Wednesday, June 19, 2013 Artsy Fartsy: The Art of Punk
I found the art and fashion of punk before I discovered the music. When I was 13, I dyed my hair, wore ripped up clothes, and started hanging out with the weird kids. Even though it was the late ’90s, and punk was “dead,” my best friends and I loved classic “’77″ punk music thanks to our trusty neighborhood record clerk. I covered my bedroom walls with flyers from local punk shows and the art of Gee Vaucher, Dave King, Raymond Pettibon, Winston Smith and others. I was inspired by the rad women in the scene. They taught me to be fearless.
In the latest installment of The Art of Punk, a documentary series commissioned by MoCAtv about the visual culture of punk, filmmakers Bryan Ray Turcotte and Bo Bushnell delve into art of Crass, who happen to have been my favorite band. Their loud, fast, anarcho-punk lyrics and absolute conviction to the DIY spirit won my young heart. I spoke with the filmmakers about punk music, the Met gala and their favorite punk ladies, and Bryan even dug into his extensive collection of ephemera to highlight my heroes.—Martine Syms
Tell me about the process of making the film. When did you start making it?
Bryan: We started about a year ago. The original deadline was somewhere around October 2012. But we kept meeting more people and getting more interviews, so we’d be like “We have good news and bad news…” We literally tracked down Penny and Gee for the Crass film. We heard they were going to be at the anarchist book festival in San Francisco so we rented a room for five days determined to find them. They had no idea we were working on the film. We cornered them on the first night and stayed up until 3 a.m. doing the interview.
Bo: We were in touch with Darren Romanelli and the people from OH WOW gallery when we heard the story about Scott Campbell getting kicked out of the house for wearing a Crass shirt. Then we knew we had to interview younger artists to show how the art surrounding the bands impacted and inspired a younger generation.
When did you first become conscious of punk music and the idea of doing it yourself?
Bryan: My older cousin Michelle was a punk. She gave me a Dead Kennedys record and sent me off. Then I learned more from the older punk kids, who’d be playing music and I’d ask “Who’s that?” “Black Flag!” “Oh yeah, of course.”
Bo: I found out about punk through skateboarding, skate vids and a street punk kid that my older sister dated.
What did you guys think about the punk themed Met Gala?
Bryan: I thought it was cool. It’s awesome for punk to be validated at such an esteemed institution. It started in New York and has come full circle. Richard Hell wearing a torn shirt with safety pins, which Vivienne Westwood took to the next level with Sex and Seditionaries. I can’t be mad at it because I want punk to be celebrated.
Bo: I also think it’s cool, except they snubbed Vivienne Westwood on the red carpet. They totally cut her off and that’s lame. I wish they had shown her more respect.
Why do you think the punk aesthetic has been so pervasive?
Bryan: Punk is the perfect storm of a youth fashion culture that also includes economics and politics. It’s a total package of art, music, fashion and life. People say it can never happen again, but it keeps get recombined in interesting ways. It might not be the same, but it’s a similar spirit. If you look around at the current political/economic situation it’s like 1976 all over again, and you’ve got like Pussy Riot in Russia. I think it will keep going.
Since punk is a youth culture, do you still consider yourself punk?
Bryan: No, I don’t. I’m too old. Now my role is to tell kids not to pay attention to anyone and go do whatever they want to do. I publish the books, put out the records, [and] host the art shows.
Bo: As an outside observer, I just wanna say that Bryan does not separate life and work. This is his life. He does it 24/7.
Do you think punk fashion exists to identify like minds?
Bryan: Well, I think at first the fashion was a way to be different. Like you didn’t want to look like anyone else, so you wore these crazy clothes. But then that became a uniform, so the most punk thing you could do was dress more normal.
Bo: Like Black Flag. They dressed like mechanics: black shirt, blue jeans, boots, short hair—ready for a fight.
Bryan: I don’t think punk was ever about clothes making you fit in. You’re not supposed to fit in. It’s about being yourself and wearing exactly what you want to wear. You gotta own it. I like seeing kids now who are wearing clothes from every different era of punk. They’re mashing together opposites and it still works.
Who are your favorite women in punk?
Bryan: My cousin Michelle got me into punk, so I’ve always been influenced by the women. When I was working on Fucked Up and Photocopied, I would totally fan out when I met these awesome women like Penelope Houston from The Avengers, Alice Bag from The Bags, Beki Bondage from Vice Squad. I found Lorna Doom! She hadn’t been to the Slash offices in 15 years when I contacted her. She came in looking perfect: bleach blonde hair, red lipstick, leather jacket and killer heels.
When I was growing up in the Bay Area there was a girl gang called the DMR’s (Dumont Mob Rules) in Berkeley. These girls were super badass, always the first in the pit. They taught me how to peg my jeans and do leopard print hair, and give hair cuts. I learned how to be punk from them.
Martine Syms is Nasty Gal’s Web Designer and self-proclaimed Conceptual Entrepreneur. Her specialties include the color purple, modern comedy and strategic swearing. Find her at martinesyms.com or talk to her @martinesyms!