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The Artist who Coloured the Music: Neville Garrick passes away at 73 (1950-2023)

In the world of popular visual culture, a sphere that is too often overlooked is the artwork that graces album covers. These images become an indelible part of music history, the art that accompanies and symbolizes the soundtracks of our lives. Indeed, these pictures, sometimes photographic and other times paintings, prints or mixed media works, must embody the themes and emotions of the music they represent, packaging it in symbolic forms that translate the musician’s passion into tangible messages. Consider The Harder they Come soundtrack 1972, David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane 1973, Tina Turner’s Private Dancer 1984, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. 1984, Grace Jone’s Island Life 1985, George Michael’s Faith 1987, OutKast’s Stankonia 2000, Rihanna’s Anti 2016, and Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti 2022. If you are of a certain age, you can recall the bygone days of vinyl (long before digital downloads) when album covers were substantial in size and their images often inspired us to pick up and listen to an unexpected find we otherwise would have overlooked in an HMV or Sam the Record Man.

While many of the talented artists who have dedicated their lives to creating these visual gems remain obscure or utterly anonymous, Neville Garrick is a clear exception. Indeed, Garrick was the artist behind many of Bob Marley’s most revered album covers, images that cemented Marley’s reputation not only as a reggae music giant, but as a fashion and lifestyle icon, and most importantly as a social justice revolutionary. Born in Jamaica in 1950, Kenneth Neville Anthony Garrick died of cancer in California on November 14th, 2023. During his life he stood shoulder to shoulder with the pillars of Jamaican music at a time when music was an agent of change and agitation. However, Garrick was arguably not eclipsed by the superstars with whom he collaborated. Instead, his unique and beautiful album cover designs served as graphic representations of the musical brilliance that exploded from the vinyl.

Naomi Garrick,  Garrick’s daughter and CEO of Garrick Communications Ltd, in reflecting on her father’s passing shared, “Words cannot adequately express the loss that we currently feel as a family to lose our beloved Neville. He was a master storyteller, history keeper, poignant artist, author, speaker, proud KC and UCLA graduate and for us father, Grandpa, ‘Poppy’, provider, friend. Our hearts are broken as we come to terms with this loss.” Adding to this extensive list of accomplishments, Garrick was also an activist, screenwriter, and an avid golfer.

Garrick went from Kingston College in the 1960s to UCLA in the United States. There his passion for activism flourished under the tutelage of esteemed, political activist Angela Davis; he actively participated in the Civil Rights Movement as a member of the Black Students Union and associate editor of the innovative publication Nommo. In 1970, Garrick alongside seven others created The Black Experience a mural that illustrated the struggles and achievements of Black Americans.  In the mural, the heads, necks, and shoulders of the figures are overlaid with myriad silk-screened graphics showing a poster advertising the sale of enslaved people and pictures of African American trailblazers including Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Angela Davis, among other images. The importance of the mural was evidenced in its restoration in 2014.

The Black Experience Mural, UCLA, USA


Returning to Jamaica after his university study, Garrick took a position as the art director of the Kingston Daily News. His tenure there lasted for only one year (1973-1974) before he made a life-changing professional move, becoming the art director at Tuff Gong records, the record label of Bob Marley and the Wailers. In the 1970s and 80s Garrick’s illustrious career reached its pinnacle as the designer of several Bob Marley album covers. With the success of these endeavours Garrick was then given the added responsibility to design Marley’s concert backdrops and lighting.

His visual mastery was showcased on the astounding Haile Selassie I’ stage and lighting design that accompanied Marley’s worldwide tours. His stellar artistic concepts were further realized on the backdrops of the renowned Reggae Sunsplash festivals. If you are a fan of reggae music, chances are you have seen and appreciated some (if not many) of Garrick’s most celebrated works. Indeed, his artworks have graced over a hundred album covers for legendary bands and musicians such as Burning Spear, Peter Tosh, Steel Pulse, Jimmy Cliff, and the I-Threes. Some of his more notable works include Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Rastaman Vibration (1976), Exodus (1977)Kaya (1978)Babylon by Bus (1978), Survival, (1979), and Confrontation (1983). As the premier reggae vinyl album cover artist, Garrick also designed covers for Bunny Wailer including Blackheart Man (1976)Struggle (1979 Sings the Wailers (1980), and Liberation (1989), Peter Tosh including Wanted Dread or Alive (1981) and No Nuclear War (1987), Ras Michael’s Rastafari (1975), Burning Spear including Hail H.I.M. (1980) and Man in the Hills (1976), Steel Pulse including Earth Crisis (1984) and Babylon the Bandit (1986), and Rita Marley including Harambe, Working Together for Freedom (1982).

To use Garrick’s own poetic words, he “coloured the music,” and for album cover aficionados his meticulous, mindful, inspired art left an indelible mark. The beauty of Garrick’s work was his commitment to intertwine the artists’ musical messages with a potent, visual energy. The pathway to these unforgettable creations had a process. Step one, listen to and understand the music! Further still, while touring with Bob Marley and the Wailers, Garrick was encouraged by Marley to participate in making the music. So off he went playing percussions, drums, and tambourine. Travelling and rooming together, eating and playing soccer together- in short being a part of the family that Marley and the Wailers created – made Garrick’s creations personal, allowing him to develop the insights that come from intimacy. 

One of Garrick’s most iconic Bob Marley and the Wailers’ album covers is Rastaman Vibration (1976). Indeed, it was ranked number 22 on Billboard’s 2023 list of the best album covers of all time. Garrick used a watercolour wash over a black and white photocopy of Bob Marley’s image. In it, Marley is wearing a cap embellished with the colours of Rasta, red, gold and green, his left-hand touching his chin as he looks pensively beyond the viewer. Garrick then cut the image out and pasted it onto burlap, an inexpensive material made of jute or natural hemp and flax fabrics. Using the burlap showed the humble heritage of a Rastaman, tying Bob Marley’s working-class roots to the everyday man. The message? Bob Marley was forever a man of the people.

Neville Garrick’s album cover for Bob  Marley and the Wailers’ Rastaman Vibration


Garrick was keenly aware that Marley’s worldwide audience was also his audience and accepted the unique opportunity to fulfill his passion for art as education. He complimented Marley’s powerful, rebel music with powerful, rebel art that further solidified Marley’s connection to the marginalized and lower classes.  Marley’s love of this image revealed Garrick’s knowledge of Marley’s identity and self-perception.

Garrick’s drive to educate was further revealed in another Marley album cover, Survival (1979), a compelling, graphic history lesson that combined the colourful national flags of Africa with a horizontal black and white band borrowed from an abolitionist print culture representation of the Middle Passage, depicting the “tight packing” method of placing enslaved Africans in the cargo holds of slave ships. Garrick explained his vision, “Survival was a very political album. I was immediately drawn to the new African flags and their green-yellow-red colours… Of course, I didn’t include the apartheid-run South Africa. And then I also included shots of the holds of the slave ships where the slaves were crammed into. This drawing was supposed to represent the Black diaspora outside of Africa…”.

Neville Garrick’s album cover for Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Survival


Incorporating the iconic Brooke’s slave ship  image to show the inhumane and lethal conditions that Black Africans  endured when they were sold into slavery was an ingenious display of Garrick’s knowledge of history and visual culture, as well as his artistic prowess and thought process at work, which came together to offer a worldwide audience the opportunity to acknowledge shared histories.

Cross-section if a slave ship representing “tight-packing” of enslaved people


What’s more, through his compelling album art, Garrick introduced western audiences to another of his passions, Ethiopian Art and culture while promoting Rastafarian and Pan-Africanism beliefs. For example, on Bob Marley and the Wailers album Confrontation (1983), released posthumously after Marley’s death, Garrick depicted the 1896 Battle of Adowa where Ethiopian forces led by Emperor Melenik defeated the Italian army. The album cover featured the story of St. George and the Dragon in which St. George represents the Ethiopians and the dragon or Babylon is represented by the Italian army. The cover’s message? Bob Marley was a warrior who used his music to slay the dragon.

In 1996, Garrick documented his spiritual voyage to Ethiopia in his illustrative book A RASTA’S PILGRIMAGE – ETHIOPIAN FACES AND PLACES (1999). Through 118 riveting photographs, he revealed an Ethiopia that was rarely represented for Western audiences. Instead of photographing a nation ravaged by war and famine, Garrick managed to communicate a civilization filled with natural beauty, cultural monuments, and warm and engaging people.  Garrick’s book documented him traversing the country from the capital Addis Ababa to the valley of Shashemane, an area set aside for the repatriation of Blacks from the diaspora; a movement inspired by the teachings of Marcus Garvey. Garrick continued his trek to the majestic Blue Nile Falls, the picturesque ruins of seventeenth-century castles, and mural-decorated churches.

Garrick also proved himself to be Marley’s loyal and sincere friend by positioning himself as the guardian of Marley’s legacy. He not only designed the extension of the Bob Marley Museum, but from 1990-1996 served as an executive director of the Bob Marley Foundation. His many other accolades included co-producing the documentary Time Will Tell (1992), which featured exceptional rare insights from Marley’s life.

Prestigious awards and distinctions poured in for Garrick well into the twenty-first century. In 2005, his lifelong dedication to the arts was duly recognized when he accepted the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence honouring his contributions to Jamaican music. In 2022, the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) presented Garrick with the Gregory IsaacsFoundation Award for Album Design to emphasize and commemorate his significant contributions and achievements which positively impacted reggae’s development and promotion. In 2023, he was awarded the Order of Distinction in the Rank of Commander (CD) recognizing again his contribution to music, art, and culture locally and internationally.

Unsurprisingly, Garrick was both central in bringing the biopic, Bob Marley: One Love (2024) to the big screen and represented in the film by the actor Sheldon Shephard. Acting as the Historic Advisor, Garrick was on the set every day, scrutinizing every aspect of the project to ensure that it properly represented Jamaica’s authentic culture, as well as Marley’s empathy, spirituality, camaraderie, and activism. In his last days, Garrick had the privilege of watching the movie from his hospital bed. Satisfied with the finished project, he died peacefully, leaving behind an enduring, impactful legacy for new audiences to relish and artists to emulate. At the time of his passing, Garrick and his son Nesta (Marley’s middle name), were working on documenting his own artistic and memorable triumphs in “Colour the Music,” and to preview newly completed series of artwork that celebrated black culture.

Following his passing, on December 16th, 2023, his celebration of life commenced with the pulsing, hypnotic beat of the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari Drummers greeting the attendees honouring Garrick. The vibe in the chapel was more celebratory than mournful.  When the sound of the rhythmic, nyabinghi drums ebbed, the family played a three-minute poignant message Neville Garrick recorded when he turned seventy years old.  It was important to Garrick to make it to seventy. In the video Garrick was surrounded by close friends. His warmth, empathy, and charm sparkled through a beaming and engaging smile.  As they smoked their herb Garrick reflected on his life and work. In his own words he passionately reflected on his personal and professional journeys, “life has taught me…to have confidence in yourself. I had the fortunate thing of knowing from I was seven that I wanted to become an artist and didn’t really get to realize that for a long time. First art class was when I was about fourteen but throughout the years, I pursued it and pursued it from a Black perspective ‘cause I feel art is something you have to use fi (to) educate people as my mantra is education is the key to liberation.” Garrick then gave thanks for the privilege of working with and sharing his vision with music legends like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer. Like these musicians, Rastafari was not an afterthought, but the spiritual roots of his practice. For Garrick a profound engagement with histories of slavery, the Black Diaspora, and the connection to Africa were paramount because, “until you know your history, then you can’t decide your destiny”. Sound familiar? It should. From Marley’s song Rat Race (1976) on the album Rastman Vibration (1976), “Don’t forget your history, Know your destiny”. Indeed, we shall. Well done, Mr. Garrick. Well done!