The Meaning of Jimi Hendrix’s Axis: Bold As Love Album Cover
Exploring the inspiration behind this iconic – yet controversial – album artwork by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Jimi Hendrix is regarded as one of the best guitarists of all time, as well as one the coolest pop culture icons. Jimi Hendrix has also been immortalised in one of my most popular By Kerwin pop art portrait paintings. One of the most iconic albums of his band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, was their 1967 record Axis: Bold as Love.
As well as the hit, psychedelic-rock music of the album, equally iconic is its colourful and detailed album artwork. As an artist who focuses on music and pop culture as the theme of my paintings, I explore some of the meaning behind this album cover below.
The Axis: Bold as Love album cover art, designed by David King, features a colourful, psychedelic portrait of Jimi Hendrix and his bandmates, depicted as Vishnu and other Hindu deities. While thought to pay homage to Hendrix’s interest in Eastern spirituality, Axis sparked controversy upon release.
With so much going on within the design of a single album cover, what other meaning can be found in the imagery and colours used? And what exactly about this supposed tribute to eastern culture made it so controversial, and in which country was it banned? Read on to find out more!
The story of the Axis: Bold as Love album cover artwork
The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s ‘Axis: Bold as Love’ album cover artwork was designed by David King and features a colourful, psychedelic portrait of Hendrix and his bandmates, Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, depicted as Vishnu and other Hindu deities. The band portrait is a painting by British caricaturist Roger Law, based on a photo by Karl Ferris.
A number of other mythical creatures and Hindu deities also appear on the album cover, while some people also interpret them all as being pictured on a flying carpet; perhaps adding to the Eastern psychedelia theme of the record cover. There have been many interpretations of the album cover, but it is generally thought to have been inspired by Jimi Hendrix’ fascination with Eastern philosophy and spirituality, alongside his interest in space exploration and science fiction.
Perhaps more subtle than the Hindu figures, the colours of the album cover were supposedly taking from the seven chakras (energy centres) of the human body – further adding to the spiritual theme of the album’s overall design and music.
While it may have been intended as merely a colourful, playful tribute to Hendrix’ Eastern interests, the Axis: Bold as Love album cover sparked controversy as soon as it was released among religious groups for its disrespectful depiction of Hindu figures. Hendrix himself was disapproving of the album cover once he saw it, and distanced himself and his bandmates from its conception, saying “The three of us have nothing to do with what’s on the Axis cover.”
Who designed the Axis: Bold as Love album cover?
A multimedia design, the Axis cover was designed by David King, featuring a painting of the three Jimi Hendrix Experience band members by British caricaturist Roger Law, which itself was based on a photo-portrait taken by Karl Ferris. Got it?
Why is the Axis: Bold as Love album cover controversial?
The Axis: Bold as Love album cover was, and remains, controversial because of the various design components taken from Hinduism and Eastern culture. The depiction of Jimi Hendrix and his bandmates as Vishnu and other Hindu gods was seen as very disrespectful among many Hindus – particularly as it was produced by a non-Hindu artist.
The album cover’s critics also argued that the Axis artwork perpetuated stereotypes surrounding Eastern culture and Orientalism, particularly around the album cover’s exotic and mythical portrayal of these topics. The album cover sparked debates around cultural appropriation.
Some critics even felt Eastern music and culture was merely being exploited for the benefit of Western musicians and misrepresented in Western media. The involvement of artists in Indian music in the years prior to Hendrix’s controversial 1967 album cover, such as The Beatles and The Byrds, may have contributed to this sentiment.
Where – and why – is the Axis: Bold as Love album banned?
The Axis: Bold as Love album cover is said to have been banned in Malaysia.. but only in 2014, some 47 years after its initial release. The Malaysian government enforced a ban on the cover after pressure from various groups in the country. Malaysia is a very religious country; while the majority religion is Islam, with Hinduism making up only around 9%, the issues of cultural appropriation discussed above risk causing offence to any religious group.
What is the meaning of Jimi Hendrix’s song Bold as Love?
The album’s (almost) title track, Bold as Love, is a song that is widely interpreted as a meditation about the power of love and its transformative abilities. Bold as Love features lyrics that describes the various colours and moods that love can epitomise, ranging from the “quiet sands of contemplation” to the “bold of psychedelic dreams”. Various mythical and historical figures are also mentioned in song, including Adam and Eve and the Greek god Hercules – the song does therefore seem to relate to the religious themes on album cover and its psychedelic colour palette.
Listeners often interpret ‘Bold as Love’ as a manifesto for the countercultural or ‘hippy’ movement of the 1960s, and the emphasis on the value of love and peace, in contrast to violence and global conflicts, such as the Vietnam war, of this era. A sense of escapism could also therefore be interpreted in the song, which is further emphasised by the Axis album cover.
How was my By Kerwin pop art portrait painting inspired by the Axis album cover?
My Jimi Hendrix pop art portrait painting, painted in my signature Jackson Pollock-inspired action painting style, is one of my favourite paintings and one of the most popular print orders I receive. I took inspiration from the Axis: Bold as Love album cover for my painting design, which is entirely hand-drawn and hand-painted, like all of my paintings.
On an artistic level, the Axis album cover is a colourful and creative design with a well-balanced composition. I also do love the fusion between Western rock and Eastern and Indian music that emerged during from the 1960s. However, when planning my painting I was aware of the controversies surrounding the album cover. I therefore downplayed the elements of Eastern culture that I incorporated into my painting. Instead of depicting Hindu figures, for instance, I added paisley and floral motifs, which represent Indian culture while ensuring there is no religious symbolism in my painting.
The bold purple colour is taken from the album, as well as being the colourful most associated with Jimi Hendrix and his band (purple also appeared heavily on their debut album, Are You Experienced). The background, or sky, features alternating pink and orange stripes that are inspired by the Axis album cover. More muted shades of orange and pink were chosen to complement the other shades within the painting. Watch my time-lapse painting video below!
There are prints of my Jimi Hendrix painting in cities across the UK, and in multiple countries as far as Mexico. You can purchase your own print of Jimi in two sizes from my online shop. Your high-definition, premium quality print can be shipped anywhere in the world and will arrive within around one to two weeks. You can also purchase a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt with this iconic painting on here.
Did you know the controversial story behind Jimi Hendrix’ Axis: Bold as Love album cover? What other controversial album cover designs can you think of?
View my full range of Jackson Pollock-inspired pop art paintings and prints of your favourite music and pop culture icons at www.bykerwin.com. High-definition printing, fast worldwide delivery and satisfaction guaranteed. You can follow my art progress on Instagram and Facebook.
Article written by UK artist Kerwin Blackburn, 2023. Read my similar blog post on the meaning behind my Elvis Presley painting here.