A fever dream and its swirling lifelike destruction of reality is about as tricky to depict as imagining a new colour. When Gerald Scarfe was contacted by a band he knew very little of simply because they thought he was “f–king mad”, the task that befell him was not to bring his own twisted imaginings to life, but the fevered mind of a troubled Roger Waters. The results of his frenzied labour are, in fact, the perfect depiction of a “f–king mad” man’s interpretation of Waters’ own twisted struggle and his battle to clamber to the other side, if indeed, such a thing can be said to exist on canvas, fifty-foot inflatables and more.
The legend of The Wall is far from a brick-by-brick story; in fact, it’s about as convoluted as they come. At the heart of it is the “eternal shame” of Roger Waters. At the end of it was a Berlin show so bombastic that Waters must have purged enough daemons to have his own show on FX. All the while, Scarfe was his strung out assistant, hankering to bring an ambition beyond reason to life.
In 1977, Pink Floyd had just embarked on a massive tour, and the strains became self-evident. All this tension culminated in a multitude of mishaps. On the final night, at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, David Gilmour refused to take the stage for the encore after a disastrous performance, so touring guitarist Snowy White stepped in. Once more, the performance was subpar, so they decided to take to the stage one more time, but during ‘Drift Away Blues’, the roadies had already started dismantling the stage.
However, Waters’ lowest part of the night came midway through their set. A skirmish emerged at the front of the crowd. During which, Waters approached the front row and spat in the face of a rowdy fan. Later, while speaking to Howard Stern, he confirmed the truth to this rock ‘n’ roll legend, declaring: “It is (true), to my eternal shame.”
Waters had lost sight of himself after the tour had played games with his head, and The Wall represented the change that had gradually taken place. Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett had already succumbed to the snares of the rock ‘n’ roll realm, and Waters wanted to exorcise this bedevilment in a sonic serving of deliverance before the fever dream took hold of him. This dark inspiration may have been creatively conducive, but it was almost too inspired to bring to fruition. Almost.
“Soon after being asked by the band to work with them,” Scarfe tells me, “they invited me to the Rainbow in Finsbury Park to see their performance of Dark Side. It was that performance that convinced me that I would love to work with them. The theatrical and visual power of that show – with the Stuka diving and exploding on stage – was exhilarating. I immediately said yes and that I would love to become a member of the Floyd gang, and so it was from then on.”
The band had seen a brief documentary on Scarfe’s political cartoons on the BBC. They were certain he was the man for the job. The rock ‘n’ roll world and constant unravelling off madcap ideas, however, had him swigging a glug of whisky before entering their manic studio each morning. Scarfe was under no illusion that being in the Floyd gang was a comfortable place to be.
However, his sketches remain exorbitant proof that comfort has never been the seeding ground of truly great art. “Although they are Roger’s thoughts and ideas, obviously, all the visuals are my interpretations,” Scarfe continues, “and are his ideas seen through my eyes. His visual imagination would be different from mine, and Roger rarely gave me visual guidance but always excepted my interpretations with enthusiasm.”
In the end, Scarfe’s artwork proves to be an immovable edifice for a band that was an unstoppable force. Much like Pink Floyd’s music, his stunning works are a repository of unbridled imagination and expert craft. All of which Scarfe brought to life like a surgeon who has lobotomised a mind in an eternally fevered state and brought those twisted dreams to stunning life.
As he humbly puts it himself, “It was gratifying and stunning seeing the wall come to fruition after all our hard work. The show was a gigantic extravagant Roman circus, both musically and, I hope, visually overpowering.” And despite all the manic tribulations of getting there, Scarfe has remained an unlikely friend of the band ever since.
The art of Pink Floyd’s the wall is now available in a stunning new book which you can find out more about by clicking here. He also has several Pink Floyd and Rolling Stones oil paintings in the upcoming Sotheby’s Made in Britain sale coming on March 9th. You can check out a selection of works from both stunning collections below.