• Hero

    ©PUNK: An Aesthetic edited by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage, Rizzoli, 2012 (detail)

Graphic Design

An extract from a brilliant new book exploring punk graphics and their enduring legacy

Posted by Rob Alderson,

The punk movement is not something I remember and yet its graphic vernacular is immediately recognisable. A new book and show at London’s Hayward Gallery brings together posters, fanzines, flyers, clothes, photographs and other visual ephemera which sprung forth from this particularly British countercultural movement. But Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage, the editors of Punk: An Aesthetic believe punk’s aesthetic can be enjoyed both on its own terms and for its legacy which still endures to this day.

In this extract from the foreword to their book, Johan explains why this movement was, and is so significant.

PUNK: An Aesthetic foreword by Johan Kugelberg

None of us has left the twentieth century. We are still infused by it. Punk and pop is everywhere. Hippie and Woodstock and the 100 Club and CBGB and geriatric icons are still aboveground, flaunting the richly saturated notion that what was once directly lived has receded into representation.

These representations ganged up on subsequent generations, implying that the summits of authenticity they reached can never again be scaled, and that the kids (in order to be all right) better follow these trodden paths toward punk or hippie Shangri-la. To live life mimicking the authentic, even though it will always remain an imitation, a representation of what was directly lived.

A lot of ink is spilled on punk now; a new retrospective of seminal punk history rears its (balding) head every thirty minutes. The meaning with which we infuse these strands of the pop-culture spectacle, or the simplifications we cookie-cut to an historical mold, are modifications of historical record with which the winners, losers, or not-there-at-alls are slowly fattening our collective brains, foie gras–style.

  • Picture-8

    ©PUNK: An Aesthetic edited by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage, Rizzoli, 2012

Unlike its hippie counterpart, the aesthetic of the punk movement has not really become the sole discretion of nostalgia hounds, history rewriters, or reenactors. More common is to see the trickle-down of a punk graphic style infusing anything from the work of contemporary streetart satirists like Kozik, Banksy, or Zevs to corporate advertising for Nike or John Varvatos—or, for that matter, the superbly amusing Johnny Rotten commercials for Country Life butter.

We also see the punk do-it-yourself ethos impregnate blogs, literary salons, the curatorial slant of major cultural institutions, and, less fortunately perhaps, mall shops and youth-targeted branding. We hear the rudimentaries of the punk sound of 1977 infuse any number of Disney Channel bands, and the recent antiquarian frenzy surrounding mimeographed poetry publications and rock-and-roll fanzines originates here too.

“Unlike its hippie counterpart, the aesthetic of the punk movement has not really become the sole discretion of nostalgia hounds, history rewriters, or reenactors.”

Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage

The first generation of punk truly was popular culture on the margins: new ideas germinated out of urgency and necessity, as the cliché goes. Where edges overlap and aesthetics unfold seemingly at random and often by accident, the freedom of choices for the creators results in work of almost supernatural vibrancy, work which can reverberate for decade after decade, sometimes for centuries.

This work, the residue of all this frenzied activity, becomes the stuff the dreams of collectors and curators are made of. This usually and naturally takes place a few decades after the events in question and, quite often, the embrace most hot and bothered comes from the members of the very same establishment that rejected the movement en masse as it first unfolded.

©PUNK: An Aesthetic edited by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage, Rizzoli, 2012

  • Punkaesthetic_p259

    ©PUNK: An Aesthetic edited by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage, Rizzoli, 2012

  • Punkanaesthetic_cover

    ©PUNK: An Aesthetic edited by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage, Rizzoli, 2012

  • Punkanaesthetic_p012_low-res

    ©PUNK: An Aesthetic edited by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage, Rizzoli, 2012

  • Punkanaesthetic_p015

    ©PUNK: An Aesthetic edited by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage, Rizzoli, 2012

  • Punkanaesthetic_p047

    ©PUNK: An Aesthetic edited by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage, Rizzoli, 2012

  • Punkanaesthetic_p128

    ©PUNK: An Aesthetic edited by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage, Rizzoli, 2012

  • Punkanaesthetic_p156-topright_low-res

    ©PUNK: An Aesthetic edited by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage, Rizzoli, 2012

  • Punkanaesthetic_p306_low-res

    ©PUNK: An Aesthetic edited by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage, Rizzoli, 2012

  • Punkanaesthetic

    ©PUNK: An Aesthetic edited by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage, Rizzoli, 2012

Someday all the adults will die! Punk Graphics 1971 – 1984 is at the Hayward Gallery Project Space until November 4.

Ra

Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: Exhibition View Archive

  1. Gwlist18

    Even if you haven’t seen it, you’ll have heard of it, because Gone With The Wind is still, 75 years after its release, the most successful blockbuster of all time. David O. Selznick’s multi-Oscar winning film has weevilled its way deep into the American – and the world’s – subconscious, creating so vivid a cultural memory we’re almost tricked into believing we lived through it all too. Even a lass like me, “southern” only in the east London sense of the word.

  2. Eslistst-columba's-wells_-londonderry-(derry)-_-n-ireland_-1965-(c)-edwin-smith_-riba-library-photographs-collection

    Edwin Smith’s England is a faraway place, and yet a familiar one. It’s a land inhabited by long-skirted ladies with perms, where brass cash registers are used on high streets fronted by butchers and bakers and grocers. No surprise then that the people’s poet Sir John Betjeman dubbed Smith a “genius at photography” because he has, in his vast collection of photographs of city and countryside, inside and outside, captured the essence of the now-distant England portrayed in the writer’s verse.

  3. List

    Imagine for a moment that the shoebox under your bed was filled not with photos of your Great Aunt June snoozing on the sofa last Christmas, but with photographs taken in space by astronauts on Apollo 14. For a lucky few at NASA this is (almost) true, and fortunately they’re more than happy to share their treasures with us proles in the form of a new exhibition at London’s BREESE Little Gallery.

  4. List

    20 years ago in 1994, little known designer Eike König set up his “graphic design playground” Hort, creating a community in the centre of Berlin where creatives could collaborate on ideas and client briefs side by side. Nowadays, the playground is slightly bigger, undertaking work for Nike, The New York Times and Walt Disney among others, but the underlying emphasis on collaboration and experimentation remains exactly the same.

  5. Olafurlist

    “Riverbed is running.” So tweeted Studio Olafur Eliasson yesterday – a poetic press release if ever I heard one – to announce the opening of the Danish-Icelandic artist’s latest epic installation. Something of a titan in the art world, having already created moon, he’s now built riverbed in the south wing of the Louisiana Musuem of Modern Art in Denmark.

  6. List

    If, while walking down the street, flicking through a magazine or sitting on a bus recently you’ve found yourself looking at a movie poster, you’re probably in some way come into contact with the influence of Hans Hillmann. When the German graphic artist began producing film posters in 1953 at the height of the Modernist era, few realised he’d have such a profound effect on the industry, but his bold, Minimalist-inspired creations set a new standard for .

  7. List

    I’ll be honest and say that usually when I see the words “exquisite corps” in relation to a creative project, I immediately lose interest. So often this collaborative idea – used by the surrealists as a liberating drawing exercise – is used without imagination or flair. But a current exhibition at Walls Gallery in Amsterdam looks like a fantastic exception to my rule.

  8. List

    Dutch illustrator Stefan Glerum is one of the most accomplished image-makers working today. His latest show at London’s Kemistry Gallery is a whirlwind of references; from Art Deco to Bauhaus, Italian Futurism to Russian Constructivism; criss-crossing time and space with enviable style. Called simply Five Years of Work By Stefan Glerum, the exhibition features work with which even casual observers may be familiar, but that doesn’t in any way lessen its impact. In fact it’s exhilarating to go back to, say, the Bayern State Opera posters he made with Mirko Borsche and consider them anew in the wider context of his portfolio. Quite simply see this show if at all possible.

  9. List

    It’s not a flawless guide, but you can often tell how significant the subject of an exhibition is based on who writes the foreword in the show’s catalogue. That Milton Glaser contributed an essay for Ivan Chermayeff: Cut and Paste at The De La Warr Pavilion is a good guide that if you’re interested in graphic design, he’s a name with which you should be familiar.

  10. Main10

    It’s so great to see the Nous Vous lads continuing with their quest to bring a gentle spark of inspiration to the general public. Their latest venture is an exhibition in the enormous old factory-turned-cultural centre, The Tetley in Leeds. A Watery Line will exhibit “drawings, prints, paintings and objects, producing new artwork in on-site open studios and working with a selection of other artists to deliver a programme of performances and workshops.” Ahead of the opening of this exciting, friendly show, we asked Nicolas Burrows to tell us a little more about the planning of the exhibition and what they hope the public gets out of it.

  11. List

    Bold printing, toying with scale, subverting nature and confounding the senses seem to be the defining elements of Richard Woods’ work. The artist and designer made a name for himself mimicking wooden patterns in bright colours on the surface of furniture, but his skills extend beyond simple tables and chairs. In his latest show at Albion Barn he’s been given free reign to customise every inch of his exhibition space; the walls, floors and furnishings of an area in which he’s exhibiting a selection of original prints. It’s a pretty bold move to allow an artist to reinvent the entire gallery, but Richard has undertaken the task with characteristic flair, turning the whole environment into a vibrant, cartoonish set in which his work seems entirely at home.

  12. List

    I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking; “How on earth did that priest train a dolphin to carry him like that?” Or maybe you’re thinking; “Where did the photographer have to stand to capture that image?” Or perhaps, in fact, you’re thinking; “This HAS to be fake.” But all of these lines of inquiry are valid in the world of Joan Fontcuberta, the Spanish artist and photographer who’s latest exhibition has just landed at The Science Museum’s Media Space.

  13. Ws

    It’s not a revelation that festivals of today are not what they used to be. Flower garlands have been replaced with plastic ones that you can buy at Topshop, barely adolescent bands mime where once musicians gave career-changing performances and free loving, all-night dancing sun drenched affairs have morphed into a race to see who can snog a semi-famous TV presenter first. We’re not bitter about it though, especially not when we’ve got photographs like this to remind us of the golden age.