Spring 1997

OZ 16: The Magic Theatre issue

Martin Sharp’s “Magic Theatre” issue of OZ magazine is one of the most extraordinary artefacts of the psychedelic era

In his memoir of the 1960s underground, Hippie Hippie Shake writer and OZ magazine editor Richard Neville recalls the night that his friend and fellow Australian Martin Sharp, high on hash, proposed to take charge of the next issue of OZ. It would, Sharp said, be entirely visual, and working away on the project, night after night, assisted by film-maker Philippe Mora, the designer was true to his word. Sharp’s “Magic Theatre” issue was recognised at the time as outstanding and holds up in retrospect as one of the most extraordinary visual artefacts of the psychedelic era. Sharp cast aside the conventional journalistic apparatus of discrete articles, headlines, supporting pictures and captions for a writhing 48-page collage-fusion of images and text. “Price of admittance your mind,” his cover announces. “All men are madmen.” And for much of its length Sharp’s theatre feels more absurdist than magical, closer to an asylum than an auditorium, a tragicomic inferno of babbling media and human craziness that alternates between acidhead deathwish and occasional flashes of a more optimistic vision. Flouting copyright as a matter of principle, the “Magic Theatre” works by associative juxtaposition: a skull with a copy from a Coty Dew Fresh lipstick ad; a crucifixion scene opposite DC’s Justice League of America comic; a jailbreak headline above lines about the expulsion from Paradise. Panels from Little Nemo in Slumberland and the comix of Robert Crumb collide with images of John and Yoko, Hitler and the Queen, famine victims, human freaks, and the paintings of René Magritte. Running along the foot of each page to form a ribbon from beginning to end are Muybridge’s locomotion studies, their silent naked figures brought to life by speech bubbles. As art critic Robert Hughes enthused: “Sharp has assembled one of the richest banks of images that has ever appeared in a magazine.”

First published in Eye no. 24 vol. 6, 1997