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Punk has been seeing a recurrence as of late.
Of course, this sentiment has been repeated in every article or blog post about the subculture for the last twenty years, to the point where it's become abundantly clear that the youth-fed anti-establishment movement has never really died. But still, the point stands: tik-tok kids share alternative make up tips, dye their own hair, sew homemade patches to thrifted jackets, and film themselves tagging lawn signs with anti-establishment messages all to a punk informed soundtrack. The sound, wardrobe, and sentiment that have defined the movement from its roots is back in force. It’s high time we take a look back at the visual arts that went along with it.
The Beginnings of Punk
One of the earliest and most influential mediums for the punk movement was Punk Magazine. Punk Magazine and their contemporaries were responsible for providing a platform for budding punk writers and photographers, and was a vehicle for establishing musicians and venues in the scene. Co creator John Holmstom was responsible for the aesthetic of the magazine, creating a cartoon style that doubled as the telltale look of foundational punk band The Ramones, whomst Holmstrom created album covers for.
Album cover art is yet again proved influential with the work of Jaime Reid. His most well known work is God Save the Queen, the cover art for the single by punk band the Sex Pistols. Reid’s signature collage style draws on a long tradition of collage and photomontage (composite photographs) to represent an anti-establishment aesthetic.
In fact, as far back as 1919 collage and photomontage had been used by artists like Hannah Hoch, who assembled her own photographs with images from popular media to express political discontent and the breaking of gender roles. Reid was one of the first to embrace that aesthetic and apply it to Punk Rock, matching the anarchist attitude of the Sex Pistols and punk culture as a whole.
The Punk Aesthetic
The idea of assembly permeates deep into punk aesthetics, a culture known for their anti-establishment, do-it-yourself ideals. Specifically, punk was anti-capitalism in a way that hippies had not been. Punk emphasized action, sometimes violent action, and led with a confrontational edginess that previous anti-capitalist movements had not. The artwork is transparent about where it came from and how it was made. It is unpolished, and most importantly, engages in critique of its source materials. In addition, art becomes more readily accessible when made out of bits and pieces of existing material, phrases, symbols, and stencils. Most of the art of punk was made by performers; album covers, pamphlets, and magazines were made by the very people in them. For example:
Alan Vega, known as Alan Suicide of the synth punk duo Suicide transformed the “i don’t give a shit” attidude of punk into collages, portraits, and most notably, light sculptures. Vega rejected mainstream art, choosing to assemble found bits of electronics, crucifixes, and street trash into beautiful light up sculptures.
Jayne County (of Queen Elizabeth and Wayne County and the Electric Chairs) is a lesser known albeit just as influential artist whose art spanned musical and visual mediums. Jayne was punk’s first openly transgender artist and performer. Her work is often a criticism of public figures as well as a vessel of self expression. True to punk fashion, many of County’s works are collage, but her most compelling works are paintings of abstracted figures and fantastical creatures, rendered in groupings of colorful dots; a unique, self taught approach that rejects conventional art technique.
Yet another example of the punk collage aesthetic can be found in the work of Winston Smith, who collaborated with the Dead Kennedys, Alternative Tentacles and later Green Day, creating distinctly punk collages as album covers for them as well as independent works. His style of hand cut and pasted collage uses found images or otherwise innocuous magazine cuttings in compositions that inspire striking social commentary.
Just as punk music, attire, and attitude is bubbling up into youth culture yet again, the visual angst of punk still lives on in the current art scene. Here are some of Curina’s punkiest artists:
Gabriella Moreno uses unconventional materials and compositions to make viewers rethink and revise their conception of power in sexual territories. Both the unconventional aesthetic and message of sexual liberation echo the themes of punk.
artwork featured- IDK Who She Is
Daniel Morowitz seeks to elevate queer culture in their artwork, seeking to show a facet of queer realeties that have so often been subjugated by weaving them into a new visual mythology. This revision of popular fiction to show a lesser known reality is a huge part of social commentary in punk visual art.
artwork featured- Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
This artwork by Marta Lee echoes punk art collage. The eclectic mix of everyday imagery and materials flatten into an unusual square composition, not dissimilar to the album covers of Jaime Reid and Winston Smith.
artwork featured- We have noted two or more races have been selected (Top)
Sinejan Kılıç Buchina is another one of Curina’s artists whose collages are visually punk. If her design wasn’t already punk enough, her materials certainly are. Sinejan uses found photographs and collected materials -including dirt and rust- to create pieces that blur boundaries.
artwork featured- Collected Memories 3
The Curina artist whose works are most blatantly punk is Katie Hector, who’s grunge aesthetic screams punk rock. The rough black and orange bleach method of this piece is reminiscent of punk & alternative fashion. The subject material is a distortion of pop culture: Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Newman (complete with his catchphrase). And as a bonus, the cartooning of Mad Magazine was one of the inspirations for Punk magazine, bringing the punk references in this work full circle.
artwork featured- What Me Worry?
Troy Medinis’ artwork expresses commentary on people’s relationships with infrastructure, particularly in our connection or disconnection to it. His partially documentary, partially abstract method of visualizing this connection is as punk as the expression of urban disorientation throughout his works.
artwork featured- Bang, Bang, Bang