Friday, December 09, 2005

Hardcore Art Gallery: The Cramps "Bad Music For Bad People" LP

Commentary by: Jason Powell

They say hindsight is 20/20, and that isn't any overstatement when it comes to reconciling expressions of individuality that clash with contemporary values. One of the greatest myths of the avant-garde is that they are the heralds of the future, the enlightenment, when often, nothing is further from the truth. Instead, the mainstream often attempts to rewrite history to assimilate what they had previously ignored into the narrative, as if they had been "down" with everything all along, when in reality, they usually were the ones placing these things in the "lower" categories.

Hardcore punk in the early 80's was usually maligned and regarded as a talentless and meatheaded bunch of clowns, but of course, now virtually every mainstream music critic references bands like Black Flag or people like Ian Mackaye in the same way self important people drop names of celebrities to try and prove their hipsterness. And in a similar way, the art world has also rejected work they considered too lowbrow to be considered worthy of recognition. One of the harshest labels that used to be attached to an artist was "illustration" or "graphic" or "comic."

To some extent that view is still very common, but in recent years the art world has lavished a lot of praise for comics, or what they call graphic novels, and similarly, artwork that would have been classified as commercial art is now also widely recognized as critically and aesthetically valid. As if to prove the point, the latest copy of ARTnews magazine features comic-book artists on the cover, highlighting an exhibit at the MOCA in Los Angeles called "Masters of American Comics."

Of course, in the same way as comic fans hardly care if the art can be seen in a museum, punks seldom cared if the establishment paid any attention to their culture. In the 80's, there may not have been too many people praising Stephen Blickenstaff's artwork, but their failure to recognize one of the coolest album covers is their loss. It has such a great graphic impact - well balanced positive and negative space combined with bold gestures of line and form as well as excellent use of contrast.

First of all, the drawing makes great use of weight and texture. The outlining shapes are emphasized by the way the cross hatching and shading don't push right up to the edge, allowing the line to stand out from the background, but you will notice it merges right into the thicker black lines of the hair, which gives the shapes body and definition. Neither does the cross-hatching use the same montonous direction, but the lines split and break up into different directions to spread out and fill the area in a way that sculpts the space into form. The use of the yellow background adds dynamic punch. A color like blue or red at full intensity wouldnt reflect enough light to highlight the relationship of light and dark in the artwork, but even at full saturation, yellow works. Not only that, but the minimal color even allows a peek of white in the teeth and eyes, so that even though there are only two inks used, yellow and black, you get three "colors." Even though this wasnt a diy release, it just goes to show how you can get extremely effective results by being creative with limited resources.

On that note, some may wonder why I chose to look at this cover instead of a more typically hardcore release. After all, the Cramps would be hard to place in the "hardcore" category these days. But the thing is, this wasn't some poppy New Wave band either. There used to be a score of bands that couldn't easily be categorized, that were all lumped in with the vague "underground" culture of the 80's, so it might not fit in with Judge, or Negative Approach, but I think it definitely could fit in with bands like X or the Minutemen or even possibly bands like the Dead Kennedy's or the Misfits. And, not to mention, it was at a Cramps show that could be said to have set in motion what came to be harDCore in Washigton DC.

But ultimately, this record seemed just as anti to me as hardcore was, it practically says "dont buy me" on the cover, only a weirdo, only a creep, could like this music. Which is of course exactly why I knew I had to get it, just based on the cover alone.

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