Charlie Watts, the drummer for The Rolling Stones who died last summer at the age of 80, leads the tribute to the famous people who died in 2021 that British illustrator and art director Chris Barker has hung up this weekend in your twitter account, as it has done at the end of each year for five years. “I said I was not going to do it again, I’ve been saying it since the first time. But people keep asking me. It will probably have to go on for the rest of my life, ”Barker acknowledges to ICON by email, a year after assuring Verne that his 2020 cut would be his last.
The tribute is modeled on the album cover Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), by The Beatles, where the members of the band appeared surrounded by great figures, living and dead, of modern culture, such as Marilyn Monroe, Edgar Allan Poe, Karl Marx or Bob Dylan. In Barker’s productions, over the last few years, people like David Bowie, Sean Connery and Prince have taken over. In 2021, the artist acknowledges having had mixed feelings about the lack of big names that could make up the front row. “Prince Philip of Edinburgh or Sir Tom Moore [oficial del ejército británico que recaudó fondos con fines benéficos durante la pandemia del coronavirus] they are important losses, but not exactly rock stars who are very much in line with the original spirit of the piece “, admits the illustrator, who is concerned that he had come to fantasize that some other” national treasure “would pass away. “It is a very troublesome way of thinking. And it is not a way of living that of wanting someone you like to die in order to finish a drawing ”.
The local perspective, of course, dominates the work. “It is my personal summary of the year. Just because it attracts international interest does not mean that you think a lot about how it is going to be received. It has to come out of me, it is not agreed in committee ”, he reasons. Because of this, some people who are hardly known abroad appear in privileged positions, as is the case of Sarah Harding, singer of Girls Aloud, a group of enormous fame in the United Kingdom but who never performed outside its borders. Due to this same cultural distance, no famous Spaniard is seen in the mosaic, although there are two characters who, in a Sgt. Pepper’s Made in southern Europe, they would certainly not have been in the background, but in the front line: the Italian singers Franco Battiato and Raffaella Carrà.
Carrà, in the seventies, acted on British television and his song recorded in English Do it, do it again –Which in Spanish sang as In love everything is starting– He slipped into the top ten most listened to in the UK, which is why his name was slightly known. The same is not the case with Battiato, who never had fame in the Anglo-Saxon world and was, in fact, added by Barker after ICON asked him about his absence in the preliminary cut (the interview was conducted on Friday the 10th, a day before from the photo post): “I’ve never heard of him, is he somebody great? It’s hard to know who to include from outside the UK. Every year there are people who tell me about a foreign artist that I don’t know and I end up investigating it, in a way it is even educational! ”.
The artist also confesses to always having doubts about the appropriate date on which to publish the photo. In 2016, Carrie Fisher and Leonard Cohen had to be incorporated in an updated version, having taken the image before their deaths. This year, again, he has had to back down to be able to add Michael Nesmith, singer of The Monkees, in the front row, whose death was announced last Friday afternoon. And that, this time, Barker has rushed more than necessary. “I could not sit any longer following the news about the delicate health of the Queen, I had to finish the job at once,” he says sarcastically.
Other popular characters that complete the photo are the television presenter Larry King, the great musical composer Stephen Sondheim, the producer and convicted murderer Phil Spector, actors such as Christopher Plummer, Jean Paul Belmondo, Jessica Walter or Michael K. Williams, the rappers DMX and Biz Markie, singer Gerry Marsden (leader of Gerry & The Peacemakers, who signed the most recognized version of the anthem You’ll never walk alone), DJ Lee “Scratch” Perry, Mary Wilson (from The Supremes), Dusty Hill (ZZ Top bassist), Sylvain Sylvain (New York Dolls guitarist), porn entrepreneur Larry Flint or martial artist Sonny Chiba.
Also, in the upper left corner, you can see the alpaca Gerónimo, executed last August in the United Kingdom after testing positive for bovine tuberculosis, despite the 140,000 signatures that gathered to save her and the contrary opinion of different experts. Sebastian the crab, from The little Mermaid, appears at the bottom as a nod to his voice actor, Samuel E. Wright.
In addition to this, the illustrator has introduced some elements that have defined the political and social context of 2021. For example, among the dead you can find a flag of the United Kingdom, as a representation of their departure from the European Union. There is also a candle in memory of Sarah Everard, whose rape and murder by a police officer last March shocked British society. Barker also wanted to include Jeff Bezos’ “penis rocket” to talk about what, in his opinion, is another topic this year, that of “billionaires enjoying themselves in space with tax-free trips”. and the idea ended up making sense with the death of one of the passengers, businessman Glen de Vries, who died in a plane accident just a month after his journey on the Blue Origin. Likewise, if in the 2020 montage the face of all the famous people appeared covered by the masks to refer to the coronavirus pandemic, in this year’s image the masks can be seen on the ground, to point out, according to the author, “The abandonment of prevention measures despite the virus continues to hit our society.”
Chris Barker began his project in 2016, as a catharsis for everything that had happened in the year: the victory of Donald Trump and the result of the Brexit referendum was added the particularly long loss of important legends such as David Bowie, Gene Wilder , George Michael or Carrie Fisher. With Trump’s defeat in 2020, Barker felt that the cycle had closed, but also that, in turn, the pandemic made it seem like “the wrong year to quit.” According to ICON, in the 2021 image he considered including a reference to the assault on the Capitol with the inclusion of the helmet of the shaman-buffalo of QAnon, but finally discarded it. “I’m so happy to see the end of Trump that it made me very happy not to mention it at all,” he explains.
In this five years, the viral dissemination of his work has helped him a lot professionally, as he assures. “I get a lot of requests to do montages based on Sgt. Pepper’s, and requests to do newspaper and magazine covers have undoubtedly increased since 2016. Recently, I taught a young Spanish designer and when she told Who was his mother, she already knew me from having read about me in EL PAÍS last year ”, he says. “I’m always looking for new customers, so if someone reading this would like me to do something for them, they will find that I am surprisingly cheap and very good!”
Every year, in addition, the artist recommends a charitable organization so that people who appreciate his work make a donation. This year, the chosen one was the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, whose more than 400 lifeboats are dedicated to rescuing people off the coasts of Great Britain, Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. In the same way that Vox with Boats such as Open Arms or Aquarius, the far-right politician Nigel Farage and his followers this year launched a campaign of attacks against the organization to save migrants, something that has motivated outrage and Barker’s symbolic response: “Can you believe that there is people who think that what they do is bad and some people should drown? We have a long way to go as a species. The Beatles would not approve of that. “
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.