This article was first published on CLUAS in Sept 1999
A 1999 Retrospective of Jamie Reid's Work
The man who defined the the Sex Pistols' visual look...
Artist, situationalist, druid, activist, Jamie Reid is a man of many talents, but he is best known for the work that he did over just five years of his 30 year career - defining the visual style of the Sex Pistols. He is the man responsible for the instantly recognisable - and still provocative - ransom note lettering on 'Never Mind the Bollocks', the man who put a safety pin through the Queen's lip, the man who visually epitomised the DIY punk ethic. But he has also been involved in many other movements - the anti-Poll Tax and anti-Criminal Justice Act campaigns are just two of the those who have benefited from his unique style of visual anarchy.
'Peace is Tough' is a touring exhibition of Reid's work. It started ten years ago when a gallery in Tokyo asked him to do a retrospective. Amazingly, it was only the second exhibition that he had ever done. He then decided to keep it on the road. It has been a long, but enjoyable, journey for Reid and one that has taken him to places he describes as 'varied and different and mad, wild and wacky!' The fact that his work is so multi-faceted means that the exhibition can change in shape and form according to the space available. In the City Arts Centre he makes the most of this and the entire building is given over to his work - poster collages and record cover artwork in the main gallery, druidic hangings on all walls, photographs of the Strongroom Recording Studio and even a multimedia room with video, slides and cushions. The result is a colourful and eclectic mixture of evocative memorabilia, charting the history of one man's involvement in the punk era and his ongoing involvement in anti-establishment movements to the present day.
Jamie Reid grew up in a family of socialist anarchists, who were involved with druidism and the druid order, and was politically aware from a young age. He became directly involved in the protest movement when he went to Croydon Art College. There he met Malcom McLaren when they organised an occupation of the college in 1968. Together they made a film and then went their separate ways. Jamie co-founded the Suburban Press. It was what Jamie calls 'very anarchist Situationalist based'. They produced their own posters and magazines and printed leaflets for squatting movements, prisoner's rights, the black movement and feminist women's groups. As the Suburban Press had to produce 'really fast, quick, powerful, agitprop-type imagery' on a tiny budget, it was necessary to improvise. They cut out letters from newspapers and photographs and 'did that whole sort of ripped and torn punky thing.'
Reid took a break in the Outer Hebridies for a while until McLaren summoned him back to a London that was just about to be rocked by the punk revolution. Punk was based on a simple romantic ideal - that anyone could form a band and record their songs if everyone helped out. Cut-ups, cut-outs, collages dating from the time of the Suburban Press were turned into the striking artwork used on the covers of Sex Pistols' records. This tight-knit group exploded on the world and then imploded with the deaths of Nancy Spungen and Sid Vicious.
Reid says punk is still relevant today. He says the DIY idea has never really gone away, people still have to still get out there and do things for themselves, particularly 'people who haven't the privilege of money or access to the education system'. Reid himself left school at the age of 16 - in today's world he would probably not have had a chance of getting into art college.
Reid has been involved with the Strongroom Recording Studios in London on an on-going basis for the last ten years. This project as expanded to include the recent opening of a bar, restaurant and club in the building as well as the studios and mixing rooms. He has also brought in aromatherapists and acupuncturists to try and create 'a very vibrant situation for people to work in and encourage creativity'. Reid strongly believes that much of the architecture in modern-day work places works solely to 'keep you submissive and under the thumb'. The vibrant colours and striking imagery in the Strongroom are a direct revolt against this idea.
His involvement with the Afro Celt Sound System came directly from the atmosphere in the Strongroom. Simon Emmerson decided to found the Afro Celts after working with Senegalese singer Baaba Maal and Davy Spillane in the studio. Simon felt that the sessions had been positively influenced by the ambiance there, sent Jamie a tape and received an album cover in return. So the DIY ethos of collaboration lives on. Jamie Reid is still working with music and musicians, and still 'fascinated by the connections between sound and vision'.