MORE THAN ABRAXAS

When you think of album art, some classic images spring to mind…

– those four blokes on the London zebra crossing,

– that angular tubular bell suspended over sky-sea-shore,

– the underwater baby boy lured by an angler’s dollar bill.

Though it is harder to capture in a few words, the cover of the second Santana album, released in 1970, is another that millions across the world would recognise. Amidst the swirls of psychedelic colour and exotic imagery, our gaze is drawn to the languid nude and her translucent red-pink visitor. Sporting purple and orange plumage and delicate purple body tattoos the angel hovers all curvaceous and ethereal above the sensual, sprawling figure. Mischievously, a white dove is placed so as to preserve some modesty. Why mischief? Because the contrast between pigeon and skin could not be greater; the artist is daring the viewer to embrace the languid sexuality via an image of purity.

The painting is called Annunciation and it was painted in 1961 by Mati Klarwein.

Roger Dean Abraxas

The full-page treatment by Roger Dean & David Howells in “The Ultimate Album Covers Album”

Ultimate Album Cover Album

The child of an opera singer and an architect, Mati Klarwein was born in Germany, lived in Israel and studied in Paris. He was a student of Fernand Léger, who introduced Mati to the work of premier surrealist Salvador Dalí. Although there is a strong psychedelic feel to many of his paintings, this has more to do with being an adventurous traveller with a deep interest in non-Western mythologies than any particular connection to hallucinogenic drugs. Indeed, the artist’s friend Timothy Leary once commented that Mati ‘didn’t need psychedelics!’ (Mati Klarwein website).

The story goes that Carlos Santana saw a print of Annunciation in a San Francisco gallery and thought it would make an excellent cover. History has proved him entirely correct as Abraxas has achieved iconic status in the decades since.

One Hundred Best Album Covers by Storm Thorgerson & Aubrey Powell

One Hundred Best Album Covers by Storm Thorgerson & Aubrey Powell

Storm Thorgerson Santana

Abraxas is the first album in Storm and Aubrey’s informative book

In Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell’s 1999 book One Hundred Best Album Covers it is the very first one featured while in The Illustrated History of the Rock Album Cover, Abraxas adorns on the contents page.

IMG_4196

IMG_4197

Even in the 21st Century, the Mati/Abraxas combo retains a hallowed place. The lavish 2003 coffee table book by (Professor) Nick de Ville, Album, gives it prominence, as does The Ultimate Album Covers Album by artist/designer Roger Dean and David Howells.

Album Nick de Ville

de Ville Abraxas

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All well and good, but Mati Klarwein was a lot more than the artist whose painting was appropriated for Abraxas. He painted portraits, many commissioned. Those whose image Klarwein captured include actors Brigitte Bardot and Richard Gere, poet Robert Graves and composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein.

A somewhat eccentric creative expression was what Mati called “Improved Art”. He would cruise markets and charity shops, acquiring canvases that caught his eye then set about augmenting them, often with humour. Whenever the original was signed, Mati added his own signature, making them truly co-authored works. What a wonderful concept. I wonder if any painter of the base-work ever contacted Klarwein. “Um, excuse me, but you seem to have co-opted my art.”

"Jihad" Lauchli / MK, 1991

“Jihad” Lauchli / MK, 1991

A couple of years ago, friend of the artist Serge Bramly assembled a beautiful book celebrating the art of Mati Klarwein as it appeared on over fifty album covers. Now when it comes to accumulating records, Vinyl Connection is not known for its good sense and certainly not for restraint. Yet although I would love nothing more than to embark upon an extended worldwide search for every LP with a Mati cover, funds are just not available at present and Ms Connection has refused a second mortgage point-blank. Instead, we will have to make do with an introduction to the art of Mati Klarwein and the music it adorns via those titles already residing in the Vinyl Connection Collection.

Mati Klarwein title page photo

Mati Klarwein summary page

Collectors advised to avert their eyes

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 Santana – Abraxas [Columbia, 1970]

Santana Abraxas

THE ARTIST

Career guitarist Carlos Santana formed the Santana Blues Band in 1966. Within a year they had lost two words from the band name. Mid-1968 saw their first appearance at the Fillmore (San Francisco). In 1969 they had line-up changes that added (amongst others) Michael Shrieve, recorded their debut album and made an appearance at Woodstock. The rest is history.

THE ALBUM

The deservedly famous breakthrough.

A sensual Latin and jazz infused masterpiece.

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Michael Shrieve – Two Doors [Times Square, 2005]

SHRIEVE, Michael

THE ARTIST

Drummer par excellence Michael Shrieve was a nineteen year old stripling when he played at Woodstock with Santana. He was a pivotal force on the first nine albums of that band – the music on which their fame is based. A versatile and adventurous musician, Shrieve has played and recorded everywhere on the spectrum from pop to the avant-garde. Here are a few names: Rolling Stones, Steve Winwood, Stomu Yamashta, Andy Summers. This two-part album features Shawn Lane and Jonas Hellborg on part one and Bill Frisell and Wayne Horvitz on part two.

THE ALBUM

Two faces, two masks, two stimulating sides.

Intense, engrossing instrumental prog jazz rock.

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Greg Allman – Laid Back [Capricorn, 1973]

Allman, Greg

THE ARTIST

The Allmusic Guide says this about the Allman Brothers Band: “Blending rock, blues, country, and jazz, the godfathers of Southern rock in all its wild, woolly glory.” Despite grammatical confusion, this is a reasonable soundbite of the band. But although Laid Back was released in the same year as Brothers and Sisters, Greg’s solo effort is a more introspective, soul-driven affair. A great voice, a fine keyboard player.

THE ALBUM

Wounded keening white blues from a pensive Allman brother.

More Soul food than Southern fried.

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REFERENCES

De Ville, Nick & Beazley, Mitchell (2003) Album: Style and image in sleeve design. Octopus, London, UK.

Errigo, Angie & Leaning, Steve (1979) The Illustrated History of the Rock Album Cover. Octopus, London, UK.

Dean, Roger & Howells, David (1987) The Ultimate Album Cover Album. Dragon’s World, UK / Prentice Hall Press, NY.

Thorgerson, Storm & Powell, Aubrey (1999) One Hundred Best Album Covers: The stories behind the sleeves. Dorling Kindersley, London, UK.

Bramly, Serge (2012) Mati & the Music: 52 Record Covers 1955 / 2005: A book about Mati Klarwein. RM Editions, Librairie213, Paris.

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Mati Klarwein (1932 – 2001)

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Coming Soon:

MATI AND THE MUSIC [PART TWO]

Featuring Miles Davis, Osibisa, Tempest and others

21 comments

  1. Great article! Very interesting to learn the history of that great album cover. And you know how I feel about Laid Back. 🙂

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    1. Thanks Marie. Sorry I didn’t run my brief appraisal of Greg’s album past you (as an intimate acquaintance of Allman,G) but I hope it meets with your approval!

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  2. Very informative piece … I knew little about that Santana album and even less about the artist. Those books look like they need to be investigated, too!

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    1. Chuffed you got something from it, J. All the early Santana is worthwhile, but if you were going for just one ‘exemplar’ album, Abraxas would do the job.
      I do love a good album cover book: an essential coffee table item for vinyl lovers!

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      1. I think I only know two Santana songs that aren’t one of the 8 or 9 singles from that Supernatural thing. I shall investigate further (both Santana and a good album cover book!).

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  3. It’s hard to think of a favourite cover but Abraxas is PDG.
    Good to learn about Mati Klarwein.

    Thanks.

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    1. It’s a wonderful cover, isn’t it? Both obsessively detailed and soaringly psychedelic.
      Mati is fascinating. I plan to add a little more info in the part 2, sometime in the not-to-distant future.
      Thanks, as always, for your comments DD.

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  4. Nice story, wonderfull album, but never thought about where the cover came form

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    1. That’s right, isn’t it? We see the cover on an LP and it becomes that LP. But sometimes the art has a life of its own…
      Glad you enjoyed the read.

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  5. Really interesting Bruce. I have so far resisted any and all LP cover books, thinking that way madness lies. It is possibly all that’s standing between me becoming a pale, shrivelled, very skint, Gollum-like creature permanently haunting the racks in search of that finyl vinyl treasure.

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    1. Hey, you just described me and my life. (Titters rather alarmingly).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmmm. It searches for the precious it does.

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        1. Give it to us, give it to us. It’s ours, our present…

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Never you mind what I’ve got in my pocketses …

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        3. We can probably call a LotR truce now, d’ya reckon?

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        4. Just as I was leading up to my Never Mind The Balrogs, punch line? curse you!

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  6. […] This article is the second part of a feature on the artist Mati Klarwein. The first part is entitled More Than Abraxas. […]

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  7. […] is Santana’s Abraxas.  I’d been looking out for that one since Bruce’s splendid More than Abraxas post a while back.  I was total struck by the painting and that got me wanting to check out the […]

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  8. […] was rapt to pick it up, regardless of the worn cover. Art by the amazing Mati Klarwein (featured here and again here). This music will also re-arrange your […]

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  9. […] is a feature of the art of Vinyl Connection favourite, Mati Klarwein. In all likelihood I would buy any LP graced by Mati’s work. The Joe Beck album below was […]

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  10. Abraxas is a great album and that album cover is truly something special. Look, man, I’m not ashamed to say that part of the appeal of the cover is it’s, err … captivating sexiness. That said, the best thing (for me) is how the nude comes across as so powerful, fertile (in the world-bearing sense), and just plain beautiful. She is woman, hear her roar indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

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