Punk Rebellion in Art: Jamie Reid's Iconic Activism

Categories: Work

‘God Save the Queen’

‘Anarchism is generally defined as opposing authority in the conduct of human relations,’ this is very clearly one of the main driven forces behind the work of Jamie Reid as well as the punk culture of the era. In this piece I will look at probably the most iconic punk images, the cover of God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols which Reid created.

My initial reaction to the Jamie Reid piece is that I like the vibrancy of the colours and the distinct patriotic feel that it gives me.

But I am repelled by the distant and de-faced image of the queen making her identity seem hidden and mysterious.

The image itself is of an English flag which has a black and white image of the queen in the middle. It seems like a much younger image of the queen, the iconic image that is on sterling. It shows off the crown jewels and her expensive jewellery.

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However the eyes and mouth of the queen have been defaced by a black box, which looks as if it could have been torn out and replaced with the words God Save the Queen, Sex Pistols which appear to have been cut out of newspaper also. This gives the image a much more grunge look, perhaps linking the image to the punk rock fashion period of the 70’s by Vivienne Westwood. The idea of using newspaper gives it a more colloquial feel than what would usually be associated with the higher class of the Queen.

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It almost seems like Reid wants to make a mockery of the Queen and the patriotic country of England through this piece of work.

The image has minimal colours used, which are basic primary colours. The ratio of the different colours is fairly equal making it seem balanced and very blocky. The colourful flag contrasts to the tonal black and white image of the Queen, making the image strong and symbolic. The flag appears like it is creased in some places which are why I think it could be a real fabric flag and not just a painting or print. I think it could have been done using screen printing and fabric dyeing. I think that the image was created for a cover or logo for the band The Sex Pistols as a piece of promotional material.

The image for me is largely associated with the punk rock period. Associated with the fashion trends of the 70’s and the high influence of pop culture at the time. The work reminds me of Vivienne Westwood’s collection of the time, the punk era of union jacks and tartan and the growing rebel behaviour that was sweeping the nation at the time is seen through the defacing of the queen. It reminds me of the Johnny Rotten style and also the banning of the Sex Pistols album, ‘Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols’ which to me reflects the anarchist nature that the band created and this is shown through the way the image has been created, Jamie Reid has tried to get this impression through in his work.

Vivienne Westwood

Jamie Reid’s ‘God Save The Queen’ piece was created in 1977 as the cover for God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols. It has been described by Sean O'Hagan of The Observer as "the single most iconic image of the punk era’ His art work very much defines the punk rock art world, and his style of the ransom note look which was created with newspaper cuttings of the recent headlines reflects a iconic style of the 1970’s and 80’s which was also reflected through the fashion and media world at the time.

Jamie Reid was bought up in Croydon London and came from a very politically active family. During his time studying at Croydon Art College he was involved in the student movement of ‘68 along with Malcolm McLaren. His influence from childhood was perhaps his ambition in life to continue the work of his family and growing up in an environment with strong drive and opinions would have moulded him as a young child in order to create his hard hitting and emotion driven pieces.

His iconic ransom-note style associated with the Sex Pistols was created when he was first working as a designer for ‘Suburban Press’ a radical and political magazine which he ran for five years. This press company worked on strong campaigns such as militant black groups and squatting groups. When Jamie first started at the print company, they had to print with minimal equipment because of money constraints- which could have helped in the influence to reuse old newspapers to create his iconic style. The style perhaps reflects the strong opinions he had on politics at the time which were shown through newspapers and also by the influence of his years which he spent squatting, giving his look a more edgy and trashy feel because of the way in which he has lived.

It was in 1976 that he got back together with Malcolm McLaren to work on his new music based project The Sex Pistols. The image of the Queen in the piece was said by Reid to have ‘came from a newspaper photo of the queen’ the image was a photo taken by Cecil Beaton portraying an iconic and dignified image of the Queen. Cecil Beaton’s photography was elaborate but also traditional, but conveying a dream like world. This gave off the image of the upper class of the Queen. The original image was then changed by Reid, adding a safety-pin to the Queens’ nose and swastikas for eyes, almost as an act of punk rebellion against the royal family like an anti-royalist rebellion poster. This image as expected caused an uproar and according to Reid ‘came very near to treason,’ but I feel that this was the reason that work was so popular with the art world and perfectly suited the Sex Pistols and the teenage punk rebellion that they were creating in culture upon the country.

Reid has always played a tight role in anti war protests and it is clear that political activism is the main driving force behind his work. His art is often being portrayed world-wide in demonstrations and marches, with people holding banners and t-shirts with his iconic designs. ‘Even the rebels who broke into the Houses of Parliament wore T-shirts with Jamie's work portrayed’ says which shows how influencing and opinionated his work can be. It is often with witty and ethically motivated slogans and images. In a more contemporary piece Reid designed the front page of The Times Magazine in which he showed George Bush and Tony Blair with the slogan ‘Lies, Lies, Lies.’ Showing the controversy behind political movements, which shock the nation but also bring his art closer to the people by relating to people’s opinions.

Jamie Reid was closely linked to the work of the Sex Pistols and was responsible for many of the other artworks such as ‘Anarchy in the U.K,’ ‘Pretty Vacant’ ‘Holidays in the sun’ and also the album cover ‘Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols.’ Using the same ransom note style but incorporating strong vibrant colours to complement the text and give a hard hitting image which reflected the Sex Pistols sound.

This Artwork was the No.1 most voted for album cover of all time, and is particularly iconic to the punk era for its mocking humour. Reid said, ‘I feel that it is very important, and was often lost with the nostalgia of the period. It is the most endearing part to me the humour. Almost like Johnny Rotten doing a butter advert,’ His micky-take attitude would be the influence and often the thing which would get him into trouble but I feel it was what made his work so commendable and influential to the people of the time.

Reid’s more contemporary work continues his strong opinions but associated with the issues of the 21st century, in one of his more recent works he uses an image of George Bush and Tony Blair with the slogan ‘Lies, Lies, Lies’ in a campaign against the war in Iraq. His work continues in the same style, but he experiments with new mediums, such as slate in his new exhibition ‘slated’ in which he produces paintings onto a slate background giving a edgier feel to his work. He has continued with collaborations with the music industry till the present day creating covers for Boy George, Afrocelt sound system and also designing the interior for a recording studio. The Afrocelt sound system work I feel is much more nostalgic than his earlier work, using brighter colours and having a link to a hippy style more than his iconic punk style previously.

To conclude it seems to me that every punk form of graphics has some link to Jamie Reid’s work, making his work highly influential. I feel though that this punk period was merely the perfect opportunity for him to get his extreme cultural protest work into the public eye. His work continues to have the strong opinions and the same themes but changed to become suitable to the modern day activism. Reid will continue to be the most iconic activist artist of the century.


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http://www.wikipedia.co.uk (accessed 20/11/2011)

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Updated: Nov 30, 2023
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Punk Rebellion in Art: Jamie Reid's Iconic Activism. (2016, Oct 21). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/the-work-of-jamie-reid-essay

Punk Rebellion in Art: Jamie Reid's Iconic Activism essay
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