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Punk Art and Design

Record packaging provided another opportunity for punk communication. Where best applied, as by Jamie Reid (Sex Pistols) or Linder Sterling and Malcolm Garrett (Buzzcocks), the sleeve designs and posters became part of punk’s critique. Reid’s design for the Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy in the UK’ offered a ripped Union Flag held together by safety-pins and bulldog clips. His design for ‘God Save the Queen’ saw Elizabeth II blinded and muted by blackmail lettering, a hostage to the ‘mad parade’ of a Silver Jubilee taking place in a country that had seemingly lost all point and purpose.
© University of Reading

Punk Record Sleeve Art

Record packaging provided another opportunity for punk communication. Where best applied, as by Jamie Reid (Sex Pistols) or Linder Sterling and Malcolm Garrett (Buzzcocks), the sleeve designs and posters became part of punk’s critique. Reid’s design for the Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy in the UK’ offered a ripped Union Flag held together by safety-pins and bulldog clips. His design for ‘God Save the Queen’ saw Elizabeth II blinded and muted by blackmail lettering, a hostage to the ‘mad parade’ of a Silver Jubilee taking place in a country that had seemingly lost all point and purpose.

Linder, an art student from Manchester, produced photomontages of images taken from women’s magazines and pornography, commenting on the commodification of the female body as appliances replaced heads and TV controls covered genitalia. Again, the method was simple and easily replicated (to good and bad effect). In time, bands such as Crass – with sleeve art designed by Gee Vaucher – would transform their records into anarchist communiques, replete with political essays, collage and contact addresses for bookshops and campaigns. Labels became concepts, commenting on the relationship between art, design and commerce. Peter Saville’s designs for Factory Records, alongside work by Neville Brody, Barney Bubbles, Mike Coles (Killing Joke) and others, helped define punk and post-punk aesthetics.

Punk Art and Design in Other Media

Punk’s DIY ethos encouraged people to pick up a camera or set-up a typewriter and produce their own visual representations of punk. Don Letts, famously, used a super-8 camera to capture punk’s beginnings (The Punk Movie) and started a life of film-making. Fanzines allowed Jon Savage and Linder to produce The Secret Public (1978) as a critique of gender constructs in the media. Writers who began with fanzines, later found their way to the music press, newspapers and periodicals: Savage, Paul Morley, Sandy Robertson, Mick Mercer, Lucy Whitman, Garry Bushell, Adrian Thrills. Punk’s media provided an alternative to and, ultimately, a way into the media more generally so that punk’s influence permeated the mainstream, informing the design and sensibilities of everything from magazines and adverts to comedy and comics.

Punk’s Art and Design Legacy

Punk’s practice enabled innovation. Most importantly, however, it gave its followers access and agency. Punk art and design could experiment and critique. It pushed the limits of popular culture and brought together the media and the viewer, the producer and consumer. Punk provided the means both to contribute and reimagine.

© University of Reading
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Anarchy in the UK: A History of Punk from 1976-78

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