Someday All The Adults Will Die: Punk Graphics 1971–1984, opened at the Hayward Gallery last week.
To coincide with the opening private view, curator Johan Kugelberg hosted a panel discussion of some key designers involved in early punk graphics, along with cyberpunk author William Gibson. Apologising for co-curator Jon Savage’s absence—who was very punk by being on holiday with his mum—Kugelberg introduced Gee Vaucher, who created all the graphics that surrounded Crass‘ musical output, Tony Drayton of Ripped & Torn fanzine fame, and John Holmstrom, the man behind the American Punk magazine.
The discussion was pushed along admirably by Kugelberg, prompting anecdotes from Gibson about hearing both The Beatles’ Sgt Peppers, and Velvet Underground’s first LP within weeks of each other on their release in 1967. He came away thinking the Velvets the more important work because of the shock value it contained, and the fact that lots of people didn’t like it. (I have to say I agree with him.) Holmstrom also spoke about the impact of seeing the Ramones in 1974, and Vaucher about how Freddie Laker’s cheap air fairs helped punk bands play across the Atlantic divide. However, it was strange how music only entered the discussion as a separate entirety from graphic design, and I came away thinking it disappointing that the relationship between the similar creative processes involved in making punk music and punk graphics wasn’t discussed in any depth. This may be a result of Vaucher and Holmstrom’s art school background—they weren’t untutored kids working it out for themselves in the same way that many bands and artists were. While Vaucher’s work may look like photomontage, the anti-art form first championed by Dada artists, it is in fact painted in gouache. But to overlook the relationship between creative approaches to different art forms, and how similar processes arguably tied them together, is a glaring omission.
Refreshingly, Tony Drayton, while not explicitly talking about musicianship, or lack of it, did discuss making his first rough and ready Ripped & Torn fanzine, and how speaking to The Damned at the bar of one of their gigs became the interview he would include in one of the issues. Initially being inspired by Mark P’s Sniffin’ Glue, he created his own version using a photocopier at his place of work. Producing only 10 copies, he sent several out to, among others, Compendium bookshop in London, and was then shocked to get a request for 200 more for them to sell. This legitimisation and acceptance into the ‘scene’ was one of the most interesting aspects raised. And in fact, when looking around the exhibition itself, the sense of ‘anyone can do it’ shines through. The buzz of creating something, of it becoming a legitimate artefact through production, something you’d only previously seen professionals making, helped to launch many a career. Sure, there is a lot of poor artwork on display here, as you would expect. But the fact that punk allowed those who hadn’t gone, (or even dreamt of going), to art school to find an innate talent and drive, is one of the truly revolutionary things about the movement, both musically and graphically. Add to this the raw nature of much of the visuals, their aesthetic dictated by limited means of production, and ideas and content rise above concerns about production values. The immediacy, even urgency of the process, is obvious in much of the work throughout the exhibition, which further creates a kinetic energy to what is displayed.
It is good to see that Kugelberg and Savage have included early situationist texts and graphics here too. Debord and Atelier Populaire are on display, along with King Mob, who up until this point I had only read about and never actually seen any of their visual output. The politics of these movements are echoed throughout much of the punk music graphics, particularly that of Crass. These influences are obvious and this fluid idea of what punk graphics are eschews what Vaucher called the ‘BBC or Guardian filter’ of what constitutes punk in mainstream media. The exhibition is also interesting because much of the work wasn’t created with longevity in mind. Thanks to the personal collections of Kugelberg and Dial House, (Penny Rimbaud and Gee Vaucher’s communal house that was home to Crass Records for many years), this important exhibition showcases a period that touches design, music, politics and cultural history, and is available for all to see with the potential of reaching an even bigger audience than much of it did first time around.
All in all, the discussion panel was thought provoking. I proudly came away with a Crass stencil that Kugelberg had made using an original Crass cut out on display in the exhibition, to raise money for Pussy Riot. The influence of punk, and punk itself, as he claimed, lives on.
Someday All The Adults Will Die: Punk Graphics 1971–1984, continues at the Hayward Gallery, London, until 4 November, and is highly recommended.