Category: Art of Punk

Hollywood Blvd. - Punk Rules

"Hollywood Blvd - Punk Rules" - Mark Vallen 1980 © Pen & ink on paper. 9 1/2" x 11"

"Hollywood Blvd - Punk Rules" - Mark Vallen 1980 © Pen & ink on paper. 9 1/2" x 11"

This is but one of the drawings I made depicting the world-renowned Hollywood Boulevard in the summer of 1980. My pen & ink urban landscape described the celebrated street as I had observed it in the 80s, before it was transformed by waves of gentrification that began in the mid-1990s. My artwork portrayed an elderly resident waiting for a bus along with a young green-haired punk. Note my inclusion of the legendary Hollywood “Walk of Fame” gold stars on the sidewalk. The tourists never knew what hit them.

View a larger image of Hollywood Blvd. - Punk Rules

Santa Monica Review

Pat Bag - Vallen. Linoleum block print. 1979. ©

Pat Bag - Vallen. Linoleum block print. 1979/2010. ©

The Santa Monica Review is one of the premier literary arts journals in the United States. Published twice a year since 1988 by Santa Monica College in the seaside city of Santa Monica, California, the journal prints works of fiction and nonfiction, as well as occasional morsels of poetry.

Writings published by the journal typically highlight the fine efforts of Southern California and Pacific Rim writers. An avid reader and a proponent of literacy, I have long supported the Santa Monica Review, and as a result I have over the years contributed several of my artworks to be printed as journal covers (Fall 1999, Spring 2005, and Spring 2007).

The Santa Monica Review is flourishing, and its Spring 2012 edition has just been issued.

I am delighted to announce that the cover art for the Spring edition is another of my contributions, this time a portrait I created in 1979 of one of L.A.’s most notorious punk rockers.

Cover art for the Spring 2012 edition of the Santa Monica Review. Artwork by Mark Vallen ©

Spring 2012 edition of the Santa Monica Review. Artwork by Mark Vallen ©

Don’t let that scare you off though, the Spring issue is filled with human drama, tragedy, absurdity, and wit as provided by seventeen of the most talented writers this side of the Rocky Mountains.

You can purchase your copy directly from the Santa Monica Review website.

As for my cover art… it is my linoleum block portrait of Pat Bag, the sinister-looking bass player for The Bags (one of the original late 1970s punk rock bands in Los Angeles), that I wrote about on this web log back in March, 2011.

In all probability my print is the single solitary linoleum cut portrait of a punk rocker to have been created as punk was actually unfolding in the late 70s. My original hand-pulled linoleum cut prints were pulled in a limited edition of 12 hand-signed and numbered prints - you can purchase my print here.

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.