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Punk: An Aesthetic

A visual narrative of the art and design that spawned a cultural movement and DIY generation

by Graham Hiemstra in Culture on 10 September 2012

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Born in dungy London basements and matured in equally grimy streets, the punk counter culture of the mid 1970's and 80's defined an unrelenting angst felt by youth the world around. While many books have surfaced over the years to document its documenters, Punk: An Aesthetic wraps over 350 pages in band and film posters, fanzines and original photography—much unreleased prior to now—and iconic art to directly capture the palpable spirit of the movement. Edited by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage, the hefty book takes a no-shits-given approach to the retrospective—a body of work considered the roots of the DIY movement.

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While most recognize punk as representing a genre of music and a handful of "Anarchy in the UK" type slogans, it's really an entire anti-aesthetic felt through style, language, design and art. "It still reverberates all over the place, from Pussy Riot to community activism to Madison Ave advertising," says Kugelberg on the lasting presence of the punk movement. "The reason that it's still so very relevant is that the DIY stance is the substantial decrease in obstacle between the self-starter impulse and its execution, and punk created that seismic shift. When a youngster wants to start a blog or a cafe or a band or a 'zine and then immediately gets it done, that in my mind originated with punk."

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Central to the book—and to the American punk scene as Kugelberg sees it—is Gary Panter's Screamers image, which happens to land both on the cover and inside. The iconic image conveys an immediate message of "piss off," which was often the end goal of everything from individual style to graphic design. Inside the book, over 500 additional images culled from private and public archives and a handful of essays by the likes of Gee Vaucher, Linder Sterling, William Gibson and others come together in a successful balance between written and illustrated narrative.

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Coinciding with the book's release, London's Hayward Gallery Project Space will host "Someday All the Adults Will Die: Punk Graphics 1971—1984," opening 14 September and running through 4 November 2012 . Curated by the editors of Punk: An Aesthetic, the comprehensive exhibit will offer a a similar visual overview of punk graphic design running through and after the formative punk years.

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If you can't make it to the show pick up Punk: An Aesthetic, which is set to publish 18 September and is currently available for pre-order from Amazon for $32. For a closer look at the book see the slideshow.

Images by Graham Hiemstra

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