Formed in the 1960s, whilst London lads Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright were studying in the city (later adding Roger “Syd” Barrett to the team), Pink Floyd went on to become one of the most successful bands of all time. As famous for their artistic antics as much as their hit albums (The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall), we spoke to Victoria Broackes, curator of The Pink Floyd Exhibition – Their Mortal Remains at the V&A – the world’s leading museum of art and design, which is a short stroll from the elegant Egerton House Hotel – about how the band have redefined the Rock & Roll scene 50 years on.
What’s your favourite work in the exhibition?
“It’s hard to pick an individual object. There are many stars, from original psychedelic posters (the Hipgnosis artwork) to wonderful set design sketches and the band’s incredible array of instruments. But the show will really come to life with the emotional journey we are planning through the music and setting of the exhibition build.”
Why do you believe it was important to put the show together?
“Pink Floyd’s unique combination of song-writing, design, album artwork, live performance, film and music technology has made this British band instantly recognisable around the world. There are few bands that fit so perfectly into the V&A’s remit as the world’s greatest museum of art, design and performance. Additionally, this spring marks 50 years since Pink Floyd’s first single, ‘Arnold Layne’, and when the exhibition opens in May, it will be almost exactly 50 years since the band’s remarkable and pivotal ‘Games for May’ performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, which kick-started the band’s reputation as innovators with a bang.”
Are there any golden threads linking the art, or any themes that Pink Floyd return to artistically?
“From the ‘Droste effect’ on the Ummagumma album cover (1970) to the burning man on the cover of Wish You Were Here (1975), and the man sailing on clouds on The Endless River (2014), surrealism appears time and again in the band’s artwork. They also continuously revisit music from their archive, so there is always a sense of looking forward and back at every new phase. From their earliest performances, they have been committed to not only doing a great show, but representing that sound visually in the most interesting ways.”
The word ‘psychedelic’ is often applied to Pink Floyd art. Could you please unpack that adjective?
“Psychedelia, when used to describe art or music, is a style which was popular in the 1960s and which is understood to emulate the effects of LSD; a hallucinogenic drug which was legal in both the UK and US until 1966. It has similarities to the earlier Art Nouveau, but is more colourful and abstract. The counterculture of this period embraced psychedelia, and in the late 1960s Pink Floyd were the ‘darlings of the underground’; their music was often experimental and long-form and when they performed on stage they did so with an incredible light show of many colours and patterns, which for many viewers mimicked the effects of tripping on LSD.”
Who were some of Pink Floyd’s greatest artistic collaborators? We’re thinking particularly about greats like Gerald Scarfe.
“Pink Floyd worked with industry leaders across a number of creative platforms – such as Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell (who together formed Hipgnosis, the design duo behind many of the band’s most iconic album covers); Mark Fisher and Jonathan Park (the architecture and engineering duo who realised some of their most memorable stage sets); Ian Emes (an artist whose hand-drawn moving animations appeared on Pink Floyd’s circular screen when they performed live); Gerald Scarfe (the illustrator who realised the characters in the concept album The Wall as stage puppets for the stage show); and Marc Brickman and Paul Staples (the lighting designer and set designer who worked with the band from the 1980s to create spectacular live shows).”
Do you think Pink Floyd (and their art) has dated at all, or stayed fresh? What’s the band’s major currency in both the art and music worlds?
“Pink Floyd have had a huge cross-generational impact. Astonished music journalists reported in the 1990s that entire families were attending their concerts, thirty years after the band had started. Their continuous innovation in music throughout their 50-year career continues to provide fertile ground for inspiration, and they are still being discovered by the younger generation today. The music and cover of The Dark Side of the Moon, for example, remains utterly timeless; the album continues to sell around 7000 copies a week.”
Pink Floyd have had a marvellous knack for coming up with “iconic” art, the sort that sums up an era or an attitude. Why do you think this is?
“Pink Floyd were always experimenting and inventing, which means they were more leaders than followers. And that applies to both their music and their album artwork. They themselves trained in architecture or art school, and brought this experience to work with incredibly talented designers and artists who were able to translate the themes of their forward-thinking music into inimitable artwork which had a distinctly ‘Floydian’ feel.”
Do you think that the experimental space Pink Floyd occupied has fallen into disuse or do you see any successors to the band today?
“Experimentalism will always have a place in music; it is how music genres evolve. However, it is hard to point to another musician or group that has followed Pink Floyd and been as outwardly experimental and as popular. That influence is unlikely to happen again because the world has changed, and although there is a lot of great music around, it cannot have the same impact as it did in (particularly) the Sixties and Seventies, when it was the language of communication amongst young people.”
Located in Knightsbridge Red Carnation Hotels is a proud Hotel Partner of the V&A, offering a private residence that’s only a stone’s throw away from the museum. The Pink Floyd Exhibition – Their Mortal Remains opens at the V&A on Saturday 13 May.
Image Courtesy of Dark Side of the Moon ® Pink Floyd Music Ltd