Punk Graphic Design

Punk subculture stems from punk rock music which originated in the UK in the mid-70s. Far from being a movement only about music, punk subculture has had a large influence on many forms of art including fashion, film, dance and visual art. Punk ideology is all about freedom, non-conformity and opposition to the status-quo, and its artistic practise usually carries strong political and social messages. Album covers, flyers, zines and posters are common forms of punk art : ‘Outside of punk’s torn and safety pinned anti-fashion statements, this impulse to outrage was never more apparent than on punk album covers’ (Mark Vallen).

Punk graphic design has a distinctive look and feel to it, it often has quite bold and aggressive type, a lot of black and vibrant colours (red,blue, yellow, pink) and quite striking or bold imagery. One of the most famous punk artworks is the Sex Pistols ‘God Save the Queen’ poster which was designed by Jamie Reid. It was described as ‘the most iconic image of the punk era’ (Sean O’Hagan, The Observer). Jamie Reid was among the most important graphic designers of the punk era, and he is the author of many iconic album covers and posters. The most notable feature of Reid’s work is probably his newspaper cutout typography which was considered quite shocking and uncanny at the time (bearing a resemblance to ransom notes), but it has since then had an important influence on design and been emulated many a time.


XTC’s ‘Go 2 Album’ cover (designed by art group Hipgnosis) represents to me everything that punk ideology is about. This cramped white text on a black background is an essay about how album covers are used as a tool to attract customers, and is in itself a critique of capitalism and of the bourgeois hypocrisy. It is subversive in the way that it looks, so insolently dull and basic, questioning the reader’s freedom of thought as they are accused of being puppets of the consumer society.



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