Martin Sharp: His Life and Times

By Joyce Morgan Allen & Unwin

Martin wore tight pants that were striped red, white and blue, like a Union Jack, and an embroidered Afghan vest. In front of his face he carried, like a lollipop, a smile on a stick. As he went, he bowed to passers-by. Even on King’s Road, he stood out.

Martin Sharp’s art was as singular as his style. He blurred the boundaries of high art and low with images of Dylan, Hendrix and naked flower children that defined an era. Along the way the irreverent Australian was charged with obscenity and collaborated with Eric Clapton as he drew rock stars and reprobates into his world.

In this richly told and beautifully written biography, Joyce Morgan captures the loneliness of a privileged childhood, the heady days of the underground magazine Oz as well as the exuberant creativity of Swinging London and beyond.

Sharp pursued his quixotic dream to realise van Gogh’s Yellow House in Australia. He obsessively championed eccentric singer Tiny Tim and was haunted by Sydney’s Luna Park. Charismatic and paradoxical, he became a recluse whose phone never stopped ringing.

There was no one like Martin Sharp. When he died, he was described as a stranger in a strange land who left behind a trail of stardust.

Joyce Morgan

Joyce Morgan is a former arts editor of the Sydney Morning Herald and author of Journeys on the Silk Road. British-born and Sydney-based, she has worked as a journalist in London, Hong Kong and Sydney and has written on arts and culture for more than two decades.

Judges' report

Martin Sharp was an unusual character who lived an uncommon life. The only son of a wealthy Sydney family, he became immersed in the great social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s by virtue of his calling as an artist. His irreverent cartooning prompted the notorious obscenity trials over Oz Magazine, which became a flashpoint in the generational conflict between a conservative and censorious establishment and the era’s burgeoning spirit of creativity, liberation and openness. When he relocated to London in the late 1960s, he rubbed shoulders with rockstars and designed vibrant posters and album covers that captured the psychedelic mood of the times. Upon his return to Sydney, he was to inscribe his colourful aesthetic onto the visual memory of his home city when he painted the luminous facade for Luna Park. Joyce Morgan has written an exemplary cradle-to-grave biography of her intriguing subject, one that takes stock of his flaws and idiosyncrasies as well as his talents. Her crisp and economical prose seamlessly incorporates a wealth of historical research into a brisk and entertaining narrative. Martin Sharp: His Life and Times is a thorough account of the life of a fascinating artist and a no-less-fascinating slice of cultural history.