The Art of Noise

Posted: by in

An exhibition of new work by John Squire opens on 10th October at Westminster’s SW1 Gallery. Lois Wilson hooked up with the artist/guitarist in his Macclesfield studio for a sneak preview of Noise, and a little light rumination on the crossover between art and music.

Like most people, I first discovered John Squire’s art through his Jackson Pollock-indebted sleeve designs for his band, the Stone Roses. Formed in 1984, the Roses revolved around the songwriting nucleus of singer Ian Brown, guitarist Squire, bassist Gary "Mani" Mounfield and drummer Alan "Reni" Wren. They captured the turn-of-the decade’s zeitgeist in their eponymous 1989 debut album. The record marked Squire as a dizzying talent, who re-appropriated the guitar hero from machismo rock cliché, drawing on the US folk rock tradition epitomized by the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn. The innovation continued with the single 'Fool’s Gold', which melded dance and funk with rock; by their second album, 1994’s long-gestating Second Coming, they were probing heavier, Led Zeppelin-style sounds.
While today John says playing the guitar was, “a struggle, I never understood the process like I do the art process” – he is being coy. His guitar playing was often awe-inspiring, as his recording legacy is testament. His art initially took a back seat when the Roses took off. With no formal art training – “I never had that privilege” – he was self-taught, studying techniques from library books and experimenting in his bedroom whenever he had a spare moment.
Music also played an important role in John’s art education. He first became aware of Jackson Pollock through The Clash, who customised their stage gear with Pollock-esque paint splashes (although the Sex Pistols’ Glen Matlock was actually the first to do it). “I came across the name Jackson Pollock in The Clash photo book by Pennie Smith, there was a picture of Paul Simonon [The Clash’s bassist] in a dressing room”, Squire recalls. “The caption read, ‘Paul surveys a Pollock-style action painting on the floor’ and being an obsessive fan I went to [Manchester’s] Central library to look for books on this Pollock person and I liked what I saw. There was so much information in there on the process it was easy to replicate. I was trying to visually represent the music in the best way I knew how [on the sleeves]. I think I was trying to make the music more like the Jesus And Mary Chain, and to me the Jackson Pollock artwork represented their [signature guitar] feedback; I was trying to incorporate that into our band, I was trying to deface the band. But the motivation behind doing it was quite simple: I was petrified that some designer guy from the record label would knock up a sleeve in an afternoon and that would [forever] be a visual association with the band. I made a sculpture for our first single [1985’s ‘So Young’] that had been given to an ex-factory designer who messed it up recreating it, so I was determined to do it all myself. The sculpture was of two beer bottles and a radio smashed up and reassembled and painted.”