From Malcolm and Vivienne’s Seditionaries clothing, through to Jordan Mooney’s hair and makeup, the artwork of Raymond Pettibon and the theatrics of The Adicts, there is a lineage from the Situationists that runs throughout punk and into the likes of Banksy.
Of course, youth cultures will always have their own look and style going on, designed to thumb noses at the previous generation. However, in the case of punk, this visual eye gives the subculture a dissident and surrealist feel that could not be achieved through music alone.
And one such person responsible for the eye-catching iconography that we associate with punk (and, specifically, anarcho-punk) was Gee Vaucher.
Since her cover for Tack>>>Head’s 1989 album ‘Friendly as a Hand Grenade’ was reused in 2016 to denote the mainstream’s shock at the election of Trump, the work of Gee Vaucher has been reappraised for it’s striking imagery, cutting humour and stark messaging. Although her work dates back to the 60’s, she made her name as part of the anarcho-punk group/collective known as Crass.
While the Sex Pistols sang about anarchy and The Clash flirted with a variety of left-wing causes, Crass walked it like they talked it: pressing up records on their own label, refusing to print up merch and creating the Thatchergate hoax, they were agitprop terrorists in the underground who helped shape it into a genuinely viable alternative to the mainstream. Their two gigs in Belfast changed a lot of people’s lives, leading to the development of The Warzone Centre.
Rebecca Binns has done an excellent job with this book, not only by combining the biographical with detailed interpretations on all periods of Vaucher’s work and her subsequent influence, but she also does a great job contextualising it with the state of the Western world at that time as well as general tends in both left wing politics and contemporary art. Vaucher comes across as a pragmatic type who realises that the world won’t change because you want it to, but you can certainly do your damndest to live life the way you want to.
The most interesting aspect of the book is Vaucher’s life and work post Crass as she stepped back from openly didactic work, embracing pastels and loose sketching which incorporated family and historical themes. While nowhere near as celebrated as her most famous work or recent collaborations with the likes of Banksy, it is the work of someone who doesn’t care about her legacy. Which, in the context of the Young British Artists, is a revolutionary act in itself.
While a tome on Gee Vaucher is to be applauded, it isn’t a perfect read: Binns (and Vaucher’s) reading of the situation in this country provokes much eyerolling (the usual tropes about Catholics vs Protestants, but not surprising considering Crass’s history) and, for all the talk of a male dominated patriarchy, there is little to no discussion how much of the output from Crass occurred under the Tory government of Margaret Thatcher. And, although a much smaller issue, there is no mention of her work in the 90’s designing covers for Carcass and Pitchshifter (which is how I discovered he work).
Regardless, this is an excellent, illuminating and life affirming read about how one lady helped shape the visual medium for the underground, and how that eventually spilled over to the mainstream.
Thank you Gee.
Rebecca Binns, 2022, Gee Vaucher: Beyond Punk, Feminism and the Avant Garde. Manchester University Press. ISBN-13: 978-1526147912.
🕮 Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist.
Illuminating piece, thanks. I actually once owned ‘Friendly as a Hand Grenade’. Very different sound.ReplyDelete
Pardon if this is the wrong place to ask, but how does one submit a piece to this blog? And I suppose more importantly, what criteria need to be met? I have an idea for a post that would basically use embedded newspaper clippings to recount a particular slice of Northern Irish history.
Bleakley - just post your email address as a comment. It will not published. That way we can get in touch.Delete
It is a free inquiry blog - avoid libelous assertions and the rest is up to you.