In the second half of the 1970s, punk was born between London and New York. It is not simply a musical genre, as it represents a real generational break, which takes the form of new perceptions, ideas, styles, attitudes, and sounds.
The sum of these elements is enough to define punk as a subculture, a term that designates a social grouping that in some respects is detached and sometimes stands in contrast with the wider community to which it belongs.
In this case, it is an opposition to traditional culture and therefore to the social codes and conventions that define it, and not only that, given that punk manifests an equally evident detachment from the now-dissolved hippie dream.
Punk sprouts as a cultural scene, and not just a musical one, using forms of expression that manifest anxiety, discomfort, discontent, anger, and distrust of the dominant culture and social dynamics of the time. The motto no future thus takes hold, which can mean – from time to time – rupture, chaos, destruction, desecration, nihilism, and anarchy.
The punk subculture encourages individualism and often adopts the logic of DIY, or self-production, which will then be taken up in a more uncompromising and radical way by the more politicized punk current led by Crass.
However, right from the start, the creation of new contents and artifacts, as well as the re-elaboration and re-contextualization of existing ones, are fundamental to define punk as a culture, as they push the individual not to be a simple consumer or a passive spectator.
Punk, style, and fashion
if once fashion was generated cyclically according to dynamics that went from top to bottom – that is, the ruling classes developed a new trend, which was gradually adopted also by the subordinate social class – starting from the second post-war period, profound changes were recorded.
These manifest themselves on the one hand in the partial inversion of the dynamics described – that is, the stylistic trends can arise in the popular sphere, only to be adopted by official fashion – and on the other hand, by the birth of modern subcultures.
The Teddy Boys first, the Rockers and the Mods afterward, then the Skinheads and later the Punks, give a new meaning to the clothes and accessories worn, which identify their belonging to restricted social groups, which are in turn defined by belonging to a generation and sometimes class, as well as ideas and attitudes that are not necessarily shared by the rest of society.
Even if some interpret the attitudes of the first Punks as a simple attempt to shock, studied at the table by students of the art institutes, it must be taken into account that, from the beginning, within that scene, there is a component of working-class extraction. , which sees punk as a true expression of dissent.
Punks, in an attempt to distance themselves from the dominant culture, which crushes and marginalizes them, decontextualize clothing and accessories considered symbols of the elite: these guys decorate, recycle and readjust jackets, ties, and shirts with a Dadaist nature, adapting them to the own look through tears, cuts, studs, chains, safety pins, objects of various kinds and provocative writings. This trend will then be picked up and taken to more extreme consequences during the second wave of British punk, known as “UK 82”.
There is also a preference for snug, aggressive, and even sadomasochistic garments: in essence, objects and items of clothing are exhibited in everyday life that – according to the common sense of appropriate – should only belong to the intimate sphere.
The final result is a shocking, warlike, androgynous, dark, sensual look, profoundly different from the styles contemplated by official culture.
Birth of punk art
Of course, the DIY approach is not limited to clothing but is often extended to music and graphics: record covers and concert posters are often the work of young guys and not necessarily professionals in the sector.
It is also the punks themselves who give life to their own communication channels, which – in the pre-Internet era – consisted mainly of fanzines, the realization of which is facilitated by the spread of mimeographs and photocopiers.
We are therefore faced with the birth of punk art, which is often characterized by the use of low-cost means and the use of partly improvised techniques.
We are witnessing the search for a visual language that expresses the interiority of the subculture: artists, graphic designers, and all those who produce figurative artifacts, give life to strong, shocking, ironic, unconventional, and desecrating images, and therefore a break with existing.
The source of inspiration is often constituted by artistic avant-gardes, such as Dadaism, born during the First World War, whose adherents aimed at the one hand to amaze and provoke the public, and on the other to strike with irony and satire the regimes responsible for the horrors of war.
The Dadaists loved spontaneity, which they expressed through techniques such as collage, photomontage, and other processes that did not require deep technical and academic knowledge. Dadaism is a melting pot of anarchist and nihilist ideas and attitudes and is characterized by the absence of a real artistic and political manifesto.
Punk – especially the English one – borrows many elements from Dadaism, so much so that some see it almost like the son – or rather grandson, for age reasons – of that artistic current. Punks, therefore, through their graphics, try to criticize and ridicule the dominant power and culture, as the Dadaists had done before them.
Influences and Techniques of Punk Art
Punks – as well as the artists they sometimes rely on – use impactful, irreverent, sexually explicit, violent, visionary, and dreamlike images, capable of distorting reality.
Drawings in black and white, pencil or ink are frequent, as well as collages, photomontages, photocopied and colored images in the style of Andy Warhol, and moreover all these techniques can be mixed in various ways.
The set of techniques and sources of inspiration seen so far were used, as we have seen, not only by graphic designers and professional artists but also by punks from all over the world. It is therefore a great innovation, as artistic production is no longer reserved for a limited number of individuals.
The diffusion, starting from the end of the 70s, of photocopying machines, helped to create and expand the self-production of graphics, whether they were intended for disc covers, t-shirts, or other materials (stickers, posters, flyers, etc.).
Nowadays, more modern means are used, especially digital, which are often within everyone’s reach. These allow both to create material objects (fanzines, records, posters, etc.) and to create new means of expression, such as websites, blogs such as Crombie Media, and posts that appear on social networks.
In short, through the new technologies, the old punk spirit is manifested, which consists of personally producing content and artifacts, which allow you to manifest your own nature and ideas. Our hope is that this attitude not only survives but returns to expand, pushing us not to be simple and inert consumers.
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