Who Painted The Stone Roses Album Record Cover Artwork?
And how did an album cover inspire my own ‘By Kerwin’ brand of paintings? Plus, what is the link to Shakespeare?
The Stone Roses produced one of the most iconic Indie albums of all time in the late-1980s with their debut album – along with one of the most iconic album covers too. But where did the idea for the Manchester band’s record sleeve design come from? After all, it looks remarkably similar to the work of a certain American abstract expressionist painter I talk about a lot on this website…
The Stone Roses’ 1989 debut album cover was painted by John Squire, the band’s guitarist, in a Jackson Pollock-inspired ‘action painting’ style. Titled “Bye Bye Badman”, Squire took inspiration from the Giant’s Causeway for the painting. Squire also painted other Roses’ record sleeves in this style.
While many people may know this album cover as a cool, abstract design, this record sleeve is in fact a painting full of symbolism and meaning – and fresh fruit. So just what does this album cover represent?
Did Jackson Pollock paint The Stone Roses album cover?
The Stone Roses 1989, self-titled debut album cover was painted by John Squire, the band’s guitarist, in a Jackson Pollock-inspired ‘action painting’ style. Titled “Bye Bye Badman”, Squire took inspiration from the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland for the painting, which features shades of green amongst layers of grey, black and white. Squire then famously laid three fresh lemon slices over the top of the painting, before photographing what would become one of the most iconic British album covers of all time.
John Squire also painted several of The Stone Roses’ other record sleeves, including those of the singles Waterfall, I Wanna Be Adored and Elephant Stone. Squire even painted several of the band’s instruments! The four members of the band (Squire, Ian Brown, Mani and Reni) also took part in a famous Jackson Pollock-inspired photoshoot in 1989, in which they were covered in blue, red, yellow and white paint and captured by famous music photographer Kevin Cummins.
Where did The Stone Roses album cover idea come from?
The John Squire painting that is better known as The Stone Roses’ debut album cover was inspired by the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. While on a trip to the country to play at the University of Ulster in Autumn 1988, the band took a visit to the Giant’s Causeway, a famous area of volcanic rock on the coast in Country Antrim. Inspired by the deep green colour of the water and the shades of the foam found at the water’s edge, Squire took this image and transformed it into a Jackson Pollock-style splattered action painting.
Citrus Sucking Sunshine: Why are there lemons on The Stone Roses album cover?
The three slices of lemon that appear on The Stone Roses record sleeve are a reference to the Paris riots of May 1968. The riots saw an uprising among students and workers in protest against the government and the country’s capitalist elite. Demonstrations were met with violent resistance from the police – and lemons were used as an antidote to tear gas, providing inspiration for the addition of the zesty fruit to the famous album cover.
The painting’s title, “Bye Bye Badman” is also the name of a Stone Roses song off the album and features the lyric, “Choke me, smoke the air, in this citrus sucking sunshine I don’t care”. The lemon is therefore symbolic of protest and defiance, and to this day remains an emblem for the band.
Why is there a French flag on The Stone Roses album cover?
Providing further reference the 1968 Paris riots, the French tricolore appears in the form of three roughly painted stripes on the left hand side of the album cover. As well as adding extra meaning to the painting, these stripes also balance the green hues, as well as the spontaneous and fractal shapes of the rest of the artwork.
How else did Jackson Pollock inspire The Stone Roses?
The album cover isn’t the only Jackson Pollock reference to appear across The Stone Roses’ music. As well as the Pollock-inspired debut album artwork painting “Bye Bye Badman” and song by the same name, the band’s guitarist John Squire painted many of the band’s other record sleeves in an action-painting style, including Waterfall, I Wanna Be Adored and Elephant Stone.
A couple of songs reference Jackson Pollock too. “There she looks like a painting, Jackson Pollock’s Number 5” is a line of Going Down, the B-side to their hit Made of Stone (which also features a Pollock-style record sleeve). I’m not sure this lyric is a complement!
The Stone Roses also released a song named Full Fathom Five, which is also the name of an early Pollock drip painting (and one of his most well-regarded). Interestingly, the phrase ‘full fathom five’ is Old English and is taken from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The line “full fathom five thy father lies” is referring to a man whose ship has been sunk and who is now lying 30 feet on the seabed: ‘fathom’ is an Old English measurement of 6 feet. (Pollock’s painting of this title features shades of black and dark turquoise – perhaps as a further nod to Shakespeare’s nautical reference.)
How did The Stone Roses inspired my range of By Kerwin pop art paintings?
In the same way that Noel Gallagher once remarked that without The Stone Roses’ debut 1989 album there would have been no Oasis (the opening line from She Bangs The Drum was said to have instantly inspired Noel to start the band), there would also have been no By Kerwin.
This is because this album cover was how I first heard of Jackson Pollock or even came across this style of painting for the first time. This was in early summer 2013, towards the end of my first year as a business student at the University of Manchester. Having moved to the city for university in September 2012, I decided I’d immerse myself in the culture by listening to all the famous Manchester bands I had never listened to – one of the most iconic being The Stone Roses.
When I first came across The Stone Roses I immediately loved the record sleeve, which also stood out for being painted by a member of the band. I then learnt that he’d taken this style from a certain Jackson Pollock and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Stone Roses’ frontman Ian Brown was, fittingly, one of my first paintings of my range in 2020, and also features real dried lemons preserved in resin. This painting sold at my debut exhibition at The Forum, Norwich in December 2020 – prints are still available from my online shop.
What is your favourite song on The Stone Roses? Do you know any other album cover featuring a Jackson Pollock-inspired record sleeve?
Explore my full range of music-themed, Jackson Pollock-inspired pop art paintings and canvas prints at www.bykerwin.com. Prints are priced from £35 – £75, with fast worldwide delivery.
Blog post written by UK artist Kerwin Blackburn. Read my other post on what inspired Jackson Pollock himself, here.