Sunday, 29 December 2013

Martin Sharp's Sunshine Superman poster 1967

Martin Sharp, Donovan - Sunshine Superman, black and blue ink on silver foil on thick white card, double crown, 20 x 30 inches (50 x 76 cm), BOP7, Big O Posters Ltd., London, 1967. Second printing. Screen printed in colour  from two stencils. Printer's text along the bottom of the poster reads: BOP7 Donovan by Martin Sharp. Printed by Big O Posters Ltd. 219 Eversleigh Road London SW11 Printed in England.

"I met Donovan in the Bagdad House" Martin Sharp circa 2004

One of the classic pieces of psychedelic art from the 1960s is Martin Sharp's poster featuring Donovan and his song Sunshine Superman. It first appeared for sale at the end of 1967, available through market stalls and various music and poster outlets around Britain. As a companion piece to the more famous Bob Dylan Blowing in the mind poster which was also released around the same time, though slightly earlier, its popularity and status is reflected in both the extensive reprint history and acquisition of original copies by major collecting institutions such as the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, and the Australian National Gallery, Canberra. The poster has also featured in numerous exhibitions since the mid 1990s, alongside a revival of interest in psychedelic art from the period. Psychedelia has, until recent times, been little studied and largely denegrated as a minor, drug-tinged sub-genre of Pop Art. It is sometimes referred to as a "low" art or, somewhat derogatorially "high art" in reference to its connection with the drugs which have since been deemed illicit. Recent exhibitions and published studies dealing with leading exponents of psychedelic art such as Heinz Edelmann, Marijke Kroger, Michael English, Nigel Waymouth and Michael McInnerney from the United Kingdom and Europe, through to Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, Stanley Mouse, Wes Wilson, Keiichi Tanaami and Mati Klarwein in the United States, have clearly defined a style and a period from the mid to late 1960s during which this particular form of modern art thrived. It saw popular expression through a large body of posters, newspapers and magazines and other forms of graphic art and design. Cars, furniture, clothing, musical instruments and shop fronts all received the psychedelic art treatment during the years immediately before and after 1967's Summer of Love. Martin Sharp's Sunshine Superman poster is a good example, and one in which a wide variety of influences - both contemporary and historic - are evident. A brief discussion of the work, its inspiration, creation and significance is presented below.

The singer and the song

British singer and songwriter Donovan Leitch - at one time labelled "the English Dylan" - recorded the song Sunshine Superman at Abbey Road studios, London, in January 1966. He was backed on the recording by a stellar cast of session musicians including guitarist Jimmy Page, later of the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin, and bass player / arranger John Paul Jones, also subsequently of Led Zeppelin. The song was released as the A-side of a single in the United States during July 1966 and went to No.1 in the Billboard charts. Its British release was delayed until December of that year, when it nevertheless reached No.2. The single Sunshine Superman was backed with The Trip in both instances and later formed the title track of the artist's third album which was released in the United States in August 1966.

Donovan, Sunshine Superman, LP, August 1966 (US) / June 1967 (UK).

The song is noteworthy not only for its worldwide popularity upon initial release - reaching, for example, No.2 in Australia, the Netherlands and Canada - but also as "one of the first examples of the musical genre that came to be known as psychedelia" (Sunshine Superman, Wikipedia). Both the music and the words of the song reflect this. For example, the line "Could've tripped out easy, but I've changed my ways" references the use of psychotropic drugs such as LSD. It also relates to the act of taking a 'trip' (a tab of LSD) and engaging in a psychedelic experience.  All aspects of the song - the words, music, associated artwork and promotional material - reflect the influence of psychedelia and the feelings of the time as expressed by the Hippie movement and other elements of the counterculture.

The artist - Martin Sharp

Sunshine Superman was produced and released at a time when London was very much the epicentre of the so-called Swinging Sixties - an historic episode recorded in films such as Antonioni's Blow Up (1966) and more recently parodied in the Mike Myers film Austin Powers. It was into this heady scene that a young Australian artist - Martin Sharp (1942-2013) - arrived in July 1966, ready to experience all it had to offer. Sharp had departed Sydney in February for an overland excursion to England via Asia with Richard Neville, his friend and fellow editor of the Australian OZ magazine. Quickly wearying of the sickness encountered along the way, this son-of-wealthy-parents and Aussie larrikin left Neville in Nepal mid-trip with a note "See you in Swinging London - Martin" (Neville, 1995). Upon arrival in the United Kingdom, Sharp became an active participant in the scene, with sex, drugs and rock n' roll figuring heavily in his everyday experiences. Sharp was one of the thousands of young people actively engaged in a cultural and social revolution. Seen as such at the time, in hindsight questions remain as to its ultimate worth and impact. Around July 1966 he took up residence in central London, and later in a building called the Pheasantry at 152 Kings Road. During his stay there Australian academic Germaine Greer was downstairs writing The Female Eunich, rock guitarist Eric Claption improvised on guitar into the wee small hour in an upstairs room he shared with Sharp, and the latter, along with fellow Australians Philippe Mora and photographer Bob Whitaker, worked at his art or socialising. The walls of Sharp's flat were soon covered in original art as he flourished amid the galleries, exhibitions, concerts, parties and side trips to Europe. During the two and a half years between July 1966 and the end of 1968 - when he return to Australia - Sharp proved to be one of the most significant artists of the period, working in the Pop / Op / Surrealist / Psychedelic genres. His involvement in the creation of posters reflecting the music and popular culture of the time was just one aspect of an intensely productive period for the young Australian, ranging from graphic design work in print publications, through to the creation of artworks for galleries and exhibitions, and on into film set production for Mick Jagger's Performance, filmed during 1968 and released in 1970. Early in 1967 Sharp and Neville began publication of the London edition of OZ magazine, with the former managing its significant graphical content. During that year Sharp also started working with Peter Ledeboer, at the time responsible for organising subscriptions and the printing of OZ. Together they produced posters for what was to become the Big O Posters company of London. In the first 12 months of that collaboration Sharp was responsible for two of the most iconic posters to come out of the Sixties - the Bob Dylan-themed Mr Tambourine Man / Blowing in the mind, and the Donovan-themed Sunshine Superman.

The Big O posters

The first Big O poster (BOP1) was Sharp's Legalise Cannabis - The Putting Together of the Heads, printed for a rally held in Hyde Park, London on 16 July 1967 and featuring a collage consisting primarily of ethnographic images of heads of native peoples. The initial print run of 600 was stolen and shipped to the United States for sale there through poster shops, so Sharp and Ledeboer decided to print their own on foil-covered card stock. Legalise Cannabis was a stunning work, with bright reddish-orange and black inks on the reflective gold foil. Their next production - BOP2 - was a poster by Sharp entitled SEX!, with a King Kong theme. It presented a view through a peephole of a voluptuous, semi-naked South Seas Island woman being dragged off by a person dressed in a gorilla (King Kong) costume. Despite the outlandish content and garish colouring - bright pink and blue on silver foil - it is a conservative design, with a border of flowers and the two figures looking off to the left as if under pursuit. SEX! is a precursor in both colour and content to a later poster featuring the art of German Dada and Surrealist artist Max Ernst. It also points to Sharp's irreverent sense of humour and the intense sexual scene in London at the time. SEX! was followed shortly thereafter by Mr Tambourine Man / Blowing in the mind (BOP!), perhaps the most famous of all Sharp's works. It was based upon the cover of OZ magazine number seven, published in October 1967. That work was printed in black and yellow on a silver coated card. Sharp initially requested Ledeboer print the poster version in purple and black, however the printer decided to use red and black on gold foil and the result proved an immediate success. The next poster by Sharp - BOP4 - was a semi-religious work entitled Live Give Love which paid homage to the Renaissance artist Michelangelo and his work on the ceiling of the Pope's Tomb in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, Rome. Sharp's drawing featured elements of the fresco panel depicting the Creation of Adam, amidst a myriad of psychedelic imagery. BOP6 was Max 'The Birdman' Ernst - a dayglo coloured version of an Ernst collage engraving. Sharp was a big fan of the pioneering German artist, with the poster a tribute. It featured a sado-masochistic depiction of a bird-headed male figure (Ernst's alter-ego Loplop) carrying a naked woman held suspended by a knife driven through her foot. The image first appeared as plate 141 in Ernst's surrealistic collage novel Une Semaine de Bonte (A Week of Kindness), published in Paris during 1934. Sharp's art around this time commonly references the work and influence of Max Ernst.

Sunshine Superman

BOP7 was Sunshine Superman. Research suggests that the initial drawing by Sharp and subsequent transformation into a poster occurred during the latter part of 1967. Advertisements for Big O posters which referred to the work appeared in OZ magazine early the following year. The first, in February 1968 (illustrated below), listed and illustrated Sunshine Superman - therein simply titled 'Donovan' - for sale at 7/6d.

Big O Posters [advertisement], OZ magazine, number 9, London, February 1968. 
Four months later, in June, the price was 9/6d, at which point it was also noted that the Dylan poster was being reprinted and renumbered BOP1, and Legalise Cannabis was now BO7. Like many of the other Big O posters of the time, Sunshine Superman was printed on foil-coated light card double crown in size - approximately 20 by 30 inches (50 by 76 cm) - and using the offset lithograph photographic printing process which allowed for almost endless, high quality reproduction. The February 1968 OZ advertisement noted Sunshine Superman as "2 colour [on] silver" (i.e. black and blue on silver foil) though the original printing included red lines for texture in the middle blue section.

 Middle section of the 1st printing of Sunshine Superman, showing red wavy lines amidst blue.

Sharp was interested in experimenting and pushing the boundaries of printing whilst in England, therefore his six Big O posters from the second half of 1967 were all printed on fragile metallic and reflective foil, with a base of thickish creamy white paper (light board). In the case of the Legalise Cannabis and Blowing in the mind posters the foil was gold with deep red, reddish-orange and black inks used in the printing process. For Live Give Love, Max 'The Birdman' Ernst and Sunshine Superman the foil was silver, with primarily black, blue and pink inks made use of. Various printing techniques such as colour lithography, silkscreening and offset lithography were employed by Big O Posters during this period, though by 1969 Sharp was experimenting with printing on mylar film and painting on glass. He had also produced posters outside of Big O, including the spectacular Roundhouse UFO concert poster on silver foil for Joe Boyd's Osiris Agency in September 1967, and a second Legalise Pot Rally poster on vellum and paper in 1968 for OZ magazine.

Martin Sharp, UFO, Roundhouse, 22 September 1967, poster.

Blacklight flourescent posters with dayglo colours were common at the time, promoting movies, music, rock concerts and public events. Sharp's use of foil is a variant on the efforts of artists and printers to reproduce the often vivid colours encountered during a drug-induced psychedelic experience or attendance at a rock concert with accompanying lightshow. Sharp was a fan of the young Pink Floyd and attended its shows at the UFO club in London during late 1966 and early 1967.

The Sunshine Superman poster was a superb work of art, featuring collage and fine penmanship, revealing the very unique psychedelic vision of Martin Sharp, influenced as he was by the intake of drugs such as cannabis, hashish and LSD, alongside contemporary music and a veritable explosion in the graphic arts then taking place in London. He was an important figure in the London school of psychedelic art, which was in some ways different from, but also aligned with, the American school as best seen in the Avalon Ballroom and Fillmore rock concert posters of 1966-8. Sharp's basic working technique at the time was to produce an original drawing in black ink on paper, perhaps with the addition of collage, the latter figuring prominently in his practice between 1963 and 1968. Incorporating original photographs and prints such as engravings, both historic and contemporary, collage was developed and refined by German artists such as Max Ernst, Hannah Hoch and John Heartfield during the 1920s. It was a process which Sharp applied to both his poster work and throughout the production of Sydney and London OZ magazine.

Sharp's poster Live Give Love, allocated a Big O Posters production number just prior to the Donovan work though most likely printed after, was in many ways similar in content to Sunshine Superman in that it was a complex, psychedelic drawing composed of bubbles, wavy lines, circles, stars and assorted shapes around human figures and text.

Martin Sharp, Live Give Love, Big O Posters, 1967-8.

For Live Give Love the figures were no less than Michelangelo's Adam and God. During 1964 Sharp had applied a Dadaesque / Magritte / Duchamp touch to Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, in the form of the addition of a pair of breasts, with the work featured on the cover of Sydney OZ No.11, issued in June 1964. However his treatment of Michelangelo's fresco was decidedly more respectful and painterly. With 'peace' and 'love' the new mantras of the Hippie movement, the latter work reflects Sharp's belief in, and involvement with, its noble ideals. He was obviously attracted to the idealistic and often unrealistic aims espoused for the transformation of Western capitalist society during a period of unrest and revolutionary thought. In contrast, Sunshine Superman's figurative centrepiece was a portrait of the singer and songwriter Donovan, taken by the artist's Australian colleague and photographer to the Beatles, Bob Whitaker. This hyper-psychedelic aspect of Sharp's art was most commonly seen in the cover for Cream's double album Wheels of Fire, released in August 1968. It too was a work of art drawn in black ink and initially issued on silver foil by Polydor in the United Kingdom and Atco (Atlantic) in the United States. The Australian release was on gold foil, whilst South America saw a version in deep blue. Its similarity in style to his 1967 work suggests Wheels of Fire derives from that date, whilst the internal, multicoloured gatefold image is a later (circa 1968) work. The triple-eyed / triple-head figure on the rear cover of the record was inspired by Sharp's visit to Ankor Thom, near Ankor Wat in Thailand, during the overland trip to England in 1966.


Martin Sharp outlined the origin of the Sunshine Superman poster in an interview published in Electrical Banana: Masters of Psychedelic Art (2011) as follows:

The Donovan piece was a tribute poster, which I did as an admirer of his songs. There was a photograph central to that, and then I cut up some old Sketch magazine for the theatrical figures around the edges. The artwork was done at actual size, and I just started off and followed my nose, really. I would often work on Kromekote so you could scratch off mistakes, but often my mistakes led to my effects, because I'd accidentally drop spots of ink on my drawings. I'd leave the ink blots and work around them. The same for my Dylan poster .... In London, I had a wonderful printer, Peter Ledeboer, who was printing OZ. He loved the idea of doing posters; he was a great publisher for me. And I really loved the effect of foil, so we printed on foil stock. (Electric Banana, 39)

The content of the Sunshine Superman poster features an ornate border comprising hand-drawn lyrics from the song, with additional text in the main body of the poster:

Sunshine Superman
Sunshine came softly through my window today
Sing a song for you, that's what I mean to do Seagull
All the losers are grooving but that's up to you... 

Within the middle section of the poster lines from Donovan's drug-tinged song Sunny Goodge Street are partially reproduced:

The Magicia[n] / He sparkle[ed] / in satin / and velvet / You gaze at his / splendour wit[h] / eyes you've not used [yet] / I tell you his name is Love, Love, [Love]

The lyrics of both Sunshine Superman and Sunny Goodge Street are in the same vein as Sharp's poetry and writing of the time. This is best seen in the words he supplied for the Cream song Tales of Brave Ulysses, recorded by that group in May 1967. Sharp was a big fan of contemporary music and most especially Bob Dylan. He used music to accompany his work as an artist, and this continued throughout his life. The connection between music and art was especially strong during his residence in London during 1966-8. For a period he shared a flat with Cream guitarist Eric Clapton. The latter subsequently encouraged him to see a performance by the American singer Tiny Tim, and this was to have a profound effect on Sharp, who became a champion of this rather strange, but talented, entertainer.

Baghdad House

A copy of the Sunshine Superman poster presently in the University of Wollongong collection and formerly owned by Sharp's friend Richard Neville, contains the following inscription by the artist, in black ink: I met Donovan in the Bagdad House.

 Poster annotated by Martin Sharp circa 2004.

Baghdad House (BDH) was an infamous cafe in Fulham Road, London, where, as noted in the Nostagia Central blog on the year Summer of Love (1967)
The atmosphere was still there in Granny Takes a Trip, Hung On You and Dandy Fashion, where The Beatles and Stones bought their frilly shirts, and in the Bagdad House over on Fulham Road, where you sat on cushions and sipped your tea – or went downstairs to smoke it. 
Paul McCartney, in his book Many Years from Now, also commented:  
I remember we had dinner at the Baghdad House in Fulham Road. The great attraction there was they let you smoke hash downstairs because it was Baghdad and everything, so we sat around a table and had yoghurt and honey and various Iraqi things.  
With its Moroccan wall hangings, ephemera adding to an oriental bazaar feel, curtained booths and trippy atmosphere, the BDH was a popular hangout for those wishing to engage in the use of drugs such as hashish. Perhaps Sharp met Donovan there to discuss the poster, or just in passing, and the artist was so impressed by both the man and his music that he was moved to produce a work of art around the Sunshine Superman theme.

Versions and variants

The poster Live Give Love had been printed in plain black on silver foil around September - October 1967. Sunshine Superman was given the same treatment in its initial printing and issued in black ink with the addition of a blue and red central section. The red was subsequently dropped and this is the version which is best known today. Due to its immediate popularity, in 1968 a printing was carried out by Big O Posters on a slightly larger, thick white paper, minus the silver foil and with a blue-only central section. A variant of this is known and was offered for sale during 2013 by Maggs of London. It is most likely the original printer's proof.

Martin Sharp, Donovan - Sunshine Superman, blue, purple, pink and black ink printed on  thick white paper, double crown, 20 x 30 inches (53 x 77 cm), BOP7, Big O Posters Ltd., London, [1967]. Variant of second  printing. Illustrated Maggs, 2013, cat. no. 34. Printer's text along the bottom right of the poster reads: BOP7 Big O Posters Ltd ....

This version includes the normal blue and black inks with the addition of purple and pink, on the thick white, non-foiled paper. The Maggs sale also featured a striking purple variant of the Blowing in the mind poster - perhaps the proof that Sharp had originally requested be printed. According to the Maggs sale catalogue for the purple and pink variant of the Donovan poster, "The depth and  complexity of Sharp's line drawing, and also the photographic sources he used, are much clearer in this less cluttered 'non-metallic' version" (Maggs 2013).

A third printing of the Sunshine Superman poster was apparently made in 1968 by David Joel Ltd., London, on white paper and of double crown size. That printing did not bear any printer's identification marks on the border and it is not known if the work was carried out for Big O Posters or was a bootleg. In more recent times, a copy of the poster was printed in 2011. Identical to the original in size, and using offset lithography on silver foil, it was issued with permission of the artist and made available through It therefore appears that the following versions and variants of Sunshine Superman exist: 
  1. Printer's proof, 1967. Blue, purple, pink and black ink on silver foil on card. Labelled BOP7 in lower right corner, with no address. Example sold by Maggs Brothers in 2013.
  2. 1st production version, 1967. Big O Posters, London, late 1967. Blue, red and black inks on silver foil on card. Labelled BOP7 plus address along bottom of poster. Some examples include silver foil label 'Rasputin and his London Popes'.
  3. 2nd production version, 1968. Big O Posters, London, 1968. Blue and black inks on silver foil on card (red ink omitted). Labelled BOP7 plus address along bottom of poster. This is the most common version of the poster and was printed over a number of years through to the early 1970s.
  4. 3rd production version, 1968. Big O Posters, London, 1968. Blue and black inks on white paper. Labelled BOP7 plus address along bottom of poster.
  5. David Joel print, 1968. Blue and black inks on white paper. No printer's label attached.
  6. Modern reprint #1, 1990. Blue and black inks on silver paper. Possibly printed by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
  7. Modern reprint #2, 1990s. Blue and black ink on white paper. Low quality reproduction.
  8. Modern reprint #3, 2011. Blue and black inks on silver foilboard. Limited, signed edition of 250 prints. Available from:
The first three were all printed on silver foil, the rest on paper apart from the modern reprint of 2011 on silver foilboard.

Beatbooks in 2013 advertised a copy of the printing for sale and did not hesitate in describing the poster as "magnificent and wildly psychedelic." Original copies of Sunshine Superman are now extremely rare, largely the result of the printing on thin silver foil being subject to degradation, metal corrosion, creasing and tearing over time. Many were destroyed or disposed of due to their fragility and ephemeral nature. As a result, quality copies fetch £500 to £1000 at auction, whilst the similarly rare Blowing in the mind poster is double that.

A recent copy of Sunshine Superman offered for sale on eBay exhibited the aforementioned deterioration, the result of heavy use and poor storage. It was torn; foil was lifting off the backing card along the edges; there was evidence of pin holes for mounting on all the corners and pieces missing as a result; it was creased throughout due to rolling and folding; coffee-like stains were present on both the front and back; sticky tape marks likewise lined the back edges of the poster and were evidenced on portions of the front; and the foil was torn across the middle due to folding, with a resultant substantial loss of the image. Of particular interest nevertheless was the fact that this first generation copy of the poster bore on the lower right corner a  contemporary label in foil, mostly likely printed by Big O Posters in 1967, and stating:

Distributed in Spain by
Rasputin & His London Popes
Direction: Alexis Zak
Beethoven, 6 - Barcelona

Rasputin & His London Popes was the name given to an antique shop and gallery space in Barcelona by young Spanish photographer Alexis de Vilar (aka. Alexis Zak). Alexis lived between London and Barcelona at the time and was introduced to Martin Sharp at the Pheasantry by Richard Neville. He commissioned Sharp to design a poster for the shop and the resultant work went on to attain notoriety in the Franco-run Catholic Spain. The small label on this copy of Sunshine Superman points to the sinuous connections of the Underground during the late Sixties, especially throughout the United Kingdom and Europe. The complexity of its workings was outlined in detailed within Richard Neville's Play Power: Exploring the International Underground, published in 1970. Sharp's multi-coloured dustjacket artwork was much in the style of Sunshine Superman and Live Give Love. Art, posters, magazines, books, clothes, music and drug paraphenalia became the new commodities of the counterculture, with Head Shops and the like springing up around the globe. De Vilar's gallery was one such example.

Following the passage of almost half a century since initial conception and printing in 1967, the Sunshine Superman poster has now become a museum piece and is valued both as artefact and iconic work of art. It encapsulates many aspects of the Sixties zeitgeist, the music of the time and psychedelia. This poster more than ever reveals Martin Sharp as a significant artist of the so-called Summer of Love, and Sunshine Superman as one of his greatest works. Following the death of Martin Sharp in Janaury 2013 a tribute to both the artist and the Sunshine Superman poster was produced by UK born John Hurford, who had worked with Sharp on OZ.

John Hurford, Martin Sharp 1942-2013, poster, 2013. Source: John Hurford website.

His homage to a dearly departed friend is in the style ultra-psychedelic of Sunshine Superman, with a cacophany of curvaceous fonts, coils and spirals, amongst which can be seen images of characters admired by Sharp including Vincent van Gough and Mickey Mouse, whilst the central image of Donovan is replaced by one of the elder Martin Sharp. Overall it is an incredibly moving and fitting tribute.

1981 - Survey 14 - Martin Sharp, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

1995 - 1968, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

2001 - So you want to be a rock star: Portraits and rock music in Australia. Art Gallery of South Australia and the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra.

2005 - Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era, Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, Kunsthalle, Wien and the Tate Gallery, Liverpool.

2006 - 60s Graphics, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

2007 - Andy and Oz: Parallel visions, The Andy Warhol Museum, New York, and the Australian National Gallery, Canberra.

2007 - Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. 

2014 - Pop to Popism, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.


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Gunn, Anthea, A-changin' times: the art of Martin Sharp in the 60s, Journal of Australian Studies, 34(2), June 2010, 179-93.

Hathaway, Norman and Nadel, Dan, Electrical Banana: Masters of Psychedelic Art, Damiani, Bologna, 2011, 208p. Illustrated page 60.

Neville, Richard, Hippie Hippie Shake: the dreams, the trips, the trials, the love ins, the screw ups, the sixties, William Heinmann, Melbourne, 1995.

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Sunshine Superman, Wikipedia, available URL:

Walding, Murray and Vukovic, Nick, Plastered: The Poster Art of Australian Popular Music, The Miegunyah Press,  Carlton, 2005. Illustrated page 51.

Michael Organ
Last updated: 1 October 2016