In 1977, in an old farmhouse in the wilds of Essex in Britain, I designed a logo for my friend Penny Rimbaud's impassioned manifesto, Christ's Reality Asylum. A heartfelt rant against as many of life's inequalities as would fit into ten pages of a homemade zine. The text was printed direct from typewriter to the page on a prehistoric copy machine and the logo was hand stenciled onto the grey cardboard covers. From the beginning, the logo was designed to be easily stenciled, a quality that would become very valuable later on. Its basic elements were a cross and a diagonal, negating serpent, formed into a circle, like a Japanese family crest.
Fast forward a few months and the soon to be infamous punk band Crass, is forming in that same damp but fertile farmhouse. Some of the ideas and certainly the righteous anger find their way from the zine into songs that the band members developed. The logo was also adopted by the band.
In the intervening thirty five years, Crass' influence spread around the world and took with it what became known as the Crass Symbol, a signifier of both the band and a demanding, counter-cultural questioning of authority of all kinds.
As new generations discover the band and its still relevant critiques, the symbol has been emblazoned on school bags and clothing and tattooed on bodies. Many "homages" have been made over the years, some the enjoyable work of genuine fans, others just blatant, barely altered rip-offs.
Consider the current case of London fashion house Hardware. Taking the original symbol, wrapping it with a chain and adding their name, they then copyrighted the symbol to use on clothing they say is "chic, glam and borderline trashy". They may have crossed that border with their "Whorewear" line.
I wonder what Crass fans around the world (wide web) think of this situation?
It seems ironic that chains have been added to the logo of a band whose abiding hope has been for the breaking of society's restraints.
And what happens to the counter-culture, now that everything can be appropriated and sold back to a world hungry for authenticity?
SEE THE UNCHAINED SYMBOL!
The show is open Saturdays and Sundays 12-5pm and continues through March 4th.
Dave King was born in London not long after the Second World War, when there was still food and clothing rationing and children played in mysterious and hazardous bomb sites, between rows of bland and un- damaged terraced or semi-detached houses. It was a grey world which didn't see much colour until the economy finally improved in the Sixties, which were nothing if not colourful. To avoid a job as a bank clerk, King went to Art School (where he met Penny Rimbaud and Gee Vaucher, later of Crass.) For the next ten years he worked as a graphic designer and art director before "retiring" to the communal house that eventually became home to the band. He then moved to New York and fell happily into the Downtown music scene of the late Seventies, joining the band Arsenal. He did illustrations for the Museum of Modern Art and the logo for downtown club Danceteria as well as graphics for many bands. His band then moved to San Francisco in the early Eighties (a very interesting time in the California punk scene), becoming Sleeping Dogs, which appeared (as did Arsenal) on Crass Records. Today Dave King still lives in San Francisco, still designs logos and works on his own graphic, photographic and film projects.