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The Experience - Jimi Hendrix at Mason's Yard

The Experience - Jimi Hendrix at Mason's Yard

Exhibition preview

AN EXHIBITION of classic and unseen images by Gered Mankowitz, The Experience – Jimi Hendrix at Mason’s Yard, will be on display at Snap Galleries from September 18 to November 6, 2010.

“Jimi was so positive and excited about what was happening to him. He was easy to work with and a pleasure to be around. Jimi was very shy and retiring, humble and modest. Not starry or assertive and that pretty well remained the case during the time that I knew him. There was a complete contrast between the man on stage and the man in person.” – Gered Mankowitz.

Mankowitz’ photos were taken at a pivotal point in Jimi Hendrix’s short career. These iconic portraits capture the mystery and otherworldliness defining his public image, just as Mankowitz’ 1965-67 portraits of the Rolling Stones defined them as the antithesis of the Beatles.

This Hendrix exhibition gives a clear insight into the real Jimi: relaxing, upbeat, smiling and happy. Mankowitz is fantastically eloquent on Hendrix, the Swinging 60s and beyond, yet has been a rarely ‘tapped-into’ source. Unlike many, he has razor sharp memories of that time too.

“In November 1966 Jimi played several press/music industry showcase gigs at a little club called the Bag O’Nails in Kingly Street, Soho, and I went to see, hear, and meet him. He was wearing a purple velvet coat and a frilly shirt which he’d just bought when Brian Jones took him shopping in Granny Takes A Trip. Jimi blew us all away. It was obvious he was a great talent.” – Gered Mankowitz.

As well as shooting many major stars and moments of the 60s, Gered Mankowitz provides a link to the very early days of British rock’n‘roll. His father, Wolf, wrote the film Expresso Bongo, the first British r’n‘r movie. It starred Cliff Richard as the aspiring singer and Laurence Harvey as his conspiring manager. Harvey’s character became the childhood hero of future Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, providing him with a role model as he hustled his way into the music business.

Wolf Mankowitz also ran a shop selling Wedgwood china called ‘Gered of Piccadilly’ at 8 Piccadilly Arcade. By a strange coincidence, this is exactly the same address where 50 years later, music photography specialists Snap have opened their London gallery. So this show is a real homecoming for Gered – as a boy he spent a lot of time in the basement of number 8 learning how to pack antique Wedgwood china.

Just round the corner from the gallery premises in Piccadilly Arcade is Mason’s Yard, where Gered took the Hendrix shots and many of the Stones. The Yard is a real piece of hidden London tucked away behind Fortnum & Mason on Jermyn Street, between Duke Street St. James and Duke of York Street.

Its colourful history goes back to the Great Fire of London of 1666 – it was one of the first areas of London to be rebuilt after the destruction. In fact Gered’s old studio at No. 9, which was built around 1667, is probably the oldest surviving building in the Yard.

In the first decade of the 18th century, Hugh Mason of Fortnum & Mason (established 1707) took over the stables and carriage houses that filled most of the yard. Eventually, the name was changed to Mason’s Yard. A couple of centuries later it became the epicentre of Swinging London.

The infamous 60s rock star hang out the Scotch of St James was two doors away from Gered’s studio. The Indica Gallery, the avant-garde art gallery and bookshop run by Barry Miles and John Dunbar was a few doors along on the other side and was where Yoko Ono had her first UK show and met John Lennon.

Gered takes up the story: “Jimi Hendrix played The Scotch the first night he was in London when he sat in with the house band! Most evenings the Yard would be crammed with rock stars cars – Astons, Jags and at least one Facel Vega belonging to Ringo Starr for whom it was a major hang out. It was a happening place but not the only groovy discotheque in the area because a few doors along Jermyn Street was the Crazy Elephant – a wild basement club that was very popular with a lot of models and actresses.

“Mason’s Yard had a sort of seedy glamour at night, it was still illuminated by gas lamps and opposite the Scotch was a public lavatory that after dark was a notorious pick up point for homosexuals and was also a handy location for late night drug dealing where the habitués of the Scotch would score dope. There was usually so much congestion in the yard that if the police made a raid – homosexuality was still very much illegal and they were cracking down on dope as well – it took the police so long to get into the yard that everybody had moved on. In many ways the Yard and its inhabitants summed up the Swinging London of the time!”

This is so much more than a traditional black and white photography exhibition. The upstairs showroom will present a selection of traditional handmade black and white silver gelatin photographs, which have been the staple diet of photography collectors and gallery visitors for many years.

The ground and lower ground floors of the gallery will be devoted to a collection of physically imposing and boldly conceived artworks created by Gered Mankowitz from his original black and white images. These give a contemporary twist to classic images.

Standouts include a 6ft x 4ft ‘lenticular’ print where the image appears to move as you walk from left to right in front of it. These impressive lenticular artworks are made by placing an “interlaced” image, (digitally cut and reassembled in vertical strips), behind a sheet of plastic with a series of parallel lenses or lenticules embossed into one surface. When the lens is aligned with the image, the viewer sees only one frame at a time. As the viewing angle changes, each of the images are seen in the planned sequence, creating the illusion of movement, depth and animation.

“I have always been intrigued by Lenticular printing and saw my first example in New York’s Times Square in 1965 when I was touring with the Stones – it was a “saucy” postcard of a women revealing her breast as you tilted the card and changed the viewing angle. The Stones went on to use the same technique for the cover to their Satanic Majesties album.” – Gered Mankowitz.

Some of the other images will be presented as ‘Softsharps’ – images mounted behind thick perspex where the image transforms from a soft focus to a pin sharp focus as you walk past.

The first public day of the exhibition, Saturday, September 18, is the 40th anniversary of the passing of Jimi Hendrix, and Gered will be at the gallery all day signing copies of his beautiful new book of Hendrix photographs, The Experience: Jimi Hendrix at Mason’s Yard, which is being published to coincide with the launch of the exhibition.

The prints will be for sale.

Times: Monday to Friday from 11am to 6pm, Saturday from 11am to 5pm.

Snap Galleries, 8 Piccadilly Arcade, London, SW1Y 6NH