyd.  They helped encourage everyone to ‘freak out’ their dancing style.  The Exploding Galaxy were part of a commune which lived in North London and took their name from a painting by Larry of the same name.  They were immortalised in the book 99 Balls Pond Road by Jill Drower, one of the communards.

Born in 1945, Larry spent much of his childhood in Baghdad, where his father Philip worked with Shell Oil.  His exposure at an early age to Islamic art and architecture and its intricate geometry became a lifelong influence. Later he went to boarding school in England and then to Croydon Art College.

Larry's art owed much to his art school mentor Bridget Riley. He created more structured geometric forms than found in her work, while still generating the vibrational effect that results from staring at Riley's paintings, the 'op art' experience.   Larry's paintings were more symmetrical and colourful while still achieving and even enhancing the same ‘op’ effect.  His circular mandalas were an aid to meditation and awareness heightening, oscillating when you concentrated on them.

 At psychedelic events such as the UFO Club, Summertime in the Wintertime or the 14-Hour Technicolor Dream, Larry's mandalas would be the focus of light shows created by John Bloomfield.  The impact of the mandala was enhanced with pulsing light, increasing the op-art psychedelic effect of looking at his paintings.  His mandalas were bought by Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison and funded his meals tab at the vegetarian Baba bel Poori restaurant in Bayswater.

In 1967 he married Carol Grimes, the blues and jazz singer who later performed with Lol Coxhill and the band Delivery.  Their debut performance was at our macrobiotic restaurant Seed in 1969.  One of Larry's mandalas adorned their album cover.

Larry produced work for Apple Corps and subsequently produced silk screen prints representing John Lennon, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan.

In 1970 George Harrison invited Larry to paint murals at Friar Park, his vast mansion near Henley.  Regrettably these works, completed over a year,  appear to have been lost.  Patti Boyd, his first wife, is unaware what happened to them.  Olivia Harrison cannot remember ever seeing them.

Larry also produced landscapes with towers and minarets rising on high peaks that imagined a fantasy world reminiscent of Arabian Nights.  After his break up with Carol the mood of his fantastical landscapes changed and led to a series of paintings showed crumbling edifices, with cracks in the walls and broken towers.

Larry was commissioned by the owners of country houses to capture the look of their houses in his distinctive magical realist style, populating the grounds with cricket or croquet players in Edwardian or Victorian dress.   The intensity of the acrylic colors he used gave a special vibrancy to these paintings and, indeed, all of Larry's work.

He also spent some time in Granada, painting the gardens of the Alhambra.

In 1968 Larry, myself and Jordan Reynolds spent a week in Marrakech.  It was a bit of a blowout for us all, partying until late and then recuperating by the hotel pool the following day.  Larry was captivated by the beauty of the architecture and art of the city and the high plateau landscape of the region.  He and his new wife Karen subsequently visited Marrakech frequently and Larry began to capture on canvas the fountains, palaces, gardens and mosques of the city.  This was a time when the old riads of Marrakech were being restored and the new owners would commission Larry to capture the intricate tiling and designs of the courtyards and fountains of their villas.   Larry's bible at this time was "Arabesques" - an art book by Jean-Marc Castera that explained in great detail the mechanics (and cheats) of, for example, creating a 128-point star and integrating it into a pattern of interlocking stars.  Larry's understanding of how this art was created by the original tilers and designers was reflected in his canvases, which draw the viewers eye inwards and then back and from right to left and left to right.  He saw this work from the inside out and captured its depth of geometrical and mathematical thinking in a way that an artist without that understanding would find challenging.   In Tangiers he stayed with Philip Arnott, who introduced him to clients in Marrakech and who now deals art from the Lawrence-Arnott galleries in both cities.

In the late 1980s and 1990s Larry worked closely with me on a number of projects.  I would brief him on a new organic food product project such as whole grain corn flakes, blue corn flakes, muesli, baked beans, Blaisdon Red plum jam or hummus tahini and he could create a painting that formed the basis for the label or carton artwork.   He created a landscape of the digestive system that provided the perfect packaging for our All Your Fibre breakfast cereal.

By then Larry had settled into a pattern of spending 3 months in Marrakech, then London, then Marrakech again.  He would complete commissions in his London flat for clients in Marrakech, then deliver them a few months later and obtain new work, which he would complete in Marrakech or take back to London to complete.  His paintings were also sold to visitors to La Mamounia hotel, the pre-eminent and historic establishment in Marrakech where Winston Churchill often stayed and painted.

Larry was a regular visitor to our house in Hastings and painted scenes that captured in detail the shape and symmetry of the Old Town's tiled rooftops, the patterning of the wood on the boats of Hastings fishing fleet and even imposed Arabic- patterned arches over a view across the Old Town from the nearby allotments, where he mischievously slipped in a cannabis plant to a lush display of asparagus, marrows, leeks, lettuces and other garden produce.

In 2004 a work colleague showed me an advertisement in Record Collector magazine for Larry's poster of Jimi Hendrix, selling at £350.  I showed it to Larry and he contacted the vendor who proposed printing a limited edition of the poster, to be signed by the artist.  The posters were marketed in 2005 and are now prized collector’s items.  Larry signed the limited edition but then died a few months later.

The Victoria and Albert Museum hold Larry's Jimi Hendrix silkscreen poster in their permanent collection. They used his 'Kaleidoscope Eyes' (hippie slang for acid-tripping) poster on the publicity material for their wonderful 'Revolution: Records and Rebels 1966-1970) exhibition that runs from September 2016 until February 28 2017).  The revival of interest on the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 Summer of Love has increased awareness and appreciation of Larry Smart's work.  Larry captured the essence of the time and his work informs any understanding of the aesthetic that reflected the transformation in social and political thinking that emerged from the experience of the late 1960s and its aftermath.

A Larry Smart limited edition A1 silk screen print, Kaleidoscope Eyes is now available - only 300 printed, please order from here.

Kaleidoscope Eyes
Kaleidoscope Eyes

Al Gromer Khan's Jazz Christmas

A very insightful memoir from Al Gromer Khan about his days in London - on New Year's Eve he and Mike Figgis played at Seed Restaurant...when John Lennon and Yoko Ono came in.

Chapter from Jazz Christmas by Al Gromer Khan, reproduced with kind permission of the author. Published 2011, his novella a clef captures the transition in the London scene from jazz and R&B to the alternative society and psychedelia.

‘Sam’ is Gregory Sams.

The restaurant ‘Sam’s Macrobiotic Club’ was ‘Seed Restaurant’ – the macrobiotic restaurant on Westbourne Grove that launched the natural foods movement in Britain and was the foundation for Harmony Foods, Whole Earth Foods, the Vegeburger and Green & Black’s chocolate. The date was actually New Year's Eve 1968. The author is Al Gromer Khan and ‘Fargo’ is Mike Figgis, the filmmaker.

MUSIC

No matter what anyone says, the oversize woollen jumper was invented by us, by our generation, the Flower Children. It was then carried further by German Green Party members. Almost all patrons at Sam´s Macrobiotic Club wore woollen jumpers (in bottle green and lavender blue) on New Years Eve 1967, complete with the small black holes scorched by burning hash pieces that had fallen down from joints. But if your psyche had gone somewhat wonky with acid, the proprietor of ´Sam´s´, a quiet Californian named Sam, well on the way to be a Zen master, would provide healing – or normality – with benign vegetables and organic soy-sauce. This was restaurant, Zen monastery and docto´s practice all in one, a subterranean place where guests sat cross-legged, setting standards for legions of psycho-analysts who came thirty or so years later, for us to get in touch with our inner selves. This ´inner self´ was what our musical performance was meant to enhance too.

Prepared with small cups of Mu-Tea we began ringing in the New Year. Our musical works were based on certain concepts. One was a Kafka-quotation: 'There is a point of no return let us reach it!' Or a John Cage principle; 'Go to the border but not beyond'. A third was, 'The chief gives more than he takes' (and leaves the most important notes out). This was not background music, rather an exercise in the spirit of Zen. When our performance was announced we went to the stage and started tuning up. In a few hours it would be 1968 and we were feeling ´The Source´.

You could know ´The Source´ by the fact that in playing together each player left space for the other player to develop his music. You could furthermore tell by pauses left in order for the sound to unfold and create its own momentum. Now and then short jazz phrases would be thrown in – nothing superfluous, nothing vain. What was shown was essential and you got the feeling that it couldn´t be any other way. This was good. The music flowed.

Very soon an atmosphere of detached gratitude set in. Sounds remained in space. While playing, Fargo and I looked at each other. He had a satisfied smile on his lips - this was a good day, it would be a good year. Fargo continued his ostinato with his left  hand and took a sip of MuTea with his right. ´Mu´ means eternity, man! Next, as if this was nothing special at all John Lennon and Yoko Ono stepped into the room. With a serious face Fargo nodded his head towards the table where Lennon and Ono had taken their seats. He looked at me saucer-eyed, but he didn´t smile. This was brilliant. This would be an evening the two celebrities wouldn´t be forgetting so soon. Hadn´t our music found their sublime centre just tonight? What hundreds, nay, thousands of young musicians wished for – an audition before Lennon and Ono, to be discovered, promoted and put on record, this opportunity had arisen spontaneously and without any effort on our part on the eve of 1968. We would, in all humility, demonstrate to them how to attain optimum brain function with an absolute minimum of means and show. This might be a chance of convincing Lennon that pop songs were, in fact, an outdated musical form, that they were nothing but simple pub songs, enhanced by electrified guitars. Ono, an avant-garde artist in her own right, would presumably point out the finer points of our art, the high intuitive quality in particular. We would be discreetly asked for an appointment with Apple Music at Savile Row ... a three-year contract with further options. An adequate advance sum would carry us through the first years and allow us to terminate our ignoble jobs at the jazz club in order for us to apply ourselves entirely to our art ...  I said, ´Fargo, shall we start with ´Prayer´ like we said?´ ´No, man,´ Mike replied, ´´Prayer´ is too subtle. We should really start with ‘Kafka’ A knot fastened in my solar plexus, ´I really don´t see why we should allow the listeners to influence our repertoire.´ Fargo spoke under his breath out of the corner of his mouth, ´I´m telling you ´Kafka´ is the coolest piece for the occasion! Think of the implications!´

´But ...´

´No ´but´, man. I´m not having you ruin my career with your ideological principles!´ I hissed back to him in the same hushed intense voice.

´This is not about ideology at all, man! I simply think we should continue as we had planned our performance, do ´Prayer´ and not deviate from our programme, simply on account of the fact that some famous people are sitting over there.´

´What do you mean ´famous people´, man? These are Lennon and Ono, man! ´You know vat? Zis whole thing iss beginning to get me seriously on the balls!´ In my anger my English had fallen back into German grammar and pronunciation lapses.

Fargo said, ´Then fucking well do something about it, fucking hell!´

At this point we became aware that quarrelling was counter-productive. So we retuned our instruments and started the piece proposed by Fargo. However the sounds were different now. No longer rich and sonorous, warm and expansive, they refused to bear fruit in terms of overtones. A situation had come about whereby you started thinking while performing, a situation in which you would think what you´re going to play next in order to maximise the effect. And on account of not being absorbed in the sound, you would play everything slightly faster. Squint-eyed you looked for the listener´s reaction – and you would start playing competitively.

The famous Beatle was looking about antsy, pale-faced, restless. It did not appear as if Lennon had taken any notice of the music or the musicians. It seemed that he was occupied with something else, something that seemed to absorb him entirely. If he did look in our direction he seemed to look into the middle distance above our heads, or right through us – lost in thought. Yoko Ono appeared to be talking to Lennon uninterruptedly with a restrained voice. With an impatient gesture Lennon waved the young long-haired waiter over, said a few words to him and gave him a bank note. The waiter started to move away from their table in the direction of the stage, over to where we were sitting and playing music.´Mr Lennon sends you these ten pounds and asks whether it would be okay for you to call it a day with the music. He says he can´t really concentrate on his macrobiotics.´

To purchase Jazz Christmas, please click here

Al Gromer Khan’s marvellous body of work is available from iTunes Store and Amazon.