Category: Art of Punk

Gidget Goes to Hell at MOCA

"Sue Tissue" - Mark Vallen. Pencil on paper. 1979. © Published as a Slash magazine cover, '79.

"Sue Tissue" - Mark Vallen. Pencil on paper. 1979. © Published as a Slash magazine cover, '79.

Strange Notes and Nervous Breakdowns is a screening of punk films at the Geffen Contemporary MOCA of Los Angeles; part of the museum’s Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981 exhibition.

The film program explores the late 70s L.A. punk scene through films and videos like Gidget Goes to Hell, featuring the Suburban Lawns.

Director, producer, and cinematographer Jonathan Demme shot the short film of the Suburban Lawns performing their offbeat number Gidget Goes to Hell for a 1980 broadcast of Saturday Night Live.

Demme went on to direct films such as The Silence of the Lambs (1991), and Philadelphia (1993), while the Suburban Lawns - like most of L.A.’s great punk bands - slipped into America’s memory hole.

I saw the Suburban Lawns perform numerous times and finally met them in 1979 while working at Slash magazine. They dropped into Slash’s shabby West Hollywood office for an interview with editor Claude Bessy, where it was decided that I would create a portrait of the band’s lead singer Sue Tissue for an upcoming issue of Slash. Bessy played sommelier and brought out a god-awful bottle of cheap white wine to celebrate, passing out little white paper cups for everyone to drink from. When it came time to raise our cups in a toast, I noticed there was a generously proportioned dead moth floating in my wine. This rather summed up the period.

Strange Notes and Nervous Breakdowns also includes a screening of Never Mind the Sex Pistols, Here’s the Bullocks, a documentary that chronicles L.A.’s punk movement with live performance footage of the Avengers, Screamers, Weirdos, Dead Boys, and Talking Heads playing at late 70s venues like the Masque, Starwood, and the Whisky. The free film screenings take place on Thursday, January 12, at 7 p.m. If wine is offered, take my advice and do not drink from the little white paper cups.

Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981 runs until February 13, 2012.

U.X.A. - Come Back To Haunt You

"Come Back To Haunt You" - Mark Vallen. 1980. Cover art for the last issue of Slash magazine, summer of 1980.

"Come Back To Haunt You" - Mark Vallen (c). Cover art for the last issue of Slash magazine, summer of 1980.

Slash magazine was the premiere publication of the Los Angeles punk movement. First published on May Day of 1977, the monthly periodical assaulted conformity until its final edition in the Summer of 1980.

Come Back To Haunt You, the drawing I created as the cover art for that very last issue, now appears as the graphic avatar for the 2011 .mp3 re-release of a long out-of-print classic punk album - Illusions Of Grandeur.

Posh Boy Music, the same independent label that released the album in 1980, has reissued the landmark recording and made it available on iTunes and Amazon.

Robbie Fields, the founder of Posh Boy Music, renamed the release “U.X.A. - Come Back To Haunt You” after the title of my Slash artwork. Fields explains the move:

“Why the new look for a classic album? Posh Boy entrusted the U.X.A. legacy to an Italian record company who decided in their wisdom to release vinyl and compact disc versions which favored the 1980 pre-release version of the album and copied from a vinyl record rather than from master tape or digital source master. Meanwhile, lead singer DeDe Troit has distanced herself from this past chapter of her life, in particular the song ‘Death From Above‘.

By removing her photographic portrait from the front cover, we are furthering this process of creating ‘distance’. At the same time we have the wonderful opportunity of giving new life to an iconic illustration from 1980, ‘Come Back to Haunt You‘, the celebrated Mark Vallen’s interpretation of the words of Chief Seattle, which originally graced the cover of the final issue of Slash magazine and inspired multiple generations to sport Mohawk haircuts.”

"U.X.A. Come Back To Haunt You - Mark Vallen. 2011. Cover art for the re-release of the classic 1980 punk album by the United Experiments of America.

"U.X.A. Come Back To Haunt You" - Vallen (c). Cover art for the 2011 re-release of the classic 1980 punk album by United Experiments of America.

In the vanguard of early West Coast punk, U.X.A. was ubiquitous in San Francisco and Los Angeles during the late 1970s. The full-throated atonal wailing, dark poetic lyrics, and anti-fashion panache of lead singer DeDe Troit, made her a lighting rod for the underground scene.

The band itself, whose name stood for “United Experiments of America”, churned out pure rough and tumble punk, hard, fast, abrasive, yet strangely melodic.

To underscore the historic significance of U.X.A, a photo of DeDe Troit taken by photographer Bruce Conner was included in the Geffen/MOCA exhibit, Under the Big Black Sun: Art in California 1974-1981.

At the time I considered U.X.A.’s 1980 album to be one of the preeminent punk recordings of the period, an opinion I have yet to change. All these years later their songs remain stuck in my head like splinters of shrapnel. “Tragedies” is a dadaesque contemplation of the human condition; “The festival of the oppressed, celebrates and never rests, quiver like a man-made heart, looking for the reason why. He was from New York City, post war experiment, he was a killer, he was a television set - oh oh tragedies tragedies - oh oh tragedies tragedies”. DeDe Troit’s caterwauling is bolstered by soaring guitar, a baseline reminiscent of a heart attack, and drumming evocative of bones being broken. The dirge-like “Death from Above” excoriates religious dogma, and the song’s back-up vocals sound like the ethereal moaning of ghosts, until Troit’s repeated and increasingly frantic shouts of “No Savior! Death from Above!” cause the wraiths to flee.

I could go on but I think you get the idea, this was not lighthearted music by any stretch of the imagination. One could say this collection of miscreant noise is frozen in time, like some prehistoric insect caught in amber. But while U.X.A. and other punk bands from the period revealed something despairing about life in the late 20th century, the cries generally went unheeded. No doubt that had as much to do with punk’s fatalistic limitations as it did punk having run afoul of Ronald Reagan’s “new morning” in America. All the same, I recall the photo of a leering DeDe Troit clutching a parody newspaper with a headline that read, “World Governments Resign As Banks Fail“. The image, taken in front of San Francisco’s City Hall by photographer Ruby Ray in 1978, brought to light punk’s prophetic side. I was always certain the music was ahead of its time; it is not hard to take measure of the world and conclude that many have caught up with punk’s angry aesthetics, making the re-release of U.X.A’s work strikingly appropriate.

Robbie Fields was a fellow denizen in the late 1970s L.A. punk scene. While we knew of one another and crossed paths at the innumerable punk concerts then taking place in and around L.A., we were not to form a bond until decades later. Born in Santa Monica, California in 1952 but raised in London, England, Fields found himself back in L.A. just as punk took off. He became a doorman at the city’s first punk club, the notorious Masque, an illegal nightclub located in a dank Hollywood basement that was run by Brendan Mullen (1949-2009); in fact it was Mullen who nicknamed Fields, “Posh Boy”. Before long Fields founded Posh Boy Records in 1978, an independent label that handled music from bands like the Adolescents, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, F-Word, Negative Trend, The Nuns, Social Distortion, and dozens of others. As luck would have it, Fields and I began to correspond by e-mail in early 2004. This year he suggested that my Slash magazine drawing be used as the graphic avatar for his U.X.A. re-release, an offer I jumped at solely out of my keenness for the band.

In its 3 years of existence, Slash magazine introduced Americans to U.K. bands like the Damned, Clash, Sex Pistols, Crass, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and scores of California bands, U.X.A. among them. Slash editor Claude Bessy also had a great enthusiasm for reggae music, and Slash was possibly the first West Coast publication to write about Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Steel Pulse, and other reggae greats. Conveying the antipathy Slash had for the corporate music industry, Bessy wrote in the debut issue, “May the punks set this rat-infested industry on fire. It sure could use a little brightness!”

A bit of that fiery brightness is captured on U.X.A. - Come Back to Haunt You.

Peace Press Graphics 1967-1987: Art in the Pursuit of Social Change

I am pleased to announce that a number of my early graphic works have been included in the museum exhibition, Peace Press Graphics 1967-1987: Art in the Pursuit of Social Change, organized by the University Art Museum at California State University Long Beach (CSULB). The exhibit is part of the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945 - 1980, the largest collaborative art project in Southern California history. I have six artworks in the exhibition, and four additional graphic works in the exhibit catalog, but in this article I am going to highlight a Peace Press published work of mine  not included in the show. In weeks to come I will upload more of my Peace Press images and bring their histories to light in a detailed essay.

Peace Press Graphics is an important showing of over 100 historic posters and flyers published by Peace Press, a now defunct Los Angeles collective that ran a professional print shop serving the local and national needs of radical and progressive political groups and organizations. The published works on display, culled from the archives of Peace Press as well as from the collection of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics (CSPG), address a wide range of topics - civil liberties and human rights, worker’s issues, feminism, environmental concerns, anti-nuclear and anti-war protests, and much more.

A number of posters in the show epitomize the psychedelic aesthetics of the late 1960s, works from the likes of Robert Crumb and Skip Williamson, exemplars of the 60s hippie counter-culture. Other posters embody the political militancy of the day, like Chicano artist Rupert Garcia’s Save Our Sister, a poster commissioned in 1972 by the Los Angeles Committee to Free Angela Davis. Taken as a whole the assortment of works on display form an accurate visual record of dissident cultural and political forces working within the U.S. from 1967 to 1987.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s I created a number of drawings and flyers as a direct result of my involvement in the early punk rock movement of Los Angeles. In true punk spirit my flyers were meant to provoke, and I generally produced and distributed them anonymously. One such example is the flyer I designed for the L.A. chapter of Rock Against Racism (RAR) in 1980, a rare leaflet that was published by Peace Press.

Rock Against Racism. Punk concert flyer designed by Mark Vallen in 1980 for a Los Angeles Rock Against Racism concert featuring punk bands D.O.A., Silencers, and the Gears.

Concert flyer designed by Mark Vallen in 1980 for a Los Angeles Rock Against Racism concert featuring punk bands D.O.A., Silencers, and the Gears.

My Rock Against Racism flyer announced a free concert in L.A.’s MacArthur Park, held October 27, 1980 at the band shell area of the commons. The leaflet touted the appearance of the rough and tumble Canadian punk band, D.O.A., who were quite big at the time and remain one of my favorite punk bands. In the context of the museum exhibit the significance of this particular flyer is twofold. While Peace Press printed a number of posters and flyers for the likes of Jackson Browne, Joan Baez, and others associated with the counter-culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s, my RAR flyer is most likely the only punk graphic ever to be printed by Peace Press; the flyer also gives evidence of the progressive political side to L.A. punk. I invite readers to download and print a free copy of the historic flyer (.pdf format).

My flyer was created before computers were used to generate graphic art. Utilizing the dread inducing “ransom note” visual language, the text, replete with intentional misspellings, was mostly produced by cutting letters out of magazines and newspapers with a razor blade, then gluing them down to a sheet of paper. The rest of the copy was created using the now archaic “transfer type” once so prevalent in the advertising industry of the day. News photographs were interspersed with the irregular lettering to construct an incendiary narrative. The photo at the bottom edge of the flyer shows American Nazis wearing crash helmets, waving a U.S. flag, and carrying a banner that brazenly praises Hitler; the timely photo being ripped from a then current newspaper report on a neo-Nazi rally in a U.S. city. Soaring above the scene, two RAR fighter jets unleash bombs and automatic cannon fire upon the gaggle of jackbooted fascists.

Founded in London, England in 1976, the launching of Rock Against Racism was concurrent to the emergence of punk rock in Britain, a movement that would explode upon the world scene in 1977 with the outrages of the Sex Pistols, the Damned, and the Clash. In the mid to late 70s social conditions deteriorated in the U.K., giving rise to openly fascist political organizations like the National Front; during this period neo-Nazi skinhead gangs unleashed hundreds of violent attacks against South Asian and Black immigrants across England.

As the National Front and neo-Nazi skinheads sowed mayhem throughout England, famed guitarist Eric Clapton added fuel to the fire at a U.K. performance in Birmingham held on Aug. 5, 1976. Clapton launched a harangue from the stage on the dangers of the U.K. becoming a “black colony.” He ranted in part; “This is England, this is a white country, we don’t want any black wogs and coons living here. We need to make clear to them they are not welcome. England is for white people, man. We are a white country. I don’t want f*****g wogs living next to me with their standards (….) Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white!” Needless to say the celebrated guitarist lost a substantial amount of his fan base over his racist diatribe. A month before Clapton’s concert a Sikh teenager named Gurdip Singh Chaggar had been murdered by a mob of white racists, the chairman of the National Front, John Kingsley Read, responded to the killing during a National Front meeting with the words, “One down, a million to go.”

Immediately after Clapton’s repugnant concert shenanigans, photographer Red Saunders and designer Roger Huddle wrote a seething criticism that was published in the New Musical Express, an article I recall reading when it was first published. The irate Saunders and Huddle berated Clapton, “Half of your music is black. You’re a good musician, but where would you be without the blues and R’n'B?” They went on to proclaim, “We want to organize a rank-and-file movement against the racist poison in music. We urge support for Rock Against Racism.” Soon after the letter’s publication in August 1976, Rock Against Racism (RAR) was founded in the U.K. as an actual political/cultural organization that staged concert events. Tellingly, it was not rock’s superstars and corporate mainstream acts that collaborated with RAR, but rather the rebellious and lesser known ska, reggae, and punk groups that had nothing to lose.

On April 30, 1978, Rock Against Racism staged its Carnival Against The Nazis, a gigantic music festival presented in London’s Victoria Park. The performers included the Clash (click here to see some amazing footage of the band at the RAR concert), X-Ray Spex, the Tom Robinson Band (the world’s first openly Gay rock band), Steel Pulse, and Aswad . The groups played before an enthusiastic multiracial crowd of some 100,000 people. The program for the event proclaimed; “We want rebel music, street music. Music that breaks down people’s fear of one another. Crisis music. Now music. Music that knows who the real enemy is - Rock against racism.” Soon after the Carnival Against The Nazis, RAR chapters began to proliferate.

To my knowledge, the Los Angeles chapter of Rock Against Racism did not operate for very long, but the group’s efforts undoubtedly contributed to the city’s history, as well as to the cultural and political activism carried out in the U.S. during the ultra-conservative Reagan years. I am pleased to take credit for this once anonymous flyer, an artifact from a bygone rebel social movement, and happy to reveal that it was published by Peace Press. With a bit of luck, it will help inspire future troublemaking. One can only hope.

Peace Press Graphics 1967-1987: Art in the Pursuit of Social Change, runs from September 10 to December 11, 2011 at the University Art Museum, California State University Long Beach. Visit the museum website to learn more about the exhibition.

Nagasaki Nightmare

“They’re always there high in the skies
Pretty as a picture in the generals’ eyes
They’ve done it once, and they’ll do it again
They’ll shower us all in their deadly rain.”
- Nagasaki Nightmare. Crass.

August 6, 2011 marks the 66th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. On August 6, 1945, the U.S. detonated an Atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima at 8:15 in the morning. Three days later a second bomb was exploded over the city of Nagasaki at 11:02 in the morning. The Americans called their bombs “Little Boy” (Hiroshima) and “Fat Man” (Nagasaki); the Japanese simply called them Pikadon, meaning “Flash-boom.”

A young mother with her baby engulfed in atomic fire. Detail from the Hiroshima Panels by Iri and Toshi Maruki

A young mother with her baby engulfed in atomic fire. Detail from the Hiroshima Panels by Iri and Toshi Maruki.

In the early 1990’s I put together on online gallery of art created by Hibakusha (Japanese for “Atom Bomb Survivor”).

The artworks that comprise the gallery were placed in my hands by Japanese peace activists in 1984 through the good graces of now deceased Quaker peace activist Barbara Reynolds. The two illustrations to this article can also be found in the gallery; the artworks are by Iri and Toshi Maruki, who created the Hiroshima panels, a massive mural project with the atomic bombings of Japan as their subject.

After looking at the hibakusha paintings, artworks created by those who survived the first, and hopefully last atomic holocaust, there is little else that can be said about this most unhappy anniversary. It is shameful that governments still posses, or seek to posses, such weapons of mass murder and terror; it is doubly appalling that the people of Japan must now suffer through the Fukishima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown disaster. Even as the tragic events continue to unfold in Japan, President Obama presses ahead with his irresponsible plans to construct additional nuclear power plants in the United States. He has set aside $36 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of new nuclear power-plants in the U.S., and has also allocated $185 billion to “maintain and modernize” the U.S. atomic stockpile.

In 1979, Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE), organized a series of “No Nukes” concerts in New York. Their concert at Manhattan’s Battery Park City landfill drew over 200,000 people. Musicians Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Gil Scott-Heron, Tom Petty, and many other notables were involved. No Nukes, a film that documented the concert series, was released in 1980. On August 7, 2011, MUSE will hold a benefit reunion concert of sorts, starring many of the veteran musicians from the ‘79 concerts, but also including new performers like Rage Against the Machine, Tom Morello, and Jason Mraz. The concert, to be held at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California, will also be shown in a live video broadcast.

"A deranged young woman wandering aimlessly in the atomic wasteland." Detail from the Hiroshima Panels by Iri and Toshi Maruki.

"A deranged young woman wandering aimlessly in the atomic wasteland." Detail from the panels by Iri and Toshi Maruki.

Despite the undeniable contributions made by the aforementioned entertainers, it is the U.K. anarchist punk band Crass that set the standard - at least for this writer - for having created the most profound of all anti-atomic bomb songs, Nagasaki Nightmare.

The song was released just a year after the No Nukes concerts, but the piece of music was worlds apart in terms of aesthetics and attitude. In fact to this day most listeners will probably regard Crass’ opus as nothing more than irritating noise, however, as an avant-garde arrangement I regard it as perfect in every respect.

Having been a participant in the early L.A. punk movement, I still contend that punk from the late 1970s and early 1980s was on equal par to the best protest music of the 1960s, or any other period for that matter, and Crass’ doleful ode to the horrors of nuclear war and the bloodlust of national leaders is a perfect example of the punk aesthetic.

Crass released Nagasaki Nightmare as their second 45 single in August of 1980, and despite receiving absolutely no radio airplay, the record quickly reached the number one spot on the U.K. indie singles chart. The record was entirely self-produced and distributed by the band, and packaged in a marvelous wraparound sleeve with artwork by Gee Vaucher. The single also included a small silk-screen cloth patch printed with the Japanese kanji for “anti-war”, it is a patch I proudly wore pinned to my leather jacket for many years - I still have it in my possession.

Nagasaki Nightmare begins with the gentle sound of a traditional Japanese shakuhachi flute made of bamboo. The composition ends with the sound of a Japanese Buddhist Temple Gong being gently rung over and over; in the context of the overall piece of music it is the saddest sound imaginable, a bidding of farewell to tens of thousands who perished in atomic fire. What takes place between the opening and closing of the arrangement almost defies description; layers of spoken word and frenzied, panic-stricken vocals - a melodic high range female voice spouting poetic lyrics juxtaposed against a raspy male voice barking the refrain “Nagasaki Nightmare”; a relentless primitive base guitar line reminiscent of the patter of falling rain - only here I speak of radioactive black rain.

Midpoint in the song everything falls apart, the vocals become incoherent babbling; the utterances of a deranged young woman wandering aimlessly in the atomic wasteland, the frenetic guitar riffs and crashing drums evoking the flash of a nuclear explosion. Somehow the band managed to capture all of the terror of atomic warfare, as much as anyone could in a piece of music. To my knowledge no one has done this before or since - no one has even tried.

You can hear Nagasaki Nightmare on YouTube, where the lyrics can also be read. The song is also presented on the group’s “Best Before” compilation album, obtainable on iTunes.

LA Punk ‘79: The Lost Linoleum Print - Pat Bag

"Pat Bag" - Mark Vallen. 1979. Original hand-pulled Linoleum cut print. Edition of 12

"Pat Bag" - Mark Vallen. 1979. Original hand-pulled Linoleum cut print. Edition of 12.

In early 1979 I carved a linoleum block portrait of Pat Bag, the enchantingly sinister-looking bass player for The Bags, one of the first and most notorious late 70s punk rock bands in Los Angeles. At their earliest performances band members wore bags over their heads, and each was assured anonymity by taking “Bag” as a last name. It was in ‘79 that the band posed for me; soon after Pat left the group and began performing under her own name, Patricia Morrison. She eventually ended up joining The Damned, the first U.K. punk band to have recorded a single, an album, and to have toured the United States. I remember their 1977 visit to my home city of Los Angeles helped ignite the L.A. punk scene, so it was fitting that in 1996 Morrison married The Damned’s lead singer, Dave Vanian.

At the Josephine Press atelier, master printer John Greco prepares the "Pat Bag" linoleum block for printing by applying ink with a brayer roller. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

At the Josephine Press atelier, master printer John Greco prepares the "Pat Bag" linoleum block for printing by applying ink with a brayer roller. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

I hand-pulled a single trial proof of my “Pat Bag” print and was pleased with the results, but I never pulled a full edition of prints; the linoleum block has been in storage since 1979 - until now.

Late last year I worked with master printer John Greco of Josephine Press in Santa Monica, California, to finally publish the suite of prints that should have been issued in ‘79.

Each print in the edition was hand-pulled by master-printer John Greco on beautiful heavy white paper (acid free) using Dan Smith traditional relief ink; all prints are embossed in the lower right corner with the Josephine Press logo. Adhering to the time-honored practice in traditional printmaking, a final “cancellation print” was made after I cut a large “X” cut through the linoleum block - signifying the edition is closed and no further prints can be published from the block.

The inking completed, Greco inspects the block. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

The inking completed, Greco inspects the block. Photo by Mark Vallen ©

You can purchase the Pat Bag linoleum block print directly here. I am pleased to be working with José Vera, as the gallery offers an amazing selection of prints from some of my favorite artists, David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Miguel Covarrubias, and Leopoldo Méndez to name but a few.

Greco turns the wheel of his large American French intaglio press to print the block. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

Greco turns the wheel of his large American French intaglio press to print the block. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

In all likelihood “Pat Bag” is the only linoleum cut portrait of a punk rocker to have been created anywhere in the world as punk was actually unfolding.

As an active participant in the punk rock explosion that rocked L.A. and the world in 1977, I was one of the few artists to document the chaotic scene as it happened through a series of drawings and paintings.

It all reminded me of the German Cabaret phenomenon of the Weimar Republic (1918-33), just before the last vestiges of liberal democracy were torn apart by the ultra-right.

Greco reveals the very first print to come off the press. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

Greco reveals the very first print to come off the press. Photo by Mark Vallen ©

Having worked with John Greco in the past to create and publish my original lithographs, America Novia Mia (My Beloved America) and El Salvador Presente (El Salvador is Present), I wanted Josephine Press to print my old linoleum block of Pat Bag.

Unfortunately the block had been improperly stored, causing some minor warpage; in addition the linoleum had become fragile in places, requiring some restorative work and minor recutting. Due to the unstable condition of the old linoleum block, Greco and I decided a small print run was the only viable option, hence the edition of only twelve prints.

Owing to his immeasurable experience in all facets of printmaking, and his remarkable dedication to craft, Greco managed to pull a beautiful edition of prints that I am quite proud of.

As Greco re-inks the linoleum block for printing, wet prints "hot off the press" can be seen drying in the foreground. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

As Greco re-inks the linoleum block for printing, wet prints "hot off the press" can be seen drying in the foreground. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

Greco used a 36″ x 60″ American French intaglio press to print my linoleum block.

The heavy press, with its colossal steel and aluminum frame, solid steel roll, and elegant oversized star wheel, is considered the world’s finest press for printing etchings, monotypes, collographs, wood blocks, and linoleum blocks.

Greco calls it his “Cadillac.” In fact, it is so large that when he first acquired it decades ago, he had to cut a large opening in his studio wall in order to bring the press into his workshop.

Entering the Josephine Press atelier is like crossing into another era, where printmaking skills never fell victim to the whims of today’s postmodern fashions. In Greco’s workshop time-honored skills and techniques are perennial; I can imagine some of my favorite printmakers - Rembrandt, Goya, Edvard Munch, Käthe Kollwitz, - working diligently today in some quiet corner of Greco’s studio. Nevertheless, Greco does possess a 21st century vision for printmaking. He coined the term “tradigital” to describe his innovative print techniques combining traditional methods like woodcuts and etchings with archival digital printing. In the near future I will be working with Greco in producing a new series of etchings as well as linoleum and woodblock prints.

RIP: Ray Lowry - Clash “War Artist”

Artist Ray Lowry passed away this past October 14, 2008, at the age of 64. While touring America with The Clash in 1979, Lowry was nicknamed the “War Artist” by the band’s front man, Joe Strummer. The Clash had invited Lowry to tour with them as an official artist when the group made its first incursion into the land of Coca-Cola, and the resulting sketches made by the punk war correspondent were striking.

Artwork by Ray Lowry

[ The Clash - Ray Lowry. An artwork from Lowry’s sketchbook, made while the artist toured America with The Clash in 1979. Signed Limited Edition prints of artworks from Lowry’s Clash sketchbook, are available from the See Gallery. ]

I was at the February 9th, 1979 premiere concert at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium when The Clash assaulted Los Angeles during their “Give ‘Em Enough Rope Tour”. Hollywood’s original punk venue and den of iniquity, The Masque, closed for that evening; left hanging on its dilapidated front door was a hand-scrawled sign that informed the club’s nonconformist regulars that everyone had gone to see “the only band that matters”. It seemed that every punk within 500 miles attended that landmark concert, which also featured special guest stars Bo Diddley and The Dils (still one of my favorite original 1977 punk bands from San Francisco).

Thinking back to that wonderfully cacophonous show, I cannot help but think of Ray Lowry. He was roaming the concert hall, all the while furiously drawing away in his sketchbook, trying to capture the rage and excitement of it all. Upon returning home to the UK after the tour, he would design the album jacket for London Calling, the Clash’s third album. It would become one of his better known images, a brash tribute to Elvis Presley’s first album, linking punk to early rock and roll. Later in life Lowry would publish, “The Clash: Up-Close and Personal” a book of sketches made while touring in America with the band in 1979.

London Calling Elvis Presley

[ LEFT: London Calling - Album cover for The Clash, 1979. Designed by Ray Lowry; photograph by Pennie Smith. RIGHT: Elvis Presley - Album cover, 1956. Designed by Colonel Tom Parker; photograph by William S. Randolph. ]

But Lowry was much more than just an artist who worked with The Clash. He was an accomplished cartoonist, illustrator, and writer who contributed works to numerous English publications, including The Face, Punch, The Guardian, and New Musical Express (NME). In fact, I first become familiar with Lowry’s cartoons as they ran in NME during the early 1970s. Lowry was also a painter, and a retrospective of his urban landscapes opened in October, 2008, for a month long run at the See Gallery in Lancashire, England. Sadly, it has all come to a most untimely end - but I will never forget the works of “War Artist” Ray Lowry.

Peace, Love, and Crass Art

[ UPDATE - Gee Vaucher's exhibit, Introspective, will be on display in Los Angeles from April 12 through May 3, 2008 at Track 16 Gallery. ]

Mostly known for the remarkable graphics she produced for the late 70’s British anarchist punk band Crass, Gee Vaucher continues to create extraordinarily insightful imagery that strips away society’s veneer to reveal hidden truths. Introspective, her current exhibit at the Jack Hanley Gallery in San Francisco, gives further evidence of her importance as a socially conscious artist for our time. Vaucher’s exhibit opened on Dec. 14, 2007, and surprisingly… San Francisco’s local NBC affiliate dropped-in to cover the opening. Click here to view NBC’s slideshow of the event, which gives a pretty good visual summation of the evening as well as showcasing the quality of Vaucher’s art.

Artwork by Gee Vaucher

[ Liberty - Gee Vaucher. Gouache and pencil on paper. 2006? ]

Vaucher’s proficiency at drawing serves as the rock solid foundation for her art, and she calls upon traditional skills to create her complex paintings. Even as a young art student, it was clear that Vaucher had a natural talent for figurative realism, but possessing and utilizing time-honored methods does not necessarily lead to conventional artworks - and one would be mistaken to call Vaucher’s works “conservative.” Another misjudgment would be to accept the commonly held view of punk aesthetics as minimalist, crude, mindless, and intentionally designed to repulse. Vaucher’s early works for Crass were intellectually sophisticated, technically well crafted, and dare I say - beautiful. Full of narrative and profound meaning, they wielded a social critique as pertinent today as when they first appeared decades ago. If at times Vaucher’s works seem a bit obscure in a surrealist manner, they are always clear in communicating a love of humanity and utter contempt for despotism.

Student artwork by Gee Vaucher

[ Life drawing - Gee Vaucher. Pencil on paper. 1954. Sketch of a live model done in art college. ]

Vaucher visited Los Angeles in 2000 for a limited speaking tour, where I was fortunate enough to exchange a few brief words with her on the subject of art and politics. Many people have assumed that her works were, and are, pure assemblages of photographic materials. As she explained to me, much of her work isn’t photomontage or collage at all - but hand drawn imagery created in pencil and water based gouache paint.

The painting Who Do They Think They’re Fooling? - You?, now on view at the Jack Hanley Gallery, is a perfect example of Vaucher’s didactic method and hyperrealist technique. Created in 1980 as cover art for the 7″ Crass single, Bloody Revolutions, Vaucher based her artwork on a famous photo of the Sex Pistols, but the members of the mock band presented in her painting consisted of the Queen of England, Pope John Paul II, the Statue of Liberty, and Margaret Thatcher. If the Pistols were a rock ‘n roll swindle, Vaucher was telling us, then the icons in her artwork represented the ultimate ruling class con job.

Artwork by Gee Vaucher

[ Who Do They Think They’re Fooling? - You? Gee Vaucher. 1980. Gouache and pencil on paper. Cover art for the 7" Crass single, Bloody Revolutions.]

Yo! What Happened to Peace? is a traveling antiwar poster exhibit in which several of my artworks are included, so I’m thrilled to learn that Yo! organizer and curator, John Carr, has arranged a collaboration with Gee Vaucher and the Jack Hanley Gallery. On Jan. 17, 18 and 19, artists from the Yo! project will work in partnership with Gee Vaucher and Penny Rimbaud (also from Crass), to present a Yo! print exhibit and live poster screen printing event at the gallery. Artists involved in the Yo! show will bring their own silkscreens to the gallery, making posters to be given away to guests at the gallery. Some of the artists scheduled to participate in the screen printing event include Winston Smith, Art Hazelwood, Doug Minkler, Eric Drooker, Mear One, Favianna Rodriguez, and a host of others.

Gee Vaucher: Introspective, at the Jack Hanley Gallery in San Francisco, Dec. 14, 2007 through January 19, 2008. The Gallery is located at: 395 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94103.

Punk 365: La Luz de Jesus Gallery

La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Hollywood hosts a Photo Exhibit, Book Signing and Live Performance for Punk 365, the latest book from music writer Holly George-Warren. With a foreword by L’enfant terrible Richard Hell, the encyclopedic volume traces punk from forerunners like the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, on through originators like the Ramones, Sex Pistols and the Clash - to the punk explosion that occurred in Los Angeles with bands like X, the Germs, and the Screamers. The text is supported by photographs from those intrepid souls who dared to take a camera into the maelstrom; Bob Gruen, Roberta Bayley, Jill Furmanovsky, and Jenny Lens.

Photo by Jenny Lens

[ X - Photo by Jenny Lens 1979 ©. Lens snapped this shot of Exene Cervenka and John Doe of the band X, during a performance at the Stardust Ballroom, August 30, 1979. Captured in the audience is yours truly - I’m wearing the red bandana at the far right of the photo. ]

LA photographer Jenny Lens has twenty four photos published in Punk 365, one of which will be on view at the Hollywood exhibit - her snapshot of LA’s most famous punk band, X. Shot during a raucous live performance at LA’s Stardust Ballroom in 1979, Lens’ photo also happened to captured me in the audience - ah, wild youth.

This special event will also include a live performance by Tony Kinman’s newest outfit, Los Trendy. If you were around in the late 70s you might recall that brothers Chip and Tony Kinman founded the Dils. One of the very first political punk bands to emerge from the US, the Dils opened for the Clash during that band’s debut US tour. The Book Signing, Photo Exhibit, and Live performance will take place on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2007, from 4 - 8 pm. La Luz de Jesus gallery is located at 4633 Hollywood Blvd. Visit their website for more information.

Sid Vicious & I

I make a short appearance on one of the special features appearing on the 30th Anniversary DVD edition of Sid & Nancy, Alex Cox’s movie about British punk rocker Sid Vicious and his American girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. In May of 2007, I was asked to appear in the special feature for the MGM movie re-release and contribute my thoughts on Vicious, the Sex Pistols, and the original punk rock explosion. The invitation for me to play a role in the feature documentary was based upon my active participation as an artist in the early Los Angeles punk scene.

Detail of painting by Mark Vallen
[ Kick Boy - Mark Vallen 1979. Acrylic on watercolor paper. Detail from a portrait of Claude Bessy (aka "Kick Boy"), cofounder and editor of L.A.’s Slash magazine. Bessy was depicted wearing a T-shirt sporting a controversial image of Sid Vicious. Click here for a larger view and the story behind this artwork. ]

In my filmed interview I championed punk philosophy and placed it in the context of dissident culture - past, present, and future. I covered everything from rocker Jerry Lee Lewis setting his piano on fire during a concert performance in 1958, to punk’s protest origins and the likelihood of new rebellious cultural eruptions in the future. Unfortunately my inspired rant was edited down to a few minutes worth of sound bites, as the studio wanted to focus on Sid and the movie. My edited remarks were blended into commentary from a handful of music critics and writers, photographers, fans, and assorted misfits, who were all accomplices in the first wave of punk. I’m not at all hesitant to say that the collective voices highlighted in the special feature are no doubt more interesting, informative, and accurate than the movie they are meant to celebrate.

Regrettably, soon after the special feature was completed, I was informed this 30th Anniversary DVD edition of Sid & Nancy would only be obtainable in the United States through Best Buy outlets. The disk will be available in stores this coming October 9th, but you can pre-order the DVD collection directly from the Best Buy website.