Cover Story – “Foxtrot”, by Paul Whitehead

Subject: “Foxtrot”
– a painting produced by artist Paul Whitehead for the cover of the 1972 recording by Genesis titled “Foxtrot”, released on Charisma Records (U.S.) and distributed by Buddah Records.

Featuring classic tunes such as “Watcher of the Skies”, “Get Em Out By Friday” and the epic 23-minute “Supper’s Ready”, this recording shows the band at their creative and performing zenith, producing music that was truly “prog” (in its whimsy and strange lyrical imagery) and “rock” (in that it kicks with a vengeance, when needed).

The record was the fourth studio album by the band, the second (following 1971’s “Nursery Cryme”) featuring the line-up of Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks and Steve Hackett. It was also the first to make the UK record charts, topping off at #12.

Artist Paul Whitehead met the band after producer John Anthony and Peter Gabriel saw his “High Tide” cover for Liberty Records and then more of his work in a London Gallery. They were looking for someone to work on the cover for what was to become their record album “Trespass” and with that effort (after meeting with Charisma chief Tony Stratton-Smith) became the designer for Trespass, their next album (“Nursery Cryme”) and then, at 27 years of age, for the subject of today’s Cover Story – Foxtrot…

In the words of artist Paul Whitehead (interviewed June, 2007)

“Having worked with the band on the previous two record covers (and, it turns out, also providing the titles for all three albums), we’d developed a very sound approach to creating the imagery. I would stay with the band for three or four days while they were developing things musically and lyrically. We’d then have a number of brain-storming sessions where I’d show them books and other reference materials. I’d do pencil sketches of the design ideas I’d have on tissue and then we’d come to an agreement as to what the basic approach would be and which images would be included in the final painting. Peter would give me the libretto and I’d then go away for a couple of weeks and we’d then hold an unveiling of the painting – done in oils – in Tony Stratton-Smith’s office (often accompanied by champagne, as would be served at any art opening).

Foxtrot was the follow-up to Nursery Cryme, and it was our goal to continue to use the cover imagery to poke fun at British High Society (where Peter, Mike and Tony had all come from). The cover of Nursery Cryme painted a scary portrait of the game of croquet, a staple of aristocratic entertainment, and so we chose another activity associated with the priviledged class – fox hunting – as the main theme for the new record. You’ll note, though, that I included a scene from the previous record – the croquet tournament – in the background of this new image to provide the continuity we were looking for.”

I asked Paul to step us through the images found on the cover and provide us with the reasons they were chosen and laid out as they were…

“Adding a new dimension to the fox-hunting theme, I based the four principal images on the left-hand side on a loose interpretation of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. “Death rides a pale horse” – you’ll see that the character on the white horse is weeping – and he also has a huge chip on his shoulder (perhaps as he’s the only one actually named in the Bible)! These characters have come to the water’s edge in their chase after the Fox, but as foxes are known for their cunning, this one has chosen to disguise himself in a red dress and escape the huntsmen and their dogs by escaping on the water on top of an ice floe. At the time, in America, pretty girls were known as ‘foxes’, which is another reason I chose to add a more feminine touch to the crafty fox’s escape.

Here’s an interesting aside – as we were always trying to get away with something for a laugh and sneak something past the censors, I was particularly proud of how we accomplished this feat in this painting. Now, you may have looked at this cover hundreds of times, but I’ll bet that you have never noticed just how “excited” the 4th horse (the one farthest to the right, ridden by the rider with the green head) is to be this close to the Fox.. 😉

To this day, I still win bets with people who ‘know this painting backwards and forwards’ but who’ve never seen that particular ‘naughty bit’ before!

I also included some imagery from the lyrics of ‘Supper’s Ready’ – the ‘six saintly shrouded men, move across the lawn slowly, the seventh walks in front, with a cross held high in hand’, as well as some additional imagery from other songs and albums, such as the Hogweed and the croquet mallet floating in the water.

The band and I also felt it important to include images that reflected the state of the world and the planet at the time. In the water in the upper right-hand corner, you’ll see a U.S. nuclear submarine, which represents the presense of the U.S. Naval Fleet off the coast of Scotland. Many people in Britain, including members of Parliament, were unhappy with the fact that the U.S. maintained a fleet of nuclear subs ‘only 30 minutes by missle’ away from the Soviet Union. The 2 dolphins and fish rising up from the ocean were representing the marked increases in water pollution (caused by the nuclear subs?) and its effects on all living things, while the man with his head buried in the sand (to the left of the Saints)represented ‘the music business’ who had yet to treat the band and its music with much respect (Editor’s note – In my mind, this character may also have represented the “art establishment”, who would not treat album cover artists such as Paul with the respect they were due for having created some of the most well-known and loved fine art images of the last 50 years).

Two other images were a bit more personal and illustrated things I knew and had talked to the band about. To the far left in the painting, you’ll see a person riding a bicycle – rather wobbily and, if you’ve ever tried it, impossible to do on the sand. Peter would ride a bike to meetings and such, but he was not that steady on his bike…The Holiday Inn-style hotel in the background was my way of illustrating to the boys that they had better get used to staying in places like that – another night, another city, another hotel – as they were going to start “going places” very soon, which turned out to be quite right!”

Paul’s newest work for Genesis will be seen later this summer, as he’s doing the official event program cover and poster for their huge European Tour.

About Paul Whitehead (in the words of Paul Whitehead)

“Most of you will know me as the artist that painted the record covers for Genesis and Van der Graaf Generator in the 70’s. Choosing “artist” as your job description is rather like giving yourself permission to spend your life creating and approaching life as it comes to you – as an artist.

I was born at the end of World War 2 in Dartford, Kent at that time a severely bombed out suburb of S.E. London. By the time I started school at five I knew how to draw and paint. My work was always chosen by the teacher to be put up on the wall at school, the other kids thought I was a show off and my mother would always tell me to, “Clear up that mess – dinner’s ready.” I ignored the world and sat in my corner endlessly amusing myself seeing how much fun I could have drawing anything that I could imagine. It also helped me to escape from the rigors of school “learning”, which I did as much as I needed to to get by.

I suffered the consequences of this and was frequently caned and penalized for my lack attention. The only bright lights in the dreary school week were the geography and art classes. I went through a disastrous yet very informative ‘art school’ phase at Oxford, which was just a continuation of the schools I had already been through, except this time they were trying to turn me into a museum curator.

My real education came in London in the sixties, a time of great change, vitality and immense creativity. I designed my first record cover in 1967 for Fats Domino and became a kind of in-house designer for Liberty Records in London. Shortly after that I was in the right place at the right time and became the original Art Director for the magazine ‘Time Out’ in London, an entertainment guide to everything going on in Swinging London. Naturally every band – both the up and coming hopefuls and the already successful – came through our doors to place an ad or seeking a review of their latest LP. My design skills were often called on and then I met Genesis through their producer.

We hit it off instantly and – thanks to the visionary approach of the record company – Charisma – we were left alone to create the records and the covers of three records together with no interference. The results were Trespass, Nursery Cryme & Foxtrot, some of the most successful collaborations I have ever had working with musicians, they created the music and I made original paintings that reflected exactly the contents of the records. Other bands on Charisma that I worked with included Van der Graaf Generator, Peter Hammill on his solo projects, Lindisfarne & Trevor Bilmus. I quickly became known as the painter and designer who worked with rock bands, a nice niche to be put into I thought. Collaborations with Renaissance, IF, High Tide, Mott the Hoople, Matthews Southern Comfort, Colin Scott & Steamhammer followed.

Then I immigrated to the United States and finally settled in Los Angeles. I continued to create paintings for record covers and immediately worked with Tom Fogarty and Le Orme who came to L.A. to make Smogmagica. Most of the record cover work I have done has been for Progressive rock bands although I’ve made record covers for everything from R&B & New Age to Funk.

The record cover work is, however, only a part of what I do – there are a lot more levels to Paul Whitehead, the artist. For example did you know that I am in the ‘Guiness Book of Records’ for the largest mural in the world, or that I conceived and organized the ‘Eyes & Ears Billboard Art Show’ – the first “Drive Though Art Gallery” in – where else – Los Angeles? I have designed many corporate logos and for three years I was the creative services director at The Universal Studios Theme Park in L.A. This got me interested in writing screenplays and I completed half a dozen scripts on many subjects including, stealing the Mona Lisa, the martyrdom of Savonarola and the Christmas Truce in the first year of The First World War. I also make my own particular brand of music. My interest in science fiction, performance art and classical and progressive music has led to the composition, recording and performance of The Borg Symphony.

I like to be given BIG creative challenges and, of course, I love to paint!”

To see all of Paul’s works in the RockPoP Gallery collection, please click on the following link:

Click this link to see a recent image of Paul at the RockPoP Gallery show in Los Angeles

About “Cover Stories”

By Michael Goldstein

Our weekly series will give you, the music and art fan, a look at “the making of” the illustrations, photographs and designs of many of the most-recognized and influential images that have served to package and promote your all-time-favorite recordings.

Every Friday, you’ll meet the artists, designers and photographers who produced these works of art and learn what motivated them, what processes they used, how they collaborated (or fought) with the musical acts, their management, their labels, etc. – all of the things that influenced the final product you saw then and still see today.

We hope that you enjoy these looks behind the scenes of the music-related art business and that you’ll share your stories with us and fellow fans about what role these works of art – and the music they covered – played in your lives.