Rebels with a cause
We look at some of the modern-day punks tackling politics through art and design.
An anarchist revival has swept through the UK’s creative industry following the past year’s political events. Responsive to social surroundings, the generation of up-and-coming creatives such as Sarajane Martin, Philip Ellis and Christopher Shannon, are reflecting the anarchist attitudes of the Punk subculture that dominated England’s capital during the 1970s.
Speaking out on topics such as Brexit, inequality and war, young Britons are addressing today’s political landscape, emulating Sex Pistols frontman, John Lydon, who recently spoke out on the subject of Brexit. During an interview on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Lydon stated “The working class have spoken and I’m one of them and I’m with them.” He also discussed his “fantastic” encounter with UKIP leader, Nigel Farage - carrying on to defend American President, Donald Trump: “the media in America are trying to smear the bloke as a racist and that’s completely not true. There are many, many problems with him as a human being, but he’s not that and there just might be a chance something good will come out of that situation because he terrifies politicians.”
Famous for his outspoken and eccentric personality, John Lydon, also known as Johnny Rotten, built his reputation on the subversive attitude he infused into his musical ventures, the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd (PIL). Formed in 1972, the Sex Pistols channelled their opinion about society, culture and politics through music and were one of the leaders of the Punk movement.
In July 1977, parallel to the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations, the Sex Pistols set sail along the River Thames, with a public performance of their single God Save The Queen - a song refused by the BBC and The Independent Broadcasting Authority due to its anti-establishment lyrics. The controversial track epitomised the anarchist voice of British Punks.
A musical genre that represented the voice of a disregarded generation, first wave Punks of the mid-1970s influenced and led a resentful generation who felt misunderstood and unrepresented by the government. Taking over London, the Punk subculture had an influence on artists and designers who began to spread their own political opinion through the medium of fashion.
Dame Vivienne Westwood opened ‘SEX’ in 1974, with partner and Sex Pistols manager, Malcolm McClarren. The shop, located at 430 King's Road, Chelsea, devised the Punk uniform. Selling latex and leather bondage clothing with rips, tears, zippers and safety pin punctures, the dishevelled and DIY look of Punk was born.
Often characterised by mohawks, leather jackets, tartan and safety pins, Punk’s recognisable look has become one of Britain's biggest style exports to date, closely associated with British identity and subculture.
Reflecting the political landscape of 2017, a new-wave of Punk is is rising in the creative industries as the pursuit for social equality and justice prevails. As anti-Brexit Britons are upset, unsure and angry, protests are taking place. In 1978 Johnny Rotten controversially posed the question: “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” - a quote that today applies to the feeling of many across the UK.
From the up-and-coming to the more established, designers today are using their creative mediums and online platforms to express their beliefs. The anti-establishment attitude adopted by creatives is proving to be a Punk revival.
Publishing photo-book, Skinhead, in 1982, photographer and founder of ShowStudio, Nick Knight is no stranger to the spirit of twentieth-century subcultures. Recently Knight has been engaging with social media in order to share his opinion on politics. Confidently setting the location of his Instagram posts to ‘Europe’, Knights in-depth captions spell out his views on Brexit, with statements such as; “At the moment the fashion industry has no collected voice to influence the legislation that is already being written about leaving the EU, a decision which has absolute no benefits for the UK fashion industry and will quite possibly be devastating to it !”.
Within the fashion industry, rebellious, anti-establishment attitudes have been present. Constantly reinvented, Punk styles have been evident in the presentations of British creatives during recent London Fashion Week and London collections: Men.
Liverpool-born designer, Christopher Shannon, is known for his cynical and often ironic references. A proud remain voter, Shannon tackled post-Brexit controversies in collaboration with art directors James Theseus Buck and Luke Brooks of upcoming brand Rottingdean Bazaar for AW17. Staying true to his casual sportswear aesthetic, tracksuits, puffer jackets and re-worked denim formed the basis of Shannon’s collection, as models trod the catwalk veiled in shredded European flags.
Similarly, Central Saint Martins graduate Philip Ellis, drew inspiration from his English heritage for his 2016 collection. Political-pun slogans such as, “birds of a feather flock together” and “bridge the north/south economic divide”, were printed onto armbands and badges that emblazoned bomber jackets and hoodies, whilst ’Great Britain’ translated into Arabic script, was the graphic of a badge referencing Britain’s multiculturalism.
“I think that clothes are one of the most powerful ways to communicate yourself and that, in a sense, fashion is inherently political. I think that I’ve been given a platform to express myself creatively and that it’s fitting to use it to communicate my political agenda”, Ellis told Dazed last summer. “I am fascinated with British subculture. I’m really inspired by the work of Gavin Watson and Derek Ridgers, particularly their portrayal of punk which is an aesthetic I resonate with.”
Likewise, painter Sarajane Martin, expresses her political standpoint on canvas. Martin’s work addresses political topics, infused with Punk references. As Cosy by the Fire displays a political leader wearing Punk-esque footwear, whilst other works such as We weren't Nice Boys, features the portraits of Soviet Union leaders Stalin and Lenin, with iconic words from Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious in Russian translation.
“Cosy by the Fire and We weren't Nice Boys, are both about historical dictatorships, reintroducing iconography from World War II alongside that of the Punk movement”, Martin told us.
Recently Martin became involved with Doomed Galleries' recent anti-fascist exhibition, Brave New Word, where she showcased one of her pieces, Cosy by The Fire (shown above). A painting featuring a grinning Nazi leader, sat by the fire in his yellow-laced boots, the artwork provokes discomfort for many. “I wanted that to happen and it definitely did. People constantly exclaimed that I couldn't paint it because it would offend even though the sitter is completely anonymous, the recognition of the symbol is what offends before people even think about who's in the painting.” explained Martin.
“I make art about what affects my thoughts, so while it may come across as political it is merely topics that I find interesting enough to want to create my own answer to it. I paint a lot about wars and what people were responsible for, as well as other historical characters like monarchs and lyricists. If something moves me I have to do what I know how to which is make a picture about it.”
Whether it be depicting a historical political leader, or infusing garments with Brexit iconography, Christopher Shannon, Philip Ellis and Sarajane Martin have each showcased their political views through their specialised art form. As the political landscape continues to change and the resulting shockwaves are felt across the nation, Shannon, Martin et al, reminding us that for every referendum there’s a reaction.
Anarchy in the U.K has returned to London, where an anti-establishment generation of youth, once again feel misled by their leaders. Creatives are showcasing their anarchist works, confidently taking a new generation of neo-Punks with them.