How Jamie Reid’s iconoclastic album covers for the Sex Pistols became a symbol of British punk

The band’s album covers became just as symbolic of the British punk movement as their raucous anthems. But, ‘there’s a lot more to my work than punk PR’, the artist behind them, Jamie Reid, tells William Cook

Thursday 25 October 2018 20:29
comments
One of his irreverent posters – complete with bulldog clips and safety pins
One of his irreverent posters – complete with bulldog clips and safety pins

Here at Humber Street Gallery on Hull’s historic waterfront, Jamie Reid is busy assembling his biggest ever one-man show. It’s a diverse display, spread across three floors of this old warehouse, encompassing everything from situationist propaganda to new age spirituality. It’s the old punk slogans that leap off the walls though: “Cash from Chaos”; “Demand the Impossible”; “Never Trust a Hippy”. Jamie Reid has been making art for 50 years, and this is his most comprehensive retrospective. However, somewhat to his own chagrin, he’s destined to be remembered for a few record sleeves and posters he made in the 1970s for a short-lived punk band called the Sex Pistols. As Johnny Rotten once said: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

The Sex Pistols’ raucous anthems became the soundtrack of 1970s counterculture – a furious backlash against cosy conformity – and the artwork Reid created to promote them was almost as important as the music. His iconoclastic designs channelled that anger into art. The union jack has never looked quite the same since he ripped it up to promote the Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK”. Her Majesty has never looked quite the same since Reid put a safety pin through her top lip to promote the Pistols’ “God Save the Queen”.

Of course there’s a lot more to his work than punk PR, and this retrospective bears that out. Some of his agit-prop preceded punk; some of it came much later, like his Free Pussy Riot poster featuring Putin in a balaclava. His new age stuff is entirely different – you’d never guess it was by the same artist: dreamy abstract designs which wouldn’t look out of place on a prog rock gatefold sleeve. Yet it’s the slogans that stand out, and there are lots I’ve never seen before: “Keep Warm this Winter – Make Trouble”; “Save Petrol – Burn Cars”; “City of Culture, My Arse” (a nice irony, here in last year’s UK cultural capital) and a new take on an old favourite, “Never Trust A Punk”.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments