The Birth of Punk: A Subculture and Design Movement by Maggie Cote

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Noise Addict poster by Art Chantry. 1996

he Punk movement began in London in the mid-1970s and continued on into the 1980s. The emergence of Punk was due to social unrest in the United States and Britain, economic recession, generational friction, and commercialism. Punks were individuals who were unsatisfied by the development of post World War II society throughout the decades. They were the citizens who rallied for moral, cultural,

and social revolution. The spiked, colorful hair and studded jackets weren’t the only feature of the movement, even though that’s what it’s most known for. Besides fashion, there was also the music scene, underground social groups, and of course art and design. Punk subculture was a space mainly developed by the poor and working class in England. Younger generations were disenchanted by the failure

Throughout the 70s and 80s, photographer Graham Smith captured the unique scene of the London Punks.

of 60s hippie culture and the impossibility of a beautiful, happy paradise. This pessimistic attitude bonded with the commercialization of taboo Rock and Roll music had spawned groups of leather-clad youth with a distinct distaste for “the man,� or authority and the establishment. The Punks were iconoclastic, drastically against mainstream media and society, and strove to deface mainstream figures and values. Although nihilistic, there also came with it a sense of self-reliance and freedom to those involved in the movement. Despite being branded as troublemakers and rabble rousers, some individuals truly discovered a sense of home and belonging in the subculture. It had a large shock factor in the 70s, including the music, how people dressed, and the subject matter and crude design qualities. Punk art spread by word of mouth or self-made print, or sometimes even the mainstream media itself.


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significant characteristic of Punk graphic design was the performance aspect. Punk posters for concerts and shows were meant to be eye-catching and as loud as the music being advertised. Artists took inspiration from graffiti, collage, and made ransom note style lettering. The tattered and degraded imagery spoke to the despondency of conventional culture. Naturally, when these pieces of art were being created, computers were excluded from the equation. This was a time before computers were advanced enough to be used for design work. The photocopier, hand lettering, and collage were the Punk designer’s most versatile tools. Some artists prefer this style of creating, and abhor the overwhelming use of the computer in the design process. A designer who very passionately agrees with the above statement is Art Chantry. The way he describes the process of creating a 1995 Flaming Lips poster offers a glance into the operation of the Punk designers. Walking through his process, he describes placing the band name suggestively 1. Ian Dury Songbook Cover by Barney Bubbles, 1979 2. Black Flag flyer by Raymond Pettibon, 1980s 3. Flaming Lips poster by Art Chantry, 1995

on the panties of the female figure and layering a bright pink flame underneath. To curve the text on the stockings he describes a technique he refers to as “swishing,” meaning he moved type on a photocopy machine while it scanned to warp the letters. Chantry’s work is an excellent example of the bold yet macabre. Punk is often compared to Dadaism, a European avant-garde art movement in the 20th century. Although they are similar, the movements are certainly not the same. Dada was carried out in an artistic sense solely by professional artists. However, Dadaists did consider themselves to be “anti-art,” just as Punks are said to be “antidesign.” Many Punk posters and publications were made by amateurs who were completely uninterested in making art. On the contrary, those involved in Dada made pieces of art in institutional spaces in order to critique those spaces. Punk art was not just for those who lived professionally as artists, instead it could be embraced by anyone with any experience level or technical skills.

Sex Pistols poster by Jamie Reid, 1977

1. Sonic Youth Cover by Raymond Pettibon, 1990 2. Sex Pistols Cover by Jamie Reid, 1977 3. Sex Pistols Poster by Jamie Reid, 1977



here were three main musical movements that eventually led to the Punk scene. In Jamaica, there existed the “rude boys” along with Ska and Reggae, Rockabilly in the United States, and the “mod scene” of England. The mix of these three eventually birthed an electric and ravenous sound with bands like the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and the Ramones. The artwork done for the Sex Pistols are some of the most famous and easily recognizable as being Punk design. They were done by artist Jamie Reid, who created famous pieces such as “God Save the Queen” and contributed to morphing the infamous Punk aesthetic. The use of Punk design did in fact have an impact on the design world. With work like Jamie Reid’s, suddenly art and design in music wasn’t something to be overlooked. Album artwork and band posters especially grew in significance and suddenly had greater meaning. Instead of merely dropping a picture of the band on an album cover, true artwork was produced in relation to the music it was meant to represent.

Photograph by Pete Kuhns



lthough some professional designers were well known for their contributions to Punk design, many amateurs were also encouraged to produce their own work. An immense DIY (do it yourself) movement struck the streets of London. Nearly anyone wielding a photocopier and a sharpie could make and distribute posters for underground events or print off original publications. This is part of the beauty of the movement, the act of creating wasn’t reserved only for those who were professionally trained. There was less of an interest in creating art, and more so a desire so cheaply slap something together that could easily be shared with other Punks. It was a way to circulate a dialogue in the community about music and events otherwise hidden from the public eye. 1. Sniffin’ Glue Issue #8 by Mark Perry, 1977 2. Anarchy in the U.K. Issue #1 by Jamie Reid, 1976


aking zines is still a popular practice in the present day. Although, they can also be produced without necessarily being within the Punk community. Take a lesson from the Punks, grab a Sharpie, and keep the tradition alive. A zine can be anything you want to be, about any topic. There are no limits to what you can make. It does not require any sort of artistic talent, but a decent amount of creativity can be useful. The easiest to make is an instant zine, made by folding a 8.5 x 11 sheet of printer paper, as

seen below. Take the piece of paper you will be working on, and fold it horizontal one time and vertical three. This gives you an outline for your pages. You only need to work on one side of the paper. Create your zine and then photocopy your creation. Cut a slit down the horizontal fold in the third and fourth sections, as depicted above with a dotted line. Fold your zine into a booklet and give them out to your friends, or whoever else.

Supplies: Paper Photocopier Markers Magazines Pictures Scissors Glue Etc n Love Lost I

kle e Twin #2, Th Issue




Works Cited Brower, Steven, “Unapologetic + Uncensored Graphic Designer Art Chantry Has Some Thoughts on the State of Visual Culture Today.” AIGA, May 2016. Web. Cramsie, Patrick. The Story of Graphic Design. Abrams, 2010. Print. Designed and written by Maggie Cote Composed in Consolas, typefaces designed by Lucas de Groot Copyright © 2017 Maggie Cote, Portland, Maine, Maine College of Art

Flood, Catherine. British Posters: Advertising, Art, and Activism. V&A Publishing, 2012. Print. Wright, Bruce, “A Brief History of Punk.” The Underground Railroad. Web.

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