Crass Art and Other Pre Post-Modern Monsters: By Gee Vaucher, 105 pgs. By Todd Taylor

Apr 15, 2011

Chances are, if you've been into punk for a bit, you've come across Gee Vaucher, much like you've come across Raymond Pettibon or Winston Smith. You may not know it, and it isn't instantly obvious to the casual listener or watcher, but as how Pettibon's illustrations captured the bleak, stark strikes of Black Flag and Smith's witty, knife-sharp condemnations via collage gave a face to the Dead Kennedys, Gee Vaucher help put a graphic face to CRASS, England's seminal anarcho punk band that's still loved and reviled to this day. She provided the visual bullets.

Having met both Steve Ignorant and Penny Rimbaud in EXIT, an avant-garde performance group, and stayed with the band/collective for many years, she also became part of the core group who started Crass Records. She provided an enormous amount of visual support and helped give not only CRASS and their labelmates a visual identity, but, in the process – for better or for worse, to no fault of her own – helped develop the ongoing look of crust, doom, grind, and most bands that start with the letters "d-i-s."

With the cover to The Feeding of the 5,000, she uses gouache. It's painful how real it looks. The world she depicts is like an inverted Norman Rockwell in black and white. Instead of saying that the world is a nostalgic, nice place where we all run to a swimming hole, Vaucher's vision of that time was one of bedlam, seconds away from being blown to bits or burned black like smoke off a tire. She also incorporates a bit of Dali, where what you're looking at can't be real, but it looks so natural. Many images are striking and socially blunt. In another painting, you really can't interpret in too many ways where Thatcher is applying lipstick over a bleeding corpse, using its blood for a mirror reflection, surrounded by bobbies, while a car burns in the background.

Also, much like Pettibon and Smith, the depth of their personal art catalog is vast, varied, and a lifelong pursuit well worth looking into beyond the bands they're usually associated with. This book is full color with heavy, glossy paper, perfect for showing your friends and although the price is steep – almost $25 – the publishers sure as hell didn't skimp on production. It's nice looking and it's all here, from hyper real marching hot dogs Vaucher used as illustrations for children's books, to photo-realistic genitalia to collages such as "Still Life with Nude" (of a dead soldier on a beach, his wallet open, with a picture of a colorized, bare-breasted snapshot peering out), to the cranked-up ink spatterings reminiscent of Ralph Steadman (who illustrated Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), to her more commercial work for Rolling Stone (for a Bee Gees record review) so she could produce her own International Anthem, a "nihilist newspaper for the living." This is a fine book to have if you want to peel back and look at the vast possibilities that the high water mark collision between art and punk music are capable of. Highly recommended. –Todd (AK Press, PO Box 40682, SF, CA94140-0682)