Biko and R.A.F coincidences: Gerhard Richter to Hipgnosis via John Keane

I started working on the Steve Biko painting, (Iteration 5: 12 September 1977, Steve Biko). One portrait of the anti-apartheid activist seems to be quite iconic, or at least ubiquitous, so I used this as my starting point.

Steve Biko portrait. Photographer unknown.

Steve Biko portrait. Photographer unknown.

Seen by many as a hero and martyr of the anti-apartheid movement, Biko was a co-founder of SASO, the South African Students’ Organisation and then he went on to found the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa. He died whilst in police custody in 1977.

I quickly sketched a large scale portrait of Biko onto the support. It turned out pretty well that I feel loathe to cover it; it’s been a while since I drew anything so ambitious. But I like Gerhard Richter understand that it is the painting dictates, not the artist. Picasso said something similar…

“In the old days pictures went forward toward completion by stages. Every day brought something new. A picture used to be a sum of additions. In my case a picture is a sum of destructions. I do a picture – then I destroy it. In the end, though, nothing is lost; the red I took away from one place turns up somewhere else.”

Quoted from ‘Conversation with Picasso’ A. H. Barr Jr, Picasso: Fifty Years of his Art, New York, 1946,

Lee Booth, Steve Biko drawing.

Lee Booth, Steve Biko drawing.

Anyway, I did the sketch above and then went down to the library to print some stuff off. From my chair at the computer I turned round to see what was on the ‘New Books’ shelf. One instantly jumped out, on the cover there was what looked like a Gerhard Richter blurred portrait but it was in-fact a painting by war artist John Keane.

The Art of John Keane by Mark Lawson

The Art of John Keane by Mark Lawson

I opened it at a random page and to my surprise I saw the image below. Keane had painted both Steve Biko and Andreas Baader back in the 1970s. The source imagery was clearly gleaned from news reports, Keane’s painting of Biko clearly references the interlacing of a TV image. The pop, stencil and spray-paint, poster-like image of the ‘cool’ urban Guerrilla smiling in his aviator sunglasses, seems to be referencing a poster on a stripy-wallpapered bedroom wall.

This is the page I opened the book at. Keane's paintings of Steve Biko, 1978 and Andreas Baader, 1977.

This is the page I opened the book at. Keane’s paintings of Steve Biko, 1978 and Andreas Baader, 1977.

I could only find the image below online. It’s another from what seems to be a series called Urban Guerillas. I can only assume that there are three paintings in the series (or possibly just 2, the lovers, Baader and Ensslin). The one below is number 2. Andreas Baader (above) is number 1.

John Keane, Urban Guerrillas 2, 1977. PVA and household paint on canvas.155 x 122 cm

John Keane, Urban Guerrillas 2, 1977. PVA and household paint on canvas.155 x 122 cm

As if that wasn’t enough of a coincidental connection, today I was looking in my Hipgnosis book; The Photo designs of Hipgnosis: The goodbye look, for the details of another image I had pinned to my studio wall that reminded me of Gerhard Richter; The sleeve artwork of Peter Gabriel’s 3rd solo album ‘Peter Gabriel’ (aka ‘3’ or Melt, due to the melting image of Gabriel’s face on the Hipgnosis designed sleeve).

The Photo designs of Hipgnosis: The goodbye look.

The Photo designs of Hipgnosis: The goodbye look.

Peter Gabriel 3 (Melt) 1980, cover art by Hipgnosis, 1980

Peter Gabriel 3 (Melt) 1980, cover art by Hipgnosis, 1980

I couldn’t find the image I was looking for although I was sure it was in the book, but I could’ve just seen it on this great Hipgnosis fan site. I’m pretty sure Hipgnosis designed every single cool record sleeve of the 70s, they were prolific, and groundbreaking. Anyway, I digress. I couldn’t find the Gabriel image but what I did find was directly related to that Gabriel album. There on the page was Steve Biko!

Biko, artwork for Peter Gabriel's single from 1980, by Hipgnosis.

Biko, artwork for Peter Gabriel’s single from 1980, by Hipgnosis.

I could be wrong but this image of Biko seems to be the same image that John Keane used to create his Steve Biko painting, 2 years prior to this Hipgnosis designed cover of Gabriel’s single, from his ‘Melt’ album of 1980. I was so surprised that Gabriel had wrote a song about Biko, I don’t know why, maybe I forgot that this event actually happened, it’s not just my project. It seems that there is another alternate title for the Peter Gabriel/untitled/3/melt album; Ein deutsches Album. ‘A German Album’ apparently Peter Gabriel released a German Language version, singing all the lyrics in German. A reference to David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’/’Helden’ perhaps?

Gabriel wrote these notes about Biko on the back of the single (which was partially quoted in the Hipgnosis book)

Bantu Stephen Biko was a young South African leader who died in 1977 as a result of injuries received during interrogations by the South African Security Police. For further information, I would suggest the book ‘Biko’ by donald Woods on Penguin.

Why the song:
I believe Steve Biko was very important. He could have been a very positive force in Africa and a leader young poeple all over the world could have identified with.

When I heard of Steve Biko’s detention on the radio, I was sure that publicity would protect him. World attention had been attracted to the large number of prison suicides: slipping in showers, jumping from windows and hanging . . . I was shocked one breakfast to hear of his death and wrote some thoughts down in my diary which were to be the start of the lyrics two years later.

Why put it out differently:
Some people have questioned the motive for putting this out as a 12″ and a single when two other singles have been taken off the album.

Firstly I wanted the song to be available to anyone who did not want to spend the money for an album, secondly I would like to hear it on the radio and thirdly, since recording it in another language I have approached the mix differently and wanted to have an alternate version available in English. The vocal track has been re-recorded and the track re-mixed.

What ‘Shosholoza’ means:
Shosholoza (Go in Peace) was one of the tracks off the soundtrack lp ‘Dingaka’ that inspired the direction for the music of the song ‘Biko’. The original is an unaccompanied chant to which I have added an arrangement and a new rhythmic section of the song.

The proceeds of this song go to the Steve Biko Black Consciousness Movement.

Here is the Hipgnosis’ designed cover for Peter Gabriel’s 12″ Single, Biko.


Peter Gabriel, Biko, front cover by Hipgnosis, 1980


Peter Gabriel, Biko, back cover by Hipgnosis, 1980

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