Summer 2022

Captain airbrush

Illustrator Harry Willock’s role has been overlooked, yet his work with Alan Aldridge produced scores of era-defining works. Mike Dempsey reports. Portrait by Philip Sayer. [EXTRACT]

Harry Willock

The evening of 13 October 2008 was unseasonably chilly as a stream of limos purred by the entrance of the Design Museum at its former location in Shad Thames, London. It was the private view of ‘The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes’ (see Eye 70), a retrospective of the work of Alan Aldridge. Four decades on from the heady days of the 1960s, the designer was almost unrecognisable from the ‘flower power’ character sporting shoulder-length, dyed-blond hair. Now bald, bespectacled, frail-looking and dressed in black, he was the star of the evening, photographed with pop musicians Sting and Elton John and a bevy of filmmakers, supermodels and royals. There were 3D cut-outs and enormous blow-ups of characters from Aldridge’s work, and even two naked models, their bodies adorned with psychedelic illustrations.

Amid the blizzard of colour and celebrity that evening was designer and illustrator Harry Willock. Few who were there knew of him, or the fact that more than 70 per cent of the works on display had been produced by Willock, a man four years Aldridge’s senior, who had spent three decades behind the scenes. The story of Aldridge’s career, or at least the version Aldridge himself carefully maintained throughout his lifetime, has been told all too often. But there is a different picture, painted by a different hand, and this is what is presented here …

Image from The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics (1969) produced by Aldridge with Willock.

Harry Willock

Mike Dempsey, graphic designer, writer, blogger, broadcaster, London and Dorset

Read the full version in Eye no. 103 vol. 26, 2022

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.