Jaime Reid, "Folk The Banks"
March 16 - April 14, 2012 at Subliminal Projects, Echo Park
by G. James Daichendt
Jamie Reid is heralded for his punk aesthetic and the infamous album cover he designed for the Sex Pistols in the 1970s. A radical and polarizing figure, he helped launch the international punk movement and shocked the world with his controversial imagery. Over three decades later, his images are now part of graphic design history have accrued many honors to his credit. This is a strange position and distinction for an anti-establishment hero and, given the current exhibition, one worth exploring.
Jaime Reid, "Folk The Banks," 2011, ink, collage and acetate on paper, 18 x 18".
Image © Jamie Reid and Courtesy Isis Gallery.
The punk movement is associated with music and found its identity in reaction to mainstream music. More than music, this phenomenon bled into fashion and publishing, featuring a DIY aesthetic that was synonymous with an underground or alternative scene. Ripped jeans, piercings, and of course Reid’s cut and paste style typified the essence of punk and the frustration these individuals felt toward the conformity and meaninglessness around them.
“Ragged Kingdom” includes samples of Reid’s work from the 1970s to the present. To his credit and detriment Reid is not afraid to recycle older imagery. In fact, he repurposes many of his now classic images with brighter colors and increased layering. For the original Sex Pistols single, Reid used a ransom note aesthetic that utilized letters cut from a newspaper and arranged them to spell “God Save the Queen” over the eyes and mouth of a crude reproduction of Queen Elizabeth’s II portrait. It’s as though the Queen was bound and gagged by this strip of text. Ironically, the image coincided with the Queen’s Silver Jubilee or 25th anniversary, which added to the original shock value.
Surprisingly Reid has repurposed this same image of the Queen in a print titled "Liberty (Red)." The image is saturated with red (instead of the original blue) and the infamous words are now missing. Instead a collection of smaller silhouetted forms and symbols encircle the Queen, achieving a less dramatic impact. Perhaps we have today a kinder and happier Reid. The grittiness of the original punk image is gone, in its place an image that is perhaps more intelligent and certainly much subtler. “Time for Magic” is scrawled across the top in a handwritten font, advocating optimism for the future rather than hopelessness.
There is a welcome selection of classic imagery that is particularly exciting to engage in this exhibition, much like seeing an old friend, images like "Nature Still Draws a Crowd" features a sports stadium of onlookers gawking at several rows of autumn colored trees. The piece represents a philosophical worldview and a political statement about environmentalism. A more hopeless image is Reid’s "Nowhere Buses" that are instantly recognizable from another Sex Pistols cover ("Pretty Vacant") and borders between nostalgia and the original punk attitude. The 1975 print depicts mirror images of buses positioned to depart in different directions. The destination signs signaling nowhere screams sarcastically the pointlessness of social concerns.
Reid’s career is full of tension, often existing between art worlds (be it design vs. art or low vs. high art). From his start with the political magazine Suburban Press to his new role in Occupy London, Reid clearly maintains a consistently anti-institutional posture. "Folk The Banks," perhaps one of Reid’s most powerful images of late, features Eugene Delacroix’s primary figures from his iconic "Liberty Leading the People." The original painting commemorated the French July Revolution of 1830 that resulted in the toppling of Charles X. Co-opting this message to the Occupy movement's ethos, Reid’s Liberty is layered over corporate style office buildings that stretch toward the sky. Several phrases adorn the image including “Occupy London” and “The Death of Money.” Reid’s Liberty throws her arm forward to challenge the interest of the 1% percent and lead this march forward toward change.
Reid is clearly a politically driven individual whose creations often contain biting commentary that addresses social ills and injustices. The message and aesthetic of Punk could only last so long. The many accolades that Reid’s work has earned are a testament to his importance beyond the single association. Yet his new work mixes a bit of nostalgia with the fresh ideologies that have found support amongst the latest generation of political protesters.