The Do It Yourself philosophy of the punk movement, born in the late 70s, attracted a lot of artists looking for more creative independence as well as an energizing community. During years, punk rock music had refuted the adage of its death and kept developing in the fringe of both mainstream music and contemporary art. Exhibition ‘Welcome to 1984//2020: Punk on the Western Front’ keeps the spirit of rebellion alive by “presenting the timeless generational phenomenon of punk culture through its visual art style, moments in its musical history, disorderly fashion and anti-conformist ideologies. 1984//2020 is a conceptual exploration of the juxtaposition into the Orwellian reality of 1984, with its undeniable similarities to our current 2020 climate of socio-economic state oppression, polarizing political gridlock and the erosion of our civil liberties.”
Curated by the East Bay-based, international punk rock management agency Destroy Art Inc. (Farida Mazlan and Craig Vincent) and based in art gallery Art Attack SF in the historic Castro district, the show runs until March 29, 2020. As describes by its curators, the exhibition displays “chaotic collages hand-cut from vintage magazines, patched battle jackets, spray-painted canvases, photographic glimpses of the grime in moshpits and spirited rebellion on the streets are part of the myriad of 2D works of collage, spray paint, paintings, prints, illustrations, photographs, sculptures and on-site installations constructed to depict a real vision of the subterranean mecca of the underground culture of punk rock.”
Destroy Art Inc. and Art Attack SF are introducing us with 4 artists and interviews.
WELCOME TO 1984 // 2020: PUNK ON THE WESTERN FRONT
Exhibition Dates: February 29 – March 29, 2020
Art Attack SF
2358 Market St. Ste.1 | San Francisco, CA 94114 | 415-872-9285
For additional information, please contact [email protected]
Matthew Kadi is a photographer, videographer, designer, avid drummer of the seminal Monster Squad (amongst other great punk bands) and one of the pillar figures in our present-day Californian punk scene.
When did you begin ‘making’, and at what point did your work begin to be defined by the Punk aesthetic? Are there any earlier influences that continue to stand out today?
Art began early in elementary school for me with a sketchbook and pencil, offering my take on comic book drawings and copying album art. Once I heard punk at 13 or 14 years old, naturally I began drawing punk “looking” subjects. I put the pencil/pen down in high school and discovered a camera and just began documenting our teenage punk life in Vacaville and shows as best I could. I wasn’t carrying my camera everywhere with me at that point (something I hugely regret) and I missed documenting some amazing shows in the late 90’s early 00’s as a result. I’d assume a part of that was the cost of film/developing and me having zero money.
As a young Matt, my art teachers (Wendy Brasher: art in general and Tom Ray: photography) were my influences. Naturally, the photos on albums seeped into my brain and I wanted to create photos just like them. One that comes to mind is the cover photo for Confuse – Nuclear Addicts. Nothing fancy about this photo but it absolutely spoke to young me and inspired me to capture more spikey haired kids, which at that time, was me and my friends.
As my attendance at shows grew, I’d said, “who are those two older dudes I always see?” – Murray Bowles and Larry Wolfley. I recall many shows watching them in my peripheral vision and taking mental notes. Only to later realize, I had been staring at some of their work for years on albums.
As a photographer, what is it about Punk culture that makes it so important to capture and communicate to the general public?
My photo teacher in high school, Tom Ray, was the first person to tell me that “You and your friends are unique and live an interesting life. You should be taking advantage of that.” I didn’t fully get it as a teenager. To me, our lifestyle was normal so I didn’t put an emphasis on documenting all of us. Looking back, I shot more than I thought I did. Which I’m proud of.
I’m always happy to demystify any negative taboo about punk culture to folks who only know punk as an angry, violent place where how you look/dress, etc is all it is. I never created punk music or art to benefit the general public but I later did recognize that my art can help lift punk into a positive place and help influence younger folks getting into the scene in a positive direction. At the end of the day, influencing youth in a positive way it what this is all about.
In your opinion, how has technology influenced both Punk as a subculture and your own practice?
We can record an album in my bedroom with a phone, bypass physical distro with a variety of online platforms and share with the world all in one day. We can photograph a show, and share said photos with the before getting home from said show. Now, I do think immediate satisfaction is a problem in any scene and I prefer not to share all the photos from last night’s show (in most cases). Same with music. If I purchase an LP online and I immediately get a download code in my email, I ignore it. There is value in waiting to drop the record needle. You will have a deeper relationship with that album if you wait until it shows up in the mails vs. immediately putting on the mp3s. I understand there are so many positives to the changes in technology and how it’s changed punk culture. Take some to value patience. It’s worth it.
Edward Colver is ultimately the most seminal photographer in the history of Southern California’s burgeoning hardcore punk scene in the early 1980’s, single-handedly documenting and birthing 20th century punk icons with his photographs, capturing the lifestyle, fashion, art and music shows in Los Angeles. His work was featured extensively on the film and book entitled “American Hardcore” and on more than 500 album covers – some of which are the most recognizable in rock music history. Edward’s gifted talent for producing Dada and Surrealist assemblage works are rarely seen in the public eye. This exhibition reveals a collection of his favorite never-been-published photographs, bringing the viewer to the spirited core of American punk history as it was created.
Winston Smith is the quintessential Punk Surrealist, montage artist and designer most known for creating the Dead Kennedys iconic logo and artwork. He has produced over 50 record covers and is known for his work with Green Day and publications such as The New Yorker, Playboy, Spin Magazine and many more. His intricate collage work imbued with thought-provoking, tongue-in-cheek themes is often made using vintage magazines and photographs. Winston has published multiple books of his collage collections and consistently creates new, powerful, contemporary original compositions.
When did you begin making, and at what point did your work begin to be defined by the Punk aesthetic? Are there any earlier influences that continue to stand out today?
Before the War, my mom studied art at the Art Institute in Chicago during the late 1930s. She was a very talented painter and sculptress. So as a child in the 1950s our house was filled with Art books of all types; Renaissance art, Classical art, 18th and 19th century art, etc. I was never very interested in whatever passed for “modern art”. But I am now, since there are so very many creative artists that have reached beyond the expectation of our artistic forebears.
So being surrounded by all this inspiring imagery, I couldn’t help not to learn by osmosis —I never actually took any serious art classes (except the few that I totally failed since I am mostly dyslexic and cannot deal with the procedural efforts required to deal with turpentine, linseed oil, canvas stretching and oil paints, etc.) Of course, the best part about being “self-taught” is no one can tell you you’re doing it wrong, since it’s your own, personal style.
After studying classical renaissance art in Italy in the late 1960s and mid-‘70s I returned to the United States and underwent some profound culture shock. In those 6 to 7 years that I was absent I came back to a completely changed society. Political and social changes had occurred that I knew nothing of and found impossible to comprehend. Not being under the constant drip of 24/7 television indoctrination and the mainstream propaganda machine was liberating, but it also wound up being a limiting factor for not being “in the know” and up to date. Somewhere along the line I decided it was not worth the effort to try to keep up and simply went into self-imposed exile.
For years, I lived in a remote cabin up in the woods, cut off from most of what passes for civilization. No electricity, no telephone, no road down the canyon, just kerosene lamps and an old wood stove. Very rustic. But very good if you crave solitude and concentration. I think that kind of atmosphere is good for one’s focus. (Now I live in the heart of San Francisco which is the total opposite of my life before. But I’m a Gemini, so maybe it is somehow fitting.) Before moving up to the Hills I was a roadie for lots of San Francisco rock bands just when Punk Rock was rearing its ugly head in 1976-77. It was during that time that I began making posters and band flyers — mostly for my imaginary punk bands that didn’t exist. Since I didn’t know too many people in the scene at that time, I just made up a few bands and wheat-pasted them all round town and, by and by, real bands saw them and asked me to do posters for their bands. It was my own lame attempt at shameless self promotion but it seemed to work. At the time, in the late 70s I was volunteering for an outfit called Rock Against Racism. We did ‘zines and put on shows featuring local punk bands. A friend of mine kept telling me I should meet her friend Biafra who had this zany band. When she finally played me their 45 “California Über Ales” I realized Biafra’s music and lyrics were a step ahead a lot of what passed for “music” at the time and we became “Partners in Crime”, so to speak, ever since.
In regards to my early influences, The works of Leonardo probably had the most immediate impact on me. I think that as a creative (but pain in the ass) kid I was drawn to those wacky sketches of giant crossbows, rotating machine guns, helicopters, flying machines, etc. All kids are fascinated by such contraptions. But it was later that I began to appreciate Da Vinci’s artwork, his ideas and his amazing skills. I have always believed that Leonardo was probably the first Surrealist. In his treatise on Painting (written in the late 1400s) he wrote about how to let inspiration come to you naturally, He said if nothing is occurring to the artist as a subject for a work then simply rest your eyes and stare at an old, stained wall. (I’m paraphrasing) “And soon images will emerge from the texture of the surface of the wall that will resemble faces and figures and even fanciful beasts such as dragons, etc.” So I think Leonardo was telling artists to let their subconscious mind come to the surface. And this was centuries before the studies by Freud or Jung or the ideas of Surrealism as a way to tap into the subconscious mind.
Considering the socio-political climate, and a still prevailing consumer culture, how has Punk evolved as a subversive concept between 1984 and 2020? What do you see coming after?
It seems to me that the immediacy and the intensity of the underground punk culture has actually sustained itself in a lasting community, a global community, that has endured much longer than, say, the Freak (or “Hippie”) culture that preceded it —and went down in flames after the social and political challenges sent it into a tail-spin during the early 1970s. Punk had been incubating in the background for years under the surface. Never seen but always there. Once it emerged full blown in the mid 70s there was no turning back. After more than 40 years it appears to be a solid and permanent fixture in the musical, theatrical and artistic culture of the Western World.
I’m not so sure about what the future will bring. If I had a crystal ball I’d say that within the next ten or twenty years people will probably just be chasing each other up and down Market Street, whipping one another with chains. That will probably go on everywhere till all the planets line up and the earth’s magnetic poles reverse, ushering in a new Ice Age and the sun goes nova.
Seeing as handcut collage is an easily accessible medium yet relatively obscure in modern art, how has the application of technology evolved for your own practice?
It’s funny. Hand-cut collage seemed to go way out of fashion as an artistic pursuit once the possibility for digital montage became a reality. In my case, I am 99% computer illiterate so the allure of high technology is more or less lost on me. I can just barely deal with responding to e-mails but I don’t know how to work face book or Twitter or any other social media. But I actually can work texts. And I can post photos on Instagram (but I never see DMs— I’m hopeless). Though the fact that I can send texts makes me feel like a supreme intellectual. But then, I’m easily impressed.
Craig Vincent aka DNGRCT is a multidisciplinary punk artist and musician from NJ and now based in Oakland. He is the creator/co-curator of the 1984//2020 art show concept and a founding member of Destroy Art Inc.
Being the creator of the 1984//2020 concept, in your opinion how has Punk as a culture evolved as a subversive concept between 1984 and 2020? What do you see coming after?
I wanted to do an inter-generational punk art show and play around with the similarities between these two iconic number years 1984 and 2020 as a loose theme. Punk has grown and thrived very well among an international underground community since its inception in the mid-seventies. Punk is rooted in a foundation of a one-size-fits-all inclusiveness, fierce self expression/independence and anti-authoritarianism protest. Although punk has definitely gone mainstream (quite a long time ago) it still survives as a legitimate force to be reckoned with in the gritty sweaty international underground circuits that it was born into. I attended the women’s march in DC in 2106 when Trump was elected and I saw and heard all of these “normal” folks chanting in protest “NO WAR, NO KKK, NO FASCIST USA ” which is from an MDC song from 1980. This blew me away as most of these people did not seem to know the origin of this phrase and it finally validated my repressed feelings of punk rock rebellion and status quo breaking into the influence of the mainstream in a positive way for once!
Today the Orwellian reality of the 1984 narrative is much closer to Huxley’s Brave New World in my opinion. The Internet has become the opiate of the masses. It’s those same kinda twentieth century totalitarian trolls looming in today’s source code, devils in details, stealing data. I was only a kid in the 1980’s but people generally seemed much more unaware of what was going on in the world. There were so few sources for the media back then – a weird concept in the information age but my point is, if it was in the newspaper or the 6 o’clock news, it was believed to be true. Not many ever questioned what was printed or broadcast. There appeared to be a much more honest trust in the system of government. After 9/11 we lost all of our civil liberties under the Patriot Act. It’s seriously a “nightmare reality” punk song come true – liberty gone.
What I see coming down the pipe is a possible dystopian, nuclear funeral in a mutated and mechanized world as a legitimate outcome from our outrageous experiment in capitalism. It honestly doesn’t look like capitalism works for everyone – check on the current situation with the have and have-nots? Today the former “cold war” of yesteryear is now running down the street engulfed in flames! We’re stuck in this never-ending war cycle with missiles dropping in already volatile countries with robot soldier drones doing the killing too – don’t even get me started!!
What I seriously hope is that we can crush this dystopian future is an overwhelming shift to choose to be more positive and inclusive and find some togetherness as a species. We gotta get rid of these pigs who only fish for votes and get fat off war and suffering.
Your work on display at 1984//2020 is a wide range of mediums all within a diverse underground aesthetic. How did your art practice evolve over time, and what recurring visual themes in Punk culture do you utilize?
For me it’s more about what resources I have right in front of me when I’m making art. The medium is much more dictated by the concept which is always evolving in real time when making my work. I rarely sketch on the “blank canvas” and just work by how I feel.
I first realized that I could do all of the artwork myself by doing the layout on my first record I released on my own DIY punk record label. I surely wasn’t going to pay someone else to do it nor could I think of anyone else with a twisted enough creative mind like mine!! I quickly found that collage was a quick and fun way to rearrange existing stuff into my own “message”. One of the early things I did was put together a flyer of Bill Clinton smiling and I made it so he was holding up a middle finger. This was groundbreaking for me as conceptual ammunition but not necessarily not a standalone art piece. This took lots of the inflated pressure put on me from all of the failed art classes that only focused on copying the discipline vs actual harnessing your inner creativity. Use whatever you can to say whatever you wanna say!
What messages do you hope to communicate to your audience, and what is the significance of that message today?
I want to empower and inspire people to fight back against oppression. I want to try and remain inclusive and not be exclusive in the things I make. I wanna stay free in my expression and in how I create things. I want the audience to think about what they see and what it means to them.
In general, society is much more aligned with punk ethos these days. People no longer trust their government or elected officials anymore. Civilians see they are obvious crooks and liars just fishing for votes, phoning it in with their phony compassion. This small fraction of insular wealth imbalance is wearing very thin with the working people of the world. Punk continues to inspire and define this kind of reset that we need so desperately in today’s USA! What I mean is we all have a responsibility to remain vigilant against strong nationalism and fascism quickly coming back into mainstream fashion. The diverse and ever evolving beauty of the core of punk attitude is what makes “punk” punk! It’s not at all just the look, sound or style of the music… it’s the attitude of f**k you, of spit-in-the-face rebellion with spikes, studs, chains and boots. Safety pins are cool cause they have no value in society. It’s worthless jewelry just like your diamonds, gold and other minerals we hold in such rare high esteem. Punk will always evolve and fix shit. DIY ethos is fundamentally inclusive because there’s lots of volunteering… and funny enough, you can’t really “Do-It-Yourself” as it usually takes a village to make things happen. When I go out and volunteer for Punks With Lunch* on the streets of West Oakland, most folks are scared to get out of their cars in these neighborhoods, yet I meet sensitive, intelligent, talented, happy, beautiful people that are just down and out.