Opening on 14 June at Chelsea Space, We are watching: OZ in London celebrates the alternative magazine which originated in Sydney in 1963 and went on to become symbolic of the underground press that formed a voice against the establishment here in the UK: a publication that typified the Sixties through its experimental approach to design, editorial and the lifestyle it depicted.
Here, curator Cherie Silver, a former MA Curating and Collections student and currently Chelsea Arts Club Trust Research Fellow at Chelsea Space, writes about how this exciting exhibition came about, and the people that her research has put her unexpectedly in touch with.
Making an exhibition is a process, and for each exhibition the method will be different. We are watching: OZ in London began with meeting people associated with OZ, research, exploration and discovery of material, all of which are still ongoing. It has been an interesting journey so far, starting in an unlikely place.
My research into Australian artists who have studied, lived and worked in London led me to doing research in the Chelsea Arts Club Archive with archivist Stephen Bartley, studying Australian artists who had been involved in the club, primarily between 1895-1920. In May 2016 Stephen introduced me to Australian gallerist, artist, actress and film producer Clytie Jessop (b.1929). During our first meeting, she briefly referred to pivotal events in her life that led her to London. I learnt about her gallery in London in the 1960s and 70s, and she referred to an auction she held at her gallery to raise funds for the OZ Obscenity Trial at the Old Bailey in 1971. I had to confess: I had never heard of OZ magazine (London 1967-1973) or the Obscenity Trial.
Over the next few months, I met with Clytie on several occasions to assist with research for her memoir. Her incredible life story beginning with her art education, and her unique upbringing in Australia, fascinated me. However, the focus of our meetings was her gallery in London, Clytie Jessop Gallery (1966-1973), which she opened first at 47 Sloane Avenue, Chelsea in 1966, and moved to 271 Kings Road Chelsea in 1967. Her achievements both before and after she had this gallery are too many to list in this text, however, her success in supporting young artists, and in particular young Australian artists, at her gallery is notable. She held several exhibitions for an artist (now film director and artist) Philippe Mora, who in 1968 collaborated with Martin Sharp (1942-2013) on OZ 16 – the first entirely visual issue of OZ, considered to be a triumph not just for OZ but among underground publications produced at that time.
The fundraising auction she held for OZ intrigued me. Many notable artists (such as Richard Hamilton, David Hockney, Andy Warhol and Yoko Ono to name a few) had donated items for this auction. What was OZ? What was the Obscenity Trial? Why had these artists supported OZ? What other publications formed the underground press?
OZ existed in two versions: the Sydney publication (1963-1969) under the general editorship of Richard Neville (1941-2016) and Richard Walsh (b. 1941), and art director Martin Sharp; and the London publication (1967-1973) under the general editorship initially of Richard Neville, then Jim Anderson (b.1937) and Felix Dennis (1947-2014). Very early on in my research, at the time when I was beginning to approach people about OZ and the possibility of curating a related exhibition, Richard Neville, the primary figure in the establishment of OZ in Sydney and London, passed away in September 2016. I had begun reading his autobiographical book ‘Hippie Hippie Shake’ (1995), following the journey of this charismatic editor and writer through the controversy of Sydney OZ, and then London OZ. In 1963 in Australia Neville, Walsh and Peter Grose were fined for publishing an obscene magazine (OZ 1, Sydney). Again in 1964 Neville, Walsh and Sharp were prosecuted for publishing an obscene magazine (OZ 6, Sydney), later acquitted on appeal. The magazine was “a symbol of social ferment”, as Neville described it in his book, that used satire as well as serious journalism to address issues such as the legalisation of abortion, corruption within the police force and in politics, censorship, and racism. While OZ Sydney was still going, Neville travelled to London in 1966 (via Laos, Nepal, India) and soon after started working on establishing a London publication of OZ in 1967.
A meeting I had arranged before the passing of Richard Neville went ahead a few days later. I interviewed Tina Micklethwaite for the purpose of further research for Clytie’s memoir and to ask her about OZ. Clytie mentioned that Tina had participated in the recording of a John Lennon and Yoko Ono song produced to raise funds for the OZ Obscenity Trial – “God Save OZ”, produced by Phil Spector in 1971. In 1970 the editors of OZ had invited schoolchildren (aged 14-18) to take-over the magazine for issue 28. The content was contributed by the schoolchildren, and edited by them as well. Continuing with the unique approach of having themed magazines, this was ‘The Schoolkids’ issue. In 1971 the three editors of OZ (London), Jim Anderson, Felix Dennis and Richard Neville were charged with obscenity and conspiring to ‘debauch and corrupt the morals of young children’, and entered into a six week court trial, the longest trial under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act. Due to the length and cost of such a court case various fundraising initiatives began, as well as marches and even a festival. That is how the single ‘God Save OZ’ came about. This was a high-profile case which was widely publicised, however there is a new generation of young people today who are unaware of OZ, the trial, and the impact the magazine had at the time.
It was clear that everyone who had been involved in OZ throughout the years regarded Richard Neville as a dear friend. Not wanting to hassle people, a couple of months passed by, during which I spent a lot of time on my own research, including going onto the University of Wollongong (Australia) website to browse all of the issues of both Sydney and London OZ, which they uploaded in 2013 for educational and research purposes. This incredible resource is available online to everyone, and to date (27 March 2017), there have been 5,646 downloads of Sydney OZ and 39,797 downloads of London OZ!
The extended network of OZ was also of interest to me. Marsha Rowe had worked for OZ in Sydney and London, and then co-founded ‘Spare Rib’. Her essay at the beginning of ‘Spare Rib Reader’ (1982) provides an insight into what it was like to work for OZ, to be a young woman at that time, and to start a magazine.
I began to source material for the exhibition, scouring eBay, abebooks, Amazon and thesaleroom.com, for OZ magazines, related posters, records etc. that could be used. In the Chelsea College of Arts Library Special Collections, they hold about 25 of the 48 issues of London OZ, so the hunt continued.
In the search for information, I found that Richard Neville had an archive which was purchased by Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale in 2011. Scrolling through the list of items within the 69 boxes that make up the Richard Neville Papers, it became apparent that my research and the exhibition would be significantly enhanced by material from this archive. As such, I have arranged a trip to the archive to do further research. With the kind permission from Richard Neville’s estate, facsimiles of material will appear in the exhibition.
As the Chelsea Arts Club Trust Research Fellow, I appealed to members for anyone who may have material relevant to my research and for possible inclusion in the exhibition. I was contacted by Jonathan Green, who directed me to his invaluable book ‘Days in the Life: Voices from the English Underground 1961-1971’ (1988), an oral history compiled from over 100 interviews he made with key figures from the time. To read the first- hand experiences and opinions of people such as Richard Neville, Jim Anderson, Felix Dennis, David Widgery, Marsha Rowe, as well as many others, was very entertaining and informative. I enquired to Jonathan if he still had the recordings as I thought people would be interested in hearing the participants speak. He replied that after finishing the book, he offered the tapes to the BBC in 1989 for their archives, however they said they weren’t “recorded to a high enough standard for broadcasting”, and so didn’t want them. Needing to record his second oral history, and tapes being quite pricey at the time, he regrettably reused the tapes! In Jonathan’s book people contradict each other, remember things differently, describe situations from different points of view. It made me more conscious that any information displayed in the exhibition will be up for scrutiny by these individuals who lived through the events that I can only learn about.
Through this research, I began to form an idea of what the exhibition on OZ could highlight: the magazine, its contributors, the issues it broached, the controversies and the social environment in which it was created. OZ and the lifestyle that surrounded it was a way for young people to make change, draw attention to social injustices, break creative boundaries, form relationships, educate, learn and explore. There are OZ articles on sex, drugs, race, politics, war, education, art, music, travel and many other topics. They were addressing subjects that hadn’t been publicised before, giving voices to people who hadn’t had them previously, and a lot of things they wrote about then for the first time, are still being addressed in journalism today. OZ was at the forefront of counterculture, a tool for provocation. Additionally, the artistic contribution to the magazine by Martin Sharp, Nigel Weymouth and Michael English (Hapshash and the Coloured Coat), Jon Goodchild, Mike McInnerney, Robert Whitaker, Jim Anderson, Robert Crumb, Richard Adams and many others, created iconic covers and posters, as well as ground-breaking graphic design.
In January, I continued emailing people about my project. Philippe Mora replied to my queries with photographs, scans of articles and details on how he created OZ 16 with Martin Sharp – all of which have been unique additions to my research and material for the exhibition. He has also given permission to use a film he directed, ‘Trouble in Molopolis’ (1969) in which just about every Australian who associated with the OZ group in London at the time featured as an extra – including Germaine Greer, Michael Ramsden, and Martin Sharp.
Caroline Coon generously provided me with details on her painting “Jim Anderson, Richard Neville and Felix Dennis: The Oz 3, Free!”(1996/6), and I began to try to think of a way of incorporating the incredible work she did for Release into the exhibition, maybe as a case study in the Reading Room curated by the MA Curating & Collections students. However, it could be a whole research project on its own.
I was due to travel to Australia in February, so I made contact with Louise Ferrier – who had wondered why I hadn’t been in contact sooner – and arranged to meet her in Sydney during my trip. Louise was Richard Neville’s partner throughout the OZ years, contributing to OZ, providing support to Richard and the OZ team, and overall was a central figure within the OZ family. While in Australia I also met Jim Anderson, who joined OZ in 1969, and among other issues, he edited OZ 23, known as ‘Homosexual OZ’, as well as OZ 28, ‘The Schoolkids issue’. On returning to London, I met with Marsha Rowe, and this week I have met with Richard Adams (who worked on OZ beginning with no. 31 ‘Yippie Oz’) and James Birch (who is publishing a book and having an exhibition in September on the underground press). Each meeting has revealed more about OZ, the people involved and the challenges they faced.
It was only through my initial meeting with Clytie that these introductions came about. The meetings have been essential to the exhibition along with researching the books, newspaper articles, documentaries and photographs. They experienced it and were part of it, and don’t need books, articles or photographs to tell them how it was. ‘We are watching: OZ in London’ will be an exhibition that finds a new audience for OZ, and hopefully also reveals something new to those who lived it!
Since this article was written, Clytie Jessop (nee Lloyd-Jones) passed away on 9 April 2017. Clytie will be remembered by the author for her support, generosity and her inspirational life.
We are watching: Oz in London runs from 14 June to 14 July at Chelsea Space with the preview on 13 June, For more information, please see the event page.