The art of illustrator and graphic designer Ray Lowry perfectly captured the anarchic spirit of the punk era -- in addition to myriad rock & roll-inspired cartoons published in British magazines spanning from New Musical Express to Punch, he remains best remembered for his iconic cover for the Clash's 1980 masterpiece, London Calling. Lowry was born August 28, 1944, outside of Manchester, England -- as an adolescent he embraced the pioneering rockabilly efforts of Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent, later recalling "I showed little artistic or academic promise, but cared fanatically for the most arcane areas of the holy rock'n'roll thunder which had crashed down upon us."
Despite the absence of formal art training, Lowry scored a series of advertising jobs at agencies across Manchester and London, moonlighting as a cartoonist for underground periodicals including Oz and International Times. The biting wit and rebellious energy of his illustrations quickly developed a cult following, and soon he graduated to more mainstream publications like Punch, Private Eye, and Mayfair. By the early '70s Lowry was a fixture of the British music press, most notably as a cartoonist for the famed NME, where for many years he illustrated the weekly cartoon strip Only Rock'n'Roll. He first saw the Sex Pistols at Manchester's Electric Circus during the punk messiahs' 1976 Anarchy in the U.K. tour, discovering in their music the same raw, anti-authoritarian vitality personified by his rockabilly heroes. At the gig he also met the members of the Clash, and immediately entered their inner circle of friends and collaborators.
When the Clash toured the U.S. in the autumn of 1979, Lowry and photographer Pennie Smith were both onboard. On returning home, he began adapting one of Smith's rejected photos, an out-of-focus shot capturing Clash bassist Paul Simonon slamming his instrument into the stage at New York City's Palladium -- on top Lowry added bold pink and green letters in homage to the cover of Elvis Presley's eponymous debut LP, directly establishing the connection between the vitality of rock's birth with its resurrection via punk. Not only is the resulting album, London Calling, the creative zenith of its era, but Lowry's cover is routinely hailed among the most enduring images in music history.
From there the artist began freelancing for the fledgling style magazine The Face, for a time writing his own music column alongside critic Julie Burchill. Over time he embraced oil painting, gradually turning away from music to focus on urban landscapes, but also collaborated with grebo kingpins Gaye Bykers on Acid on a 30-minute promotional film. Lowry's Clash illustrations were later published in road manager Johnny Green's 1999 tour memoir, A Riot of Our Own. He also compiled his cartoons in a series of books including Only Rock'n'Roll, This Space to Let, and Ray Lowry -- Ink. In the final years of his life Lowry worked on a series inspired by Cochran and Vincent's ill-fated 1960 British tour as well as a collection of paintings inspired by the classic novel Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (no relation). On September 12, 2008, he mounted his first-ever solo art exhibition at Crawshawbooth's See Gallery. Various illnesses dogged Lowry, however, and he died suddenly on October 14, 2008.