How punk inspired art, fashion and photography

AD feature with Ardbeg

When punk crashed onto the scene in the ‘70s, it kickstarted a revolution that continues to make its presence felt today. A musical reaction to the indulgent rock that came before it and rooted in young people’s dissatisfaction with the social conditions of the time. Punk gave them a voice and a community of like-minded people to belong to and shake things up with, railing against the establishment in confrontational outfits designed to shock polite society.

In the decades since it was first spawned, punk has continued to shape alternative music and other creative disciplines too. The political spirit of the subculture and genre can still be felt in many modern works, while the visual aspects of the scene can still be traced in contemporary arts around the globe.

Fashion is perhaps one of the most obvious art forms that is still bearing punk’s impact. The clothes were an important part of the original punk explosion, from leather jackets and spiky mohawks, to ripped jeans and big, heavy boots. Punk fashion rejected traditional gender roles, with men wearing make-up and women replacing delicate, feminine outfits with clothes that were more typically masculine, or ripping holes and tights and turning bin liners into dresses. Customisation was key too – blazers, t-shirts and more dotted with badges and safety pins, torn and cut or daubed with slogans – capturing the scene’s non-conformist approach.

Vivienne Westwood, British punk’s first lady of fashion, has helped keep the style of the time at the forefront of couture in the decades since. You can still feel its spirit in her collections to this day, while she’s also inspired the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier and Anna Sui to mine the subculture for inspiration in their own works. Beyond Westwood, though, punk has appeared in the creations of Fendi, whose A/W 2013 runway show featured mohawk-sporting models, Karl Lagerfeld, who punked up luxury Chanel jackets with studs reminiscent of the ‘70s, and Helmut Lang, who released a whole collection inspired by punk in 2003.

Art, too, has felt the impact of the original punk scene. The genre both gave rise to and inspired some already revered artists at the time, including now-icons Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. The New York artists’ work infuses the political ethos of punk, although each presented it in different forms. Basquiat commented on police brutality, racism, poverty, religion and self-identity in his art, deploying his observations and opinions through a gritty graffiti style that felt lifted from the city streets. Haring, on the other hand, might also have been influenced by street art, but took a more vibrant and upbeat approach, still fusing social and LGBTQ+ issues into his pieces.

Elsewhere, much of Barbara Kruger’s oeuvre puts protest front and centre, upholding the MO of punk to challenge society’s ideas around gender, consumerism and more through in-your-face, thought-provoking pieces. Her work embodies the cut-and-paste attitude of punk’s DIY zine scene, slapping slogans or bold statements across eye-catching imagery.

Neither has photography escaped being shaped by punk. Photos of the genre’s original reign are more than just a snapshot of a time gone by. They’ve also been a source of inspiration for those behind the camera throughout the decades since, from esteemed masters of the art to amateurs taking pictures for the first time. In the ‘70s, the prints of Anita Corbin, Chalkie Davies, Derek Ridger and more captured the essence of the scene through their lenses, their raw, minimalist but hard-hitting images going on to mould modern styles.

The punk attitude can be felt in photography today, everywhere from music and fashion magazines, street style snaps and documentary work. The resurgence of film photography, too, rejects the polished feel of digital to capture the candid, unembellished feeling of photos of the time, making you feel like you’re in the thick of the action.

It’s not hard to find punk’s impact on other mediums beyond music, even 50 years on from its birth. Given its continued presence in our world, it seems likely that it will continue to shape creative society – including art, fashion, photography and much more – for many more years to come.

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