Revolutionary art that ripped into Britain’s national identity at a time of crisis: immigration, poverty, hunger, job conditions and unemployment had the nation on a knife-edge. Any of that sound familiar? Reid not only defined the punk spirit, he changed our cultural iconography forever. And in politically and culturally conflicted times for the UK it resonates loudly today.
In his newer work the self-styled ‘socialist druid’ weaves anti-war and ethical causes, and in a major new exhibition, Jamie Reid XXXXX: 50 Years of Subversion and the Spirit, nature and spirituality sit alongside the spit and venom of punk. And in today’s turbulent times Reid warns we’d better brace ourselves: things will definitely get worse for Britain before they get better.
“When Pussy Riot were arrested in Moscow I did a poster for them. I met up with them in Liverpool, had a fantastic day with them and it made me think again about art and direction and how fucking brave Pussy Riot are. I’m a big football fan and when they ran on the pitch at the World Cup final it just dawned on me what a load of shite the World Cup had become. Their bravery and what they’ve done with their art is just amazing, better than shredding things in bloody auctions and making them double in value.”
“It’s hard, but there’s still got to be direct action and popular protest, such as Occupy London, who I worked with. Since Thatcherism that’s almost been made illegal because of the whole illusion of terrorism, which I think the establishment’s behind anyway to an extent.”
“If Banksy was to give all his money to the homeless it’d be brilliant. That shredding was a comment on capitalism I think. But I can’t believe he’s into that moneymaking art world scene. I think more about actual radical direct art; like when during the first Gulf War the [prankster Daniel Finegood] changed the Hollywood sign to say ‘Oil War’, that’s pretty radical. Banksy’s just part of that whole Brit Art thing, a continuation of people like Damien Hirst. It’s like when Saatchi & Saatchi helped get Thatcher into power, they created this so-called ‘shock art’, and there’s nothing remotely shocking about any of that stuff.
It’s just a means to make money. There’s so much radical and underground art in this country, but there’s a whole monopoly in the arts scene, between critics, galleries and artists and they all socialise together. It’s so incestuous you wouldn’t believe it.”
“There probably are people documenting the times through art all over the world but you don’t get to know about them. I don’t anyway. There’s always things happening. All my politics with Suburban Press and then into the Pistols to an extent was Situationist-based. With the whole punk thing I’ve come across people who are only interested in the fashion and the music.
I was interested to meet up with a Finnish film director called Aki Kaurismäki and punk for him meant that he and his brother squatted a cinema in Helsinki and then went on to make their own films, and to some extent the people who took my and Malcolm [McLaren]’s ideas and moved them into a whole other arena was the KLF, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty [who Reid collaborated with on the print Boudica is Coming]. They understood a lot of our ideas and where we were coming from and took it into the rave and the dance scene, which at that time I found incredible.”
“In the UK at the moment things are going to have to get a lot worse before they get better. I almost hate mentioning it, because I think a lot of liberal people who have good intentions actually do a lot of harm by talking about the rise of the new right. I’m showing my age here, but I think you’ve got to have an understanding of history. They remind me of the National Socialists in Germany – they direct all their policies at the working class, in much the same way that Trump has or Boris Johnson would like to, to gain the working class.
And it’s difficult now, because my whole inspiration was the Situationist society of the spectacle. And that’s never been truer than now. And then there’s the complete control of the media over everything. If you think about the time Anarchy In The UK and God Save The Queen came out, which showed the discontent about things like monarchy, since then these people have learned lessons – the monarchy’s PR has been phenomenal. You can hardly say a word about anything now without being accused of this, that or the other. You can’t criticise Zionism and the terrible atrocities committed against the Palestinian people without being called anti-Jewish. What you don’t hear about in that particular case is the amount of people in Israel who protest against their government as well. It’s quite interesting to see how things will go with Jeremy Corbyn [in that respect].”
Jamie Reid XXXXX: 50 Years of Subversion and the Spirit, the first ever major retrospective of Reid’s work, is at Humber Street Gallery, Hull until January 6. humberstreetgallery.co.uk
Image: Anarchy In The UK from 1976 (screen print) is part of the Hull retrospective