As Bob Marley’s revolutionary art director, Neville Garrick designed the singer’s album sleeves, beginning with his 1976 breakthrough album, Rastaman Vibration, whose front cover image is of the reggae king stroking his chin – a characteristic, pensive pose. Earlier this year, the Rastaman Vibration sleeve – which promised “This album jacket is great for cleaning herb”– was recognised by Billboard magazine as one of the 100 best album covers of all time.
“I had some images I had shot of Bob,” Garrick, who has died aged 73 of prostate cancer, said in an interview with the reggae archive livicated.com. He recalled having done “a watercolour wash of Bob in that militant army jacket” that he cut out and pasted on to a piece of burlap (hessian), which as an artist he had been using in preference to canvas.
Garrick’s most radical design was for Survival, Marley’s 1979 album – above a selection of flags of independent black nations, he imposed a searing graphic image showing the storage of ship-borne slaves.
He decided his images should expand the singer’s poetic exhortations. So Marley’s riveting live shows were enhanced by red, gold and green backdrops – the colours of the Ethiopian flag – depicting mythological scenes from the life of Haile Selassie I, emperor of Ethiopia and divine figurehead of Rastafari. “Neville was putting into pictures what Bob was putting into music,” said Garrick’s cousin Herbie Miller.
Garrick had a close relationship with the Jamaican superstar. In the words of Chris Blackwell, to whose Island Records Marley was signed, “Neville really loved Bob and what he was doing. And people loved him because of that.”
Yet it was not all harmonious vibes. There was Garrick’s “very spicy mouth”, as Miller remembers, someone whose mood could often seem grumpy. But when Marley was wounded in a shooting in December 1976 at his home in Kingston, Jamaica, it was Garrick who whisked him to the exile in London that was commemorated in his Exodus album, staying with him at his Chelsea refuge for six months; and it was Garrick behind the wheel of their Ford Cortina when Marley was busted for marijuana possession in Ladbroke Grove.
Garrick grew up in Kingston in middle-class affluence, attending the city’s prestigious King’s College secondary school. He had one younger brother. Their father, Kenneth, owned a secretarial and computing college, where their mother, Baba (Barbara, nee Miller) was the secretary and general manager.
At UCLA in Los Angeles he studied graphic design. “Neville was a very middle-class boy, with a jacket and shirt and tie,” Miller remembered. “But the protests against the war in Vietnam, the civil rights demonstrations, and – most of all – the Black Panther movement changed him greatly.” At UCLA he was taught by, and befriended, Angela Davis, the charismatic poster girl for the Black Power movement, whose thinking inspired her student.
He went back to Jamaica in 1973, invited to return by the new prime minister Michael Manley, a leftwinger reclaiming the island’s talents. The country’s politically explosive mood had its dub side, the “conscious” mood of Rastafari and its soundtrack of roots reggae. For growing his hair into dreadlocks and openly smoking “herb”, Garrick was kicked out of the family home by his father.
He became art director for the Kingston Daily News. There Garrick held his only ever exhibition, a dozen or so of his striking images of black oppression pinned to the fence of the newspaper. In 1974 he left the News: he had been made a more agreeable offer.
Miller was managing Peter Tosh, who had just left the Wailers, and set up a meeting between Garrick and Marley. “I introduced Bob to Neville. When he [Garrick] had left Jamaica he didn’t know that world. But he came back more concerned with the black struggle than maintaining his middle-class stature.”
Garrick had begun a relationship with Nancy Burke, who had also studied art. “Neville was like a young cowboy type,” she remembered. “He grew together with Bob very organically. They both were into Rasta together. And football. And Bob let him do whatever he wanted.”
Her family had a property next to the large house in Hope Road set in substantial grounds that Blackwell had given Marley as part of his new deal, following his breakup with the original Wailers Bunny Livingston and Tosh. (Neville would design a memorable sleeve for the renamed Bunny Wailer’s Blackheart Man in 1976; that year he also provided the artwork for Burning Spear’s groundbreaking Man in the Hills LP.)
But then Marley died, in May 1981. Garrick designed the cover for the posthumous album Confrontation, which was released in 1983. He became head of the Bob Marley Foundation. When it came to stocking the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, Garrick revealed a further side: he was a serious collector, never throwing out anything relating to Bob or pop culture.
In 1980 Garrick married Colette Thompson, a friend of Burke. They had two children, Naomi and Nesta, while also bringing up Colette’s son, Christopher, from a previous relationship.
In 1997 they split up. Garrick took the divorce badly and moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a designer and video-maker.
Recently, Garrick had been advising on One Love, the Bob Marley biopic due to be released early next year. Ziggy Marley, Marley’s eldest son and producer of the film, paid tribute to Garrick, recalling that “everyone loved hearing his stories and heeding his insights. Without him it could not have been done. It was a continuation of the work he did for my father and the strong friendship they had with each other.”
He is survived by his children.
• Kenneth Neville Anthony Garrick, graphic artist and designer, born 28 July 1950; died 14 November 2023