PUNK – A visual sub-culture of the 70’s

When the 2nd world war ended & society was able to look to the future once again with hope, the youth of the day threw themselves into it with a joyful abandon. It would see a new wave of self expression & creativity. The 60’s saw a shift away from the establishment however with the arrival of the Hippies & youthful self determination. Working for The Man was no longer cool.

By the 1970’s this shift had taken on a very definite antagonism towards authority, the establishment, the upper classes and basically anything authoritarian. The relatively peaceful Black Panther movement lost a lot of its fringe support & distilled down to a small militant group, the Hippy movement morphed into Glam Rock & Geeks….not the computer types. Rock its self splintered into so many forms that they formed totally new genres altogether.

Punk Rock was among the bigger movements in the UK & the imagery & style of graphics associated with it are as distinctive & rebellious as the movement its self. Gone is the considered use of typography, colour, shape & composition and in its place is a screaming mass of colour & images, photography, paper clippings & paint. All shouting the same thing, whether it said it in words or not.

If the defining expletive of the Hippies was “Up Yours”…… then for Punk Rock is was “F**K OFF”

It was almost a right of passage for those taking up the life of a punk rocker. You shed the clothes & hair cut, and all the middle class trimmings and exchange them for a new persona as a Punk Rocker. Make-up, dyed hair, ripped & painted clothes…. You left that old life behind.


Joe Strummer – The Clash – 1976

In 1976, after leaving the 101’ers, Joe Strummer had his hair cut, borrowed some clothes & took fashion advice from his new band mates. Emerging from the squat where his new band practiced, Joe was photographed in his new incarnation.

The visual elements used by the Punk scene to rage against everything around them included collages, hand lettering, rubbings, paper clippings, stencils & spray paint. Basically even the posters & album covers raged against the established trends. The accepted rules of composition were turned on their head, lettering went in seemingly random directions using paper clippings that looked like ransom notes or a butchered nod to Henri Matisse. Even the messages were leaving nothing to the imagination when it came to giving the finger. The whole, rage against the establishment, culture laid their feelings bare & left the feelings on the page.

Punk 3Punk 2Punk 1

The Punk ascetic was mainly one of non conformity. It also emphasised an egalitarian sense of person, so equality across the sexes. One part of punk was creating explicitly outward identities of sexuality. Everything that was normally supposed to be hidden was brought to the front, both literally and figuratively.

It was said by the author & broadcaster John Savage that the subculture of Punk was a “bricolage” of almost every previous youth culture in the Western world since World War II, “stuck together with safety pins”

Visually, the artistic look of printed matter such as album covers & posters share a similarity, albeit a slim one, to the printed matter from the Victorian age of hand carved images & blocky hand made type….with a little more attitude mind.

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As the band grew its method of communicating its message became a little more sophisticated & appears to draw inspiration from historical sources. The poster & album cover below show hints of inspiration from both the early constructivist use of colour, dynamic lines & impactful typography, and the later more pop art or comic art style of Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein.



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