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The Punk Movement

written and assembled by

Joe Vetsch

The artwork that came out of the punk movement was an absolute reflection of the music it was inspired by. The punk movement made designers break the rules and explore techniques that your average Swiss Modernist could not imagine. Jumbled type, defacing celebrity photos, and controversial messages are a few of the many strategies designers used to break free from the lovey-dovey culture the 1960’s and 1970’s had given birth to. Designers like Jamie Reid, Barney Bubbles and Malcolm Garrett risked it all to shed light on what they felt was wrong in society. The punk movement certainly left its mark on history, both in music and in design. Before researching this design movement, I was completely unaware of its existence. A movement that went against every notion people had put into place decades before. How could professionals take this blasphemy as serious design? How can a designer rip up a picture and then claim it as their own? Reading about the movement has totally opened my eyes to new design possibilities. Some people may be a little hesitant to admit it, but I like to think there is a little punk in all of us.


To fully understand the punk movement, first you must understand what made it happen. CNN’s Ryan Bergeron says, “Punk rock put the hippie music of the previous decade to bed and woke up the next generation with a sound that was loud, fast and untamed. It wasn’t just the next thing in music, it was a cultural shock wave with an impact that would be felt everywhere.” Punk began in London and would eventually spread to the United States and Australia. The United Kingdom was in a recession in the mid 1970s and people were unhappy with how the government was handling things. Punk became a release for working class citizens that were unable to find jobs. It was loud, in your face, and demanded attention. Even if you weren’t on board with the punk movement, you were very aware of its existence.

It is sometimes hard to tell if people were obsessed with punk music, or the culture that came along with it. If punk music wasn’t intrusive enough for you, surely the appearance of the movement would suffice. Mohawks and black fingernail polish became fairly common in many urban settings where punk had gained popularity. Street corners were covered with posters advertising the next punk rock gig. All of the up and coming punk bands wanted to get their names out there and they wanted to do so as cheap as possible. Xerox scanners made it feasible to crank out hundreds of copies fast and inexpensively. Giving out handbills and posting flyers on other people’s property is a very cheap way to advertise, however it is also illegal, making it even more punk rock. There is something about the rough look of a photocopied poster that screams punk rock. The half-ass collages, jumbled type and disruptive imagery all play crucial roles in the outcome of a successful punk poster. Most posters, flyers, and handbills designed during the movement were done anonymously by friends or anyone with easy access to a photocopier. In some cases, members of the band would throw together a poster.

Music, much like design, is often used as a powerful form of expression. “Punk music was fashioned out of pieces of vaudeville, blues, rock and reggae, so it made sense that the art that came with the scene was similar in nature. It was a perfect postmodern statement to put together a flyer out of newspaper clippings, and pictures ripped out of magazines. Clip out a celebrity photo, bore out the eyes, blacken a tooth, and you had instant contraband, pure blasphemy… a truly dangerous piece of art” This is the kind of music that your mom does not want you listening to and, similarly, the art she does not want you looking at. With bands named things like the Germs, the Dead Kennedys, and the Butthole Surfers, it becomes apparent why most serious designers of the time decided to steer clear of the movement. TIME magazine reports an interaction with the Sex Pistols; “As the four musicians straggled toward the plane at London’s Heathrow Airport last week, it was clear from their appearance that they were not just another Top 40 act. They spat in the air, hurled four-letter words (the mildest was “scum”) at the photographers and with malevolent glares set off shivers in their fellow travelers. Said one woman passenger in disbelief: “What are we flying with — a load of animals?”

Although the movement practically deemed anyone famous or successful to be anti-punk, there were a few bands that gained international recognition during the time. The Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and the Clash are among the most famous of the bands to emerge from the era. Not only did the movement give rise to some great bands, but to a few great designers as well. Jamie Reid, Barney Bubbles and Malcolm Garrett all were involved with bringing attention to these upcoming bands and advancing design at the same time. During a time when being “big� was probably more uncool than cool, these three designers found a way to be accepted by virtually all partaking in the movement.

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Jamie Reid is without a doubt the most influential designer to emerge from the punk movement. Just like punk music, Reid was born and raised in the United Kingdom. A background in fine arts and a burning passion for left-wing politics made Jamie Reid the perfect designer for the punk movement. Before he began designing artwork for bands like the Sex Pistols, Jamie founded the Suburban Press, an anarchist publishing house. It is quite apparent that his strong political opinions helped shape a lot of his design decision making. “His importance as a graphic designer lies not only in the work produced during that period for Malcolm McLaren and the Sex Pistols, but also as one of the principal originators of a style that swept away many of the pretensions

that had become associated with graphic design and with art, opening the door to a brand new and totally anarchist visual sensibility that would both change and inform the way graphic design was perceived over the following decades.� Jamie Reid was behind one of the most iconic pieces of imagery of the era. The infamous God Save the Queen album cover for the Sex Pistols became the poster child of the punk movement. A defaced photo of Queen Elizabeth II was thought to be one of the most heinous things a citizen of Great Britain could do, but Jamie did it. The type broke the rules of design and the image broke the rules of society. Reid may not have known it at the time, but he had designed the epitome of the punk movement. The design embodies everything punk stands for. Jamie Reid would go on to make many variations of this same design. He would get more and more edgy with each new piece he created. There is one with swastikas over the queen’s eyes and another with a torn-up Union Jack flag in the background. Designers around the globe, professional and amateur, used these works as a source for inspiration. Jamie Reid may have not been the first person to use different typefaces in a single word, but he is the reason we associate that visual with a certain attitude.

Barney Bubbles is another artist who made his fame by designing album covers. His parents gave him the name Colin Fulcher, but he later changed it. Barney Bubbles sounds like the name of someone who is fairly happy, but, as it turns out, the opposite was true. “Having graduated from Twickenham College of Technology, just outside of London, during the early 19602, Bubbles began to drift away from formal design as he became increasingly immersed in London’s fast developing psychedelic scene. In fact, he became to be known as Barney Bubbles in recognition of the fluid bubble effects produced by the revolving oil projectors which were a feature of the light shows which he used to operate at venues such as the UFO club and Middle Earth.” Barney battled depression and would eventually go on to take his own life at the age of 41. Although Barney Bubbles had designed the album covers for plenty of


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famous bands, he still seemed to get the short end of the stick when it came to recognition. This was most likely brought on because of his introverted personality. “Shy, introspective and fragile, Barney Bubbles shunned publicity and seldom signed his designs. On the rare occasions that he did, it was mostly under an alias. He credited himself on one record sleeve by drawing a dog, and cited his tax code on another. When the magazine The Face asked him for a portrait to illustrate the only interview he ever did, in 1981, he gave them fragments of different photographs.� Despite Barney Bubbles’ shy tendencies, he still managed to create inspirational designs that people still refer to today. He experimented a lot with different mediums. Although he really enjoyed painting, some of his most successful designs were collages. You can definitely tell Barney had a fine arts background because he was obviously influenced by some great 20th century painters. Jackson Pollock and Wassily Kandinsky are two of the more apparent painters that Bubbles would have studied.

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Garre Another designer to turn up from the punk movement is Malcolm Garrett. Like the other designers of the movement, Garrett gained recognition after creating album covers for popular bands of the genre. He used many aspects of traditional punk design while at the same time making a few advancements. There wasn’t much prestige credited toward people making punk art because there were so few rules. Garrett brought elements from other important design movements, like Pop Art and Dada, and incorporated them into the seemingly limitless possibilities of punk. He used high contrast colors on many of his works that would make the imagery feel like it’s popping off the paper. Unlike many designers of the time, Garrett embraced the vast changes of the design industry as technology forced everything to go digital.


tt Malcolm Garrett is still playing a vital role in the advancement of design technologies and in design education. According to London Southbank University, “In 1990, his studio became the first among its peers to go totally digital, and in 1994 he launched an offshoot of Assorted iMaGes, interactive media production company AMXdigital. He worked for a time with agency I-mmersion in Toronto, before returning to London in 2005. Since 2011 he has run an interactive media design consultancy with writer Kasper de Graaf, his former partner at Assorted iMaGes.�


“Punk is dead. At least Joe Corre, son of legendary Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, would have us believe. Corre is so outraged that punk has been co-opted by the mainstream — and even endorsed by the Queen — that he plans to burn a collection of punk memorabilia worth around £5 million ($9.4 million).” Like all good things, punk had to come to an end. Bands started breaking up, people shaved their Mohawks, and people grew up. The movement had touched many lives, maybe even ruined a few. I still, however, do not think punk is dead. I see plenty of examples of punk influence in design every day. Fashion, music, and attitude are three things I have noticed that haven’t seemed to let go of something that ended decades ago. The punk movement was helped people break away from the norms of everyday living and it helped designers think differently without limitations. The punk movement

started as a bunch of angry teens playing crappy rock in the urban underground of London and evolved into what we know it as today. Mohawks and spitting at photographers gave the punk movement an edge that some of the best designers were able to run with. The punk movement used cheap methods to get very aggressive points across. Jamie Reid, Barney Bubbles, and Malcolm Garrett, by breaking the rules, made some breakthroughs to remind all of us that it is alright to break the rules sometimes. Although some of the themes of the movement are hard to defend morally, it cannot be denied that punk helped advance design exponentially. It is important to remember, whether you are sticking it to the man or looking for some fresh design inspiration, don’t be afraid to let your inner punk out.

Bibliography Bergeron, Ryan. “Punk Shocks the World.” CNN, Cable News Network, 17 Aug. 2015, Lowey, Ian, and Suzy Prince. The Graphic Art of the Underground: a Countercultural History. Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2014. McNeil, Legs. Please Kill Me: the Uncensored Oral History of Punk. Grove Press, 2016. Post, National. “‘Punk Has Become like a f–Ing Museum Piece’: Why Punk Rock Is Dead and Should Be Set on Fire.” National Post, 18 Mar. 2016, news/world/punk-has-become-like-a-f-ing-museum-piece-why-punk-rock-is-deadand-should-be-set-on-fire. Rawsthorn, Alice. “Judging an Elusive Artist by His Distinctive Covers.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 Jan. 2009, 07album.html. Seddon, Tony. Twentieth Century Design: a Decade-by-Decade Exploration of Graphic Style. PRINT, 2014. Turcotte, Bryan Ray., and Christopher T. Miller. Fucked up Photocopied: Instant Art of the Punk Rock Movement. Gingko Press, 2015, 1999. University, London South Bank. “Malcolm Garrett.” London South Bank University, London South Bank University, 3 Feb. 2016, malcolm-garrett. Post, National. “‘Punk Has Become like a f–Ing Museum Piece’: Why Punk Rock Is Dead and Should Be Set on Fire.” National Post, 18 Mar. 2016, news/world/punk-has-become-like-a-f-ing-museum-piece-why-punk-rock-is-deadand-should-be-set-on-fire.

The Punk Movement