Dad and I went to see the exhibition ‘Pop to Popism’ when it was on at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in preparation for a public talk we’d been roped in to give about the advertising world in the 60s and how the pop art movement had influenced it. My father had been an ad man during that era and had been asked to contribute his thoughts on the subject, prompted by questions from me.
After woofing down a hot dog in the Gallery’s pop inspired cafeteria, I asked the old boy for some first impressions of the show. He said he never understood Colin Lancely and that Niki de Saint Palle’s work was “rubbish”. I’d expected a response like this. Pop isn’t really his thing. He’s more your hard-core classicist.
But all the consumer products featured in the art works – like Jeff Koons ‘Hoover Convertible’ vacuum cleaners and Andy Warhol’s ‘Heinz Tomato Ketcup Boxes’ triggered fond memories for him. He took a particular liking to Andy Warhol’s ‘Electric Chair’
He started working in the advertising world at Farmer’s Department Store in Sydney in 1955 when he was just 20. Back then, pretty much everything was being appropriated from New York Times retail section. And because there was hardly any local cultural life to speak of, creative types like writers Peter Carey and Bryce Courtney, all found expression in this field, usually in the copy writing department.
This was a time when money seemed to be no object and the excess displayed in the television series ‘Madmen’ really did occur. It was a sexist, alcohol soaked world with lunches that would go on until 4.45pm.
Dad left Sydney in 1960 to take up a job in London with Phillips Music in the promotions department and discovered a whole new retro scene on Portobello Road and The King’s Road. One of the acts he promoted while there was Wayne Fontana and the Mind Benders but opera, and Maria Callas in particular, was much more to his liking.
He says he never partook of the psychedelic drugs that so many others did at that time, which is probably just as well as I soon came along with all the responsibilities that a new born brings with her. I was soon put to work in my first ad campaign for the British Egg Board. I’ve still got the magazine spread with me, no more than 6 months, spruiking the benefits of the googie egg.
Dad recalls seeing Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg window dressing during that time in London and lots of other ex pat Aussies were there too like Clive James, Robert Hughes, Barry Humphries and Martin Sharp. But after a few years he became nostalgic for home, especially after seeing an exhibition of Australian art including those long drawn out heat infused works of Russell Drysdale. He and Mum came back to Sydney in 1965 (when I was two) and delved back into the ad world – first at an agency called Brown and Bruce and then at Jackson Wayne which later morphed into Leo Burnett.
I remember we had some Lichtenstein prints in our house in Balmain – those high kitsch graphic cartoons emblazoned with ‘Pow’ Wham’ and ‘Bang’. Our next house in Queen Street Woollahra had a dinning room covered with vintage advertising mirrors. Dad eventually started up his own ad agency just up the road on Oxford St.and won many awards for his work through the ’70s.
Advertising had been directed at women in the 50s and 60s but the role of women was radically shifting from domestic housewife to liberated career woman. I remember one scandalous story surrounding an ad for Berlei Bras. They had a fan on the voluptuous model to make her hair seem windswept but her nipples became erect and nothing, not even sticky tape would settle them back down.
In the end, people began to get very cynical of advertising – especially when we discovered what smoking Alpine and Malborough cigarettes really did to us. We saw this general mood reflected in the AGNSW’s exhibition in works like Maria Kozic’s ‘Masterpieces’ which, in its way, explodes the myth of Warhol’s Campbell Soup Can. And Barbara Kruger’s painting ‘You cant drag your money into the grave with you”.
I guess now, surrounded as we are with so many digital lights, fast edits and blaring music all intent on trying to sell us something or another, the glamour has worn off the ad world. But a lot of money is still poured in to it and people are still bedazzled by the latest and greatest craze. And funnily enough, a lot of creatives still seem to get their start here in the corridors of spin.