Terry Pastor is something of an unsung hero from Bowie’s golden age. Although he led the way with airbrush and photographic tinting techniques, creating the artwork for two of the most iconic album sleeves of the last forty years, he is extremely modest about the work he did on Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. He emerged, self-taught, in a world of British art school musicians and Pop artists with a unique style and down to earth attitude that won him a great deal of commercial work, if not the same degree of recognition as others of his time.
GB Tell us about your background as artist.
TP I just always loved drawing, as far back as I can remember. At secondary school I had a mentor, a London studio owner, who went to the school and suggested I study art, but they said it was a waste of time. So I left school at fifteen and started work in a commercial art studio in Fleet Street in 1962. That’s where I found the airbrush, which was only really used for retouching then rather than illustration. Then a few of us started using airbrush techniques towards the mid sixties.
GB Did it seem like a viable way to make a living?
TP Certainly compared to fine art at the time.
GB It seems like it was a time when the lines between fine art and commercial art were beginning to be blurred?
TP I noticed that more in the late seventies with Pop artists using commercial images as an art statement.
GB Did you know any of the British Pop artists like Peter Blake or Richard Hamilton?
TP I’ve met Peter Blake but I was more involved in illustration work even though I had a career that ran parallel with that and I had a gallery in London at the time, Nicholas Treadwell Gallery. He represented quite surreal artists. It was very of its time but the artists aren’t well known now.
GB Did you like the surrealists?
TP Yes I was particularly influenced by Magritte. I think he’s influenced a lot of people even if they didn’t work in that style. But I think his work had an immense influence on the commercial world because his work is quite illustrative and tells a story. I think another one who influenced commercial work in that way is Dali. I used to have a nodding acquaintance with Francis Bacon because we used to drink in the same pub, the French in Dean St. Then we’d go on to the Colony Room after. Lots of artists went there. It was a bit of a dive but full of great characters. It’s all changed so much now.
GB It’s incredible that you had a studio under the Royal Opera House.
TP Well that was when the flower market was there and rents were very cheap. That whole area was full of artists and photographers. The basement area of the Royal Opera House was full of them. The photographer who shot the Beatles for Peter Blake’s Sergeant Pepper sleeve left all those cutouts just lying around in our corridor. I guess it was just a job for him and he didn’t think of their value. That’s certainly the way I treated the Bowie covers.
GB I bet you didn’t expect them to still be such a big deal forty years later?
TP At the time, Bowie wasn’t a big name. It was only six months after Ziggy Stardust that he was a megastar. He used to come into the studio, or I’d meet him places and he’d go unnoticed. He didn’t look all that outrageous to me then, just had long hair and was a bit hippyish. It’s interesting that he does a lot of painting himself now.
GB Was it unusual for someone to go down to the studio and look at their record sleeve while you were working on it?
TP Well he went to art school so I suppose he was interested in visual imagery but sometimes I think he just wanted to pop in for a cup of tea while he was in the West End!
GB Were you aware of the rest of the British art school scene? Eno? Ferry?
TP Well I was aware that they were around and a lot of musicians at the time had studied art. In fact I used to play guitar a bit myself. But I was friendly with Jeff Beck and he was so brilliant he made me feel there was no point in doing it! I could never have played that well.
GB What kind of music were you into?
TP My favourite music was Rhythm and Blues, Rock n Roll like Chuck Berry. I was fixated by Little Richard as a child. Eddie Cochran. I liked early Elvis Presley but when he joined the army it all went pear-shaped as far as I was concerned. He did a terrible record called Wooden Heart!
GB Is this where you got your taste for Americana that comes through so strongly in your work?
TP When I was a child I used to get hold of these American National Geographic Magazines. This was the late fifties and they were full of adverts for things like Cadillacs and microwave ovens that you just didn’t see in the UK at that time. I remember being fixated by it. Britain in the fifties was still suffering from post-war austerity. So now when people say that the sixties weren’t as great as people make out, I completely disagree. They really were great. I’d say it was a period of incredible change in the culture of the country.
GB Did you think the sixties were decadent?
TP Not really. I think the youth of any time just embrace things without questioning, so I just went along with it. By the time glam rock came around in the seventies I found it all a bit contrived. People trying to be outrageous who just looked embarrassing. At least when punk came along they genuinely offended people!
GB Tell me how the David Bowie job came about.
TP I had an old school friend who was good friends with David. He was also an illustrator and David asked him to do the Hunky Dory cover but he didn’t really use an airbrush or do that sort of work so he passed it on to me. Then because David liked it so much he asked me to do the Ziggy Stardust cover.
GB Did Brian Ward just give you the one photo to work on or were you able to try a few versions?
TP In both cases I was given just one photograph. Luckily my first go seemed to work okay.
GB Did Bowie want you to bring out his androgyny in that Hunky Dory picture?
TP On both the covers I just coloured them without really thinking about that. I put a bit of red in his lips and some eye shadow but it was very subtle, especially with the photograph being so grainy. I remember at the time he’d had several LPs out and he was concerned that he wasn’t really getting anywhere.
GB Yes, he did these records in quick succession didn’t he?
TP I remember one of his producers told me he normally did everything in one take.
GB Did you go to the Heddon Street studio?
TP No but I was talking to some of the band members recently and they told me that the photograph there came about because it was winter and the photographer suggested they go and do a shot outside – but because it was a wet old night, the only one of them prepared to go outside was David Bowie. So if it had been summer the whole band would have been on the sleeve. People used to interpret the K West sign as saying, ‘kwest’, which I found a little tenuous.
GB Yes, people read a lot into that cover don’t they?
TP I get emails from people with all kinds of theories and questions about why certain colours were used and I have to let them down gently and tell them that’s just the way it is. No hidden meanings whatsoever. I can remember David calling me at around 8pm one evening and asking how the cover was going. I said I’d just finished the front and was working on the back. It turned out he wasn’t even aware of the picture of the phone box on the back cover!
GB It’s lovely that he was calling you though!
TP Well he was just my mate’s mate at the time. It was no big deal. I remember once he popped into the studio with his wife Angie. I was doing a cover for a band called Byzantium with a crystal held by a woman’s hands in a pair of black leather mittens. They were quite excited about the S and M feel of it with the black leather.
GB Did you like the sleeves any other artists were doing?
TP I liked it when Richard Hamilton did the White Album sleeve, as they were such a famous band by then it was interesting to make such a minimalist statement. I think it was good for me that Bowie wasn’t such a big star when I did the cover because I didn’t feel any great pressure. I was very relaxed about it and I think it came out nicely because of that.
GB Do you still have the original artwork?
TP No, I handed it to the management and never saw it again. It was probably thrown away having sat around in a printer’s for six months. Terrible when you think about the stuff that’s been lost that way.