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The Curious Case of the Disappearing Artist

22/04/2013 14:42 | Updated 22 June 2013

We all have pet causes. Mine include Amnesty International, Yorkshire Cat Rescue and re-writing the artist Jann Haworth back into art history.

To explain.

Haworth first appeared on my radar in the early 80s when a rumour circulated that she and her ex, Sir Peter Blake, were my parents. It would seem this bizarre piece of gossip had evolved when some bright spark noted that Haworth and I shared a surname (albeit spelled differently), and both made sculpture.

Nice work Sherlock, but way off the mark.

But it did trigger an interest in this woman with the nearly same name, an artist who, along with Blake, created the celebrated and unmistakable cover for The Beatles' 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' LP.

Yet since winning a Grammy in 1967 for the artwork, Haworth has increasingly been written out of this story. Interview after interview has attributed the cover to Blake, with Haworth rarely getting a mention.

So when at a festival in South Wales recently I discovered Blake was on the bill, I was keen to observe whether Haworth's contribution would be respectfully acknowledged.

Unfortunately the interview was being conducted by a journalist so far up Blake's backside that I'm astonished the microphone could pick him up. So it was perhaps unsurprising that when the subject of Sgt. Pepper arose there was no mention of Haworth whatsoever.

Despite being a great believer in making mischief, I'm no gratuitous trouble maker, however I simply couldn't countenance this revisionist bollocks. But taking a pop at a National Treasure in front of an appreciated audience is not for the fainthearted, and on standing to make my point my voice became so shrill that only dogs along the North Devon coastline could hear me. Mercifully my superpower is not giving a shit and I soon hit my stride. In the argy-bargy that followed I heard Haworth's role as co-designer dismissed as a 'myth', that the commission was Blake's alone, and her status downgraded to that of assistant. It was a pretty undignified exchange but I argued the toss as best I could with no microphone and only profound indignation to support me. The interviewer soon waved his hand dismissively - shorthand for 'sit down luv, you're making a fool of yourself now'.

Needless to say, I walked out. I think it's a safe assumption that they were glad to see me go. You could almost feel the energy of white middle class men closing ranks. Shit, it's a feminist. Will she throw eggs? Has she got a revolver...?

Two women shook my hand as I left. Small but meaningful acts of solidarity.

On my return home I contacted Haworth to clarify her position, and from a mountain in Utah she provided the following information:

Paul McCartney was unsure about the original concept by The Fool design collective. So gallerist Robert Fraser intervened, suggesting that Blake and Haworth design it instead. Both were asked to the EMI studios to discuss, followed by a meeting that took place in their bedroom - which doubled as Haworth's studio, with her life size figures all around.

While the hero crowd scene was Blake's idea - he'd done similar collages before - it was Haworth's vision to create a life size set for the Beatles to walk in to.

Haworth's father was a Hollywood production designer, and through his contacts Joe Ephgrave was drafted in to paint the drum. It was Haworth's idea that the drum should carry the album's name.

Not wanting to be at the mercy of a graphic designer, Haworth suggested the civic flower conceit, inspired by a display at the end of Hammersmith flyover.

Haworth stained and painted the black and white photo enlargements into colour, and did all of the placing of the heads.

Many of the the crowd were Haworth's choices, referencing her Hollywood upbringing. WC Fields, Mae West, Tony Curtis, Marlon Brando (a family friend)... Her old lady and Shirley Temple were earlier works, the old lady having previously been exhibited at the ICA.

Their £200 fee was settled in two cheques of £100 each, one made payable to Haworth, the other to Blake, which were paid into their joint Lloyds bank account...

Assistant my arse.

It's no secret that Damien Hirst uses assistants. They clock in and clock off at the end of their working day. They get holiday pay and sick pay and are instructed what to do. Haworth was no one's assistant. Remove her contribution and you have a different album cover altogether.

As for the 'myth' that Haworth was the co-creator; in the book 'Blinds and Shutters', a 1990 limited collectors edition cataloging the work of photographer Michael Cooper and signed by Blake, he states;

'...Paul and Robert talked and I think Robert suggested that they should get a 'Fine Artist', an established painter, to do it. That was the big breakthrough; until then it was only record cover designers who produced record covers and not people from outside. Robert suggested that Jann Haworth and I should build the set and Michael Cooper should photograph it.'

Artists remaining uncredited for their work is the creative industry's dirty little secret, but it's still shocking that a woman responsible for one of the most iconic images of the 20th century should find herself - in her own lifetime - erased from the story. Predictably, Blake's place in history, with his sparkling career and Knighthood, is secure.

I'm not saying there's a conspiracy, I'm just saying there might as well be. This is what happens to women. Now. In 2013. In quality broadsheets and at arts festivals, by respected journalists who should know better. Because you don't have to be a rabid misogynist to collude in this deceit. You simply don't write about them here, don't talk about them there, and little by little they vanish from the story until it seems entirely plausible that they were never there in the first place.