How punk changed graphic design & music art

A new exhibition at the British Library shows punk’s impact on graphic design from record sleeve art to fanzines and T-shirts.

The graphic design of the late 70s punk movement is as much part of what we consider ‘Punk’ to be as the music and fashion. Underpinned by the same snarling anti-establishment attitude and DIY ethos, punk art and graphics have a rawness that comes from both the artists and designers behind them and their means of production.

While the likes of Malcolm McLaren and Jamie Reid (who created the Sex Pistols fanzine showh here) went to art school, much of punk art and design was created by practitioners without formal training. A pen, camera and/or a pair of scissors – and a passion for the music – were all that was necessary to get involved, just like you only needed some cheap instruments and three chords to start a band. The end results were equally rough, with fanzines cranked out on grimy photocopiers in a similar fashion to bands self-pressing their own records. These singles and albums were sold at gigs and independent stores, with hand-printed covers that had a freedom of artistic expression not possible for most bands on major labels – though of course that freedom allowed as much for the crass as the truly provocative.

As part of this year’s Punk London ‘festival’, The British Library has collected visual media from the scene in 1976-78 into a new free exhibition. Punk London is a series of events and exhibitions throughout the year that’s either a celebration of its creativity, or the establishment just rubbing it in that punk failed to destroy it, depending on your perspective.

Article Written By: Neil Bennett of Digital Arts