Just crazy about symbolism

John Squire is deeply interested in symbolism, as the final answer of this feature from 'Modern Painters' magazine (March 2010) illustrates. Office chairs are a feature of Squire's 2009 Aperture series: "When it comes to trying to represent the mundane as a visual image, you can't do much better than an office swivel chair." The office swivel chair would however provide The Stone Roses with some moments of humour. During the sessions for the first LP, each member of the band would take it in turn to see who could remain horizontally suspended for the longest period, using a sofa and office swivel chair (Listen out for a bit of Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 amidst this tomfoolery !). The opening question relates to synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. "We didn't want to be defined by the Manchester music scene of the time as just another indie band, and I saw the energy within abstract expressionism reflected in the music, and vice-versa. It was a form of synaesthesia, of converging senses and creative languages. What I didn't expect at the time was just how important the artwork would become to the band and those who followed the music." (John Squire speaking to The Guardian, 2nd July 2007).

Symbolism was a late nineteenth-century art movement of French, Russian and Belgian origin in poetry and other arts. In literature, the style had its beginnings with the publication Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil, 1857) by Charles Baudelaire. The works of Edgar Allan Poe, which Baudelaire admired greatly and translated into French, were a significant influence and the source of many stock tropes and images. The aesthetic was developed by Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine during the 1860s and '70s. In the 1880s, the aesthetic was articulated by a series of manifestos and attracted a generation of writers. The name 'symbolist' itself was first applied by the critic Jean Moréas, who invented the term to distinguish the symbolists from the related decadents of literature and of art. Distinct from, but related to, the style of literature, symbolism of art is related to the gothic component of Romanticism. Symbolists believed that art should represent absolute truths that could only be described indirectly. Thus, they wrote in a very metaphorical and suggestive manner, endowing particular images or objects with symbolic meaning. Jean Moréas published the Symbolist Manifesto ('Le Symbolisme') in Le Figaro on 18th September 1886. Moréas announced that symbolism was hostile to "plain meanings, declamations, false sentimentality and matter-of-fact description", and that its goal instead was to "clothe the Ideal in a perceptible form" whose "goal was not in itself, but whose sole purpose was to express the Ideal." In a nutshell, to depict not the thing but the effect it produces:

The symbolist poets wished to liberate techniques of versification in order to allow greater room for "fluidity", and as such were sympathetic with the trend toward free verse, as evident by the poems of Gustave Kahn and Ezra Pound. Symbolist poems were attempts to evoke, rather than primarily to describe; symbolic imagery was used to signify the state of the poet's soul (Squire has heavy weather in the soul). T.S. Eliot was indebted to the Symbolist techniques of Verlaine and Rimbaud. Synesthesia was a prized experience; poets sought to identify and confound the separate senses of scent, sound, and colour. Baudelaire's poem Correspondences, which speaks of "forests of symbols", is considered to be the touchstone of French Symbolism. The earlier Romanticism of poetry used symbols, but these symbols were unique and privileged objects. The symbolists were more extreme, investing all things, even vowels (Rimbaud, Voyelles) and perfumes (Baudelaire, Correspondences), with potential symbolic value. The physical universe is a kind of language that invites a privileged spectator to decipher it, although this does not yield a single message so much as a superior network of associations. Symbolist symbols are not allegories, intended to represent; they are instead intended to evoke particular states of mind. The nominal subject of Stéphane Mallarmé's Le cygne ('The Swan') is of a swan trapped in a frozen lake. Significantly, in French, cygne is a homophone of signe, a sign.

As the Titian recreation here illustrates, John Squire 'restages' artistic works. A previous essay details Squire's interest in the artist, Francis Bacon. In the following photo, I propose that Ian and John are restaging a 1933 Bacon work entitled 'Crucifixion'.



Top left: 'Crucifixion' (1933) by Francis Bacon, showing Christ's 'shadow' on a cross.
Top right: John, with arms outstretched, faces the wall, while Ian faces the camera. This photo was taken by Peter Anderson beside the YMCA, London, on 1st March 1989. Ian's body acts as the 'shadow' against a backdrop of John's 'cross'; that John is looking at the number '1' - 'The One' - gives a further indication of the religious undertones of this photoshoot.
Second row: John LeKay ('This Is My Body, This Is My Blood', 1987, left) and Damien Hirst ('In Nomine Patris', 2005, right) would each harness Bacon's vision.
Third and fourth rows: The Jesus and Mary Chain would have stimulated Squire's interest in religious symbolic appropriation. In the 'Just Like Honey' video (1985), the band play with imagery in front of a spotlight. William Reid forms a 'crucifixion silhouette' on the wall with his outstretched arms, while brother Jim 'prays' at the centre of this 'trinity'.
Bottom row: Manic Street Preachers photoshoot.

Squire's use of Jackson Pollock in Stone Roses photoshoots and artwork has been well documented. I propose that Squire is also drawing upon the work of other artists to shape some of the band's photoshoots, some of which were photographed by Pennie Smith. When asked in a Smash Hits (July 1990) interview to describe his room, Squire replies:

Top: The iconic 1989 NME front cover.
Bottom: 'After the Bath, Woman Drying Herself' (c. 1890 - 1895) by Edgar Degas. This densely worked pastel is executed on several pieces of paper mounted on cardboard. Degas seems to have extended the composition while working on it, hence the need for additional pieces of paper. This work is one of a series of similar subjects dating from this period, when bathers and dancers were the artist's principal themes. Here, Degas has exploited the flexibility of the pastel medium, creating sumptuous textures and blurred contours which emphasise the movement of the figure.

The following Pennie Smith photos bear the influence of two illustrations. The first is by British artist, Joseph Edward Southall (1861 - 1944), while the second is 'Sketchbook Sheet' by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684 - 1721).



Top left: One of a series of illustrations from 1894 for the story of Bluebeard, by Joseph Edward Southall.
Top right: The Stone Roses in London, January 1995. Reni was absent for this photoshoot and the filming of the Ten Storey Love Song video (for this video, one of the runners wore a 'Reni mask').
Bottom left: 'Sketchbook Sheet' by Jean-Antoine Watteau.
Bottom right: John is the equivalent figure on the top left, Ian the figure next to him. Notice how John places part of his head behind Ian to recreate the positions of the respective two figures in the Watteau illustration. The space for another head between Ian and Mani is to signify the absence of Reni. Mani is the figure on the right, looking across the other three.

I propose that 'Target With Four Faces' by Jasper Johns influenced the concept of the following Pennie Smith photo.


Left: 'Target With Four Faces' (1955) by Jasper Johns.
Right: Pennie Smith photo of The Stone Roses.

One possible influence on Squire staging works of art in photoshoots may have been the 1981 debut album cover, 'See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah! City All Over! Go Ape Crazy!' by Bow Wow Wow, which restaged 'Le Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe' by Edouard Manet (1832 - 1883). This act itself has been parodied several times since, for example in Paul McCartney's 'Give My Regards to Broad Street' (1984). John Squire undoubtedly attempts to embed meaning within photoshoots. The Pennie Smith photo of The Stone Roses, below, is a visual representation of the 'See No Hear No Speak No Evil' adage: See No (Mani's eyes are covered), Hear No (Ian's ears are closed by the heads of Mani and John), Speak No (John's mouth has tape across it). This adage most likely stems from the religious principle, "If we do not hear, see, or speak evil, we ourselves shall be spared all evil."



"I'm sending no semaphores with my metaphors..."
Top left: The Stone Roses in 1995. The clown in this photo is not Reni, but a studio tech stand-in; no-one outside band circles knew that Reni had quit at that point and thus, the subliminal message is that the band were keeping quiet about Reni.
Top right: The Nikko Toshogu Shrine in Japan has a carving of the Three Wise Monkeys.
Bottom row: The Manic Street Preachers in 2004, promoting the release of their 'Lifeblood' album. Sean Moore's mouth is covered by his outstretched hand (speak no), while the eyes and mouths of Nicky Wire and James Dean Bradfield are also hidden from view (see no, speak no). The 'hear no' aspect of the adage is perhaps naturally represented by the hair of Moore covering his ears.

In a June 2011 interview with online music magazine, live4ever, Ian Tilton revealed that one of his sessions with The Stone Roses took inspiration from a Pennie Smith photo of The Clash:

I think this photoshoot from September 1988 (not 1989, as erroneously stated on the photo) is the shot that Ian Tilton is referring to. It was taken at Ian Tilton's studio, 191 Oswald Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, near John Squire's house. This 'S shape' was again present in a later photoshoot, with Pennie Smith.

In a 2019 interview with www.thestoneroses.co, Pennie Smith made the following comment regarding the above essay (emphasis in bold is mine):

I have come here to chew bubble gum and show symbolism, and I'm all outta bubble gum.

Now, if only I had some irrefutable evidence that the driving artistic force of the band was just crazy about symbolism. Kinda makes me feel like Riverdancing.

As a point of clarification, nowhere in my analysis do I claim that Pennie Smith is 'masterminding' symbolic photoshoots with the band. In this essay, and indeed throughout my website, my proposal has always been that John Squire is the chief figure in this regard. He's the top dog. The big man. Numero uno honcho. The head cheese. A quick checklist might illustrate my reasoning towards this assumption:

Q) Has anyone in the band confirmed a marked 'symbolic' quality to their work ?
Ding ! The head honcho defines his entire artistic output thus (see above). This seems to have rubbed off on the rest of the group. For Pete's sake, the band's songs are full of religious symbolism. You could say they wear it like a shirt. In this light, Squire throwing a cruciform shape in line with a human frame here raises the distinct possibility that they were placed there with religious intent. I am all ears as to any other interpretation of that Pennie Smith photo.

Q) Is this a band well versed in 'hidden meanings' and 'secrecy' ?
Absolutely. It's just a matter of reading the signs and fine-tuning your antennae. John Squire is the sort of person who launches his official website with the words Sub Rosa subliminally flashing on the screen. Symbols, meanings hidden in plain sights.


Top: So, John Squire is launching his website with the words Sub Rosa subliminally flashing on the screen, and Ian Brown is writing songs based on The Da Vinci Code. But, apparently these chaps don't do symbolism !
Bottom left: No cymbalism, hear ? I'm sure the word you were looking for was symbolism. What is the symbolism there ? I'm sending no semaphores !
Bottom right: The Stone Roses are the sort of band that lay clues to their reformation with some intriguing official website photographs. They live ! Like a phoenix, rose again from the ashes ? 602-427 is an area code and phone exchange unique to Phoenix, Arizona. Perhaps we're having communication problems !

Q) We have read how John Squire describes himself in four words. How does Ian Brown describe him in three ?

John's songwriting partner is seen here giving him the label, "FRENCH HOMOSEXUAL POET". Google the words "French homosexual poet" and that will take you to the world of that pioneer of symbolism, Arthur Rimbaud !

Q) Is this a chap inclined to frame the real world in correlation with works of art ?
Yeah, she looks like a painting !


Why, she's as pretty as a picture.

Q) Is there any evidence of the band 'restaging' works of art in their output (music videos, artwork, photoshoots, etc) ?
Unquestionably. Now try and picture this...



I think we got something then !



I think we got something then ?



John Squire's childhood face superimposed onto the cherub at Newport Bridge.



When he's not busy photoshopping his own face onto artworks, Squire sometimes branches out and involves the family, as seen here in this Titian reproduction. Still think this band aren't 'restaging' artistic works ?



Room In Brooklyn, William Morris. Houston, do you copy ?

In my interview with Sophie Muller in 2010, she confirms my theory that the Ten Storey Love Song video is a series of 'restaged' Francis Bacon paintings. I don't think it's a stretch of the imagination to suggest that this creative mindset extends to photoshoots ? Indeed, where else better to capture the artistic form ?


Photography is an art. This Pennie Smith shot is a blatant example of 'hear no see no speak no' symbolism from a band 'keeping quiet' about Reni (nota bene: the downward drift of John's eyes). To say that there is "no symbolism" here is, well, laughable ! Heck, if you don't believe me, just ask Ian Brown. He wrote a song about it ! And then there are the clenched-fist salutes, Roc-A-Fella hand signs, Mai '68 imagery, astrological signs...

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