I can honestly say that Linder Sterling is one of the reasons I became interested in graphic design. As a teenager who wanted to look cool and interesting, I picked up The Buzzcocks’ Orgasm Addict record: not necessarily because they appeared on all the punk anthology CDs I was borrowing from a small, fusty library near Guildford, but because of Linder’s image on the Malcolm Garrett-designed cover. There’s something about that image – a woman with an iron for a head from an Argos catalogue, on the body of a porn model – that really blew my mind. It still does. While many have imitated her style, Linder’s still resonates as the most caustic and evocative, placing flowers over porn-ready genitals and catalogue cutouts where you’d least expect them.
A new APFEL-designed monograph of Linder’s work arrived at the It’s Nice That studio a few weeks ago, and I’ve barely stopped pawing at it since. The book traces four decades of Linder’s work, and the photomontages look as hilarious and radical today as they ever did. Her way of merging the domestic and the sexual grabs your attention with nudity, keeps it there with humour and forces you to dwell on bigger questions of feminism, gender, identity and consumerism.
This natural power to communicate through visuals means it’s little surprise that Linder’s background is in graphic design, rather than fine art. “I chose to study graphic design. I felt that it held the most promise for me, aesthetically, sartorially and politically,” she says in the book’s printed conversation between the artist and Dawn Ads. “Graphic design was a relatively new discipline in the art schools then and I had a wonderful tutor, Pam Schenk, who had just transferred to graphic design from fine art.”
“One day I decided to clear away everything that could make a mark or leave a trace – every pencil, crayon, charcoal stick and brush.”
Linder’s practice carves a brave world in which traditional means are eschewed for cut and paste, with her work playing no small part in shaping the aesthetic of the 70s and 80s in its sardonic, wry merging of images. “I began to give up mark making in the summer of 1976, when I was about to go into the final year of my degree course,” Linder explains. “Having drawn and painted since a young age, I was feeling bored and dissatisfied with my own mark making – restless. One day I decided to clear away everything that could make a mark or leave a trace – every pencil, crayon, charcoal stick and brush.
“Photomontage generates a decrease in industry: you don’t have to labour to mix pigments and render marks, you get straight into the work without any preparation. I worked with precision, just like a surgeon – a scalpel cuts flesh or paper alike.”
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