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Up they rise

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The Printed World

Revulsion was the authorized social response to Jamie Reid's graphics for the Sex Pistols. The most potent visible manifestation of disquiet during the 1977 Royal Jubilee celebrations was a photograph of the Queen - defaced by blackmail-style lettering and a safety pin through the lip - reproduced on the posters, ads and sleeves for the Sex Pistols single "God Save The Queen".

anarky in the uk

Using the agitprop style he had perfected years earlier in the suburban resistance, Reid was speaking to and for a generation which responded to the Sex Pistols cry by making it the top-selling record in Jubilee week. Banning it from the airwaves only confirmed that here was another Britain, one whose existence was too uncomfortable to be acknowledged.
The record sleeve was more of a shriek than a picture: could this rough-and-ready display (hardly Artwork, surely?), this remaking of the ready-made, be taken seriously as a form of packaging design? It was because it could not that it spoke to so many people who were surrounded by soothing voices when all they wanted to do was scream.
Not that Jamie is sure of himself. Punk catalyst McLaren already had many of the answers when he sent his mobilization signal to Reid; what he needed from Jamie was his talent for posing the questions.
Punk was soon taken seriously when the marketing men in the media and the music business saw its strength of identification, although Jamie remained continually at war with industry bosses. To the consternation of authorities at home, college and town hall, the icons of punk exploded on a thousand leather jackets in a thousand different towns, and started leading their own lives. What they were mainly saying was, DO IT, GO ON, SAY IT, ASK. And furthermore, we don't like what you're doing to us, why are you ramming this down our throats?
Jamie Reid's work also did something else. It demonstrated the power of craphic design in the music industry and opened the door to a strong new generation of British designers, whose purpose was different from Jamie's. They used the creative freedom of the music industry as a showcase for vibrant design, not emasculated by corporate compromise. Their influence has spread beyond music to fashion, the media and consumer packaging.

Politically, punk proved a mere hiccup in the right-wing revolution just getting underway - but ten years after its coronation the tide looks like turning again. People are getting impatient with police chiefs telling them that their children are swirling in a cesspit of their own making. They don't want papers screaming that junkies are evil (exclusive pictures, centre pages) when their brothers and sisters are frightened victims. They are wise to governments maintaining that all is safely under control and the details are best kept secret.
Power depends on controlling information. Public pressure for greater access as technology takes root has been met by increasingly sophisticated attempts to massage public opinion and, failing that, to intimidate public servants and the media into keeping stumm. But we are moving into real time once more and the control of information will inevitably erode.

(Astrological Clocks. Jamie Reid.
Working prints and collage 297 x 210 mm - 1989)

Again Jamie Reid is at the sharp end of the wedge. There is now much greater emphasis in his work on canvases, some of which he has been working on for twenty years. While punk was going through the whole marketing spectrum from A to E and back again, he remained larcely aloof from the commecial world, venturing out only briefly with his poster and titles for Letter to Brezhnev, on which he worked with Frank and Margi Clarke.
He is still not offering answers but his more spiritual expression is tuned to the last decade of the century. In the 1970s the vehicle was the Sex Pistols and Jamie could hide behind his craphics. But the slogan he devised for one poster "Anyone Can Be A Sex Pistol", also meant for him that the next stace was more of a direct-input assertion. "I love painting the most," he says. "You are completely naked. Paintings are for life." New visuals and paintings are proliferating for Leaving the Twentieth Century - his creative collaboration with Margi Clarke who says "the only time I am ever afraid of Jamie is when he's painting purple thunder on his face and chewing the paintbrushes."

Art critics have mostly been dubious about parking their cars near Jamie's exhibitions and the art world has trouble defining what if anything he is. Eyebrows have been raised by his references to Pollock and Hogarth and questions asked about his credentials as a fine artist. But the questions Jamie Reid asks are about power humanity and media sickness in the technological world. Everything can be copied changed printed kept; anyone can have access and input. "Real" art has followed power from the churches and the courts to the salons and from there into galleries and banks. Tomorrow it will also be in supermarkets and millions of private homes giving a human language to those who have power at their fingertips.

Jamie has spent six solid months compiling this book which he says "contains all the important images I have come up with in the past twenty-five years". It became another total immersion project for him because it closes a chapter of his past and points a way to the future.

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Kasper de Graaf
Assorted iMaGes, London
First published in 1987 by FABER & FABER Limited. ISBN 0-571-14762-3
Text: ©1987, Jamie Reid and Jon Savage.
Illustrations: ©1987, Jamie Reid.

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