Peace, Love, and Crass Art

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 exhibition 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.

“Oh America” Gee Vaucher. Gouache and pencil on paper. 2005.

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 school.

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 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.

The anarchist Vaucher was telling us, if the Pistols were a rock ‘n roll swindle, then the icons in her artwork represented the ultimate ruling class con job.

“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.

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.

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