Skinhead culture in graphic design

 ‘The skinhead style is smart, clean and tough. It is a precise uniform which proclaims identity’, surmises Nick Knight’s book, Skinhead.

Bootboys exhibition poster
Bootboys exhibition poster

This carefully crafted look, which has made its mark on countless graphic design, illustration and fashion styles since it emerged in the 1960s, has until now been left rather under the radar exhibition-wise.

Let's Catch the Beat! fanzine
Let’s Catch the Beat! fanzine

However, a new show at south London’s London College of Communication looks set to change that, with a brilliantly comprehensive survey of the visual manifestations of skinhead style, proving there’s much more to the movement than bovver boots and grade ones.

I am Just a Minstrel, The Kingstonians record
I am Just a Minstrel, The Kingstonians record

The show aims to uncover the movement’s graphic design, illustration, photography, media and publishing and fashion, delineating its links to music, football, politics and class.

Skinhead Girls
Skinhead Girls

The show has been curated by designer, artist and punk historian Toby Mott (who was also behind 2010’s Punk on Paper show), who worked with creative director Russell Bestley, Reader in Graphic Design and Course Leader of MA Graphic Design at LCC.

Hard Feel, The Chosen One record
Hard Feel, The Chosen One record

Bestley says, ‘The Skinhead movement…retains a strongly close-knit and largely underground identity, away from the cultural mainstream. This exhibition looks at the graphic language and visual communication of Skinhead identity, from its roots in the late 1960s to today’.

The show looks to track the influence of skinhead culture on visual communications from its 1960s origins in mods and skinheads, through to what the show organisers describe as ‘contemporary global skinhead identities’. Which we assume to mean the shaven headed gents still flying the flag for the skinhead subculture.

Let's Catch the Beat! fanzine
Let’s Catch the Beat! fanzine

Along the way, the exhibition will also explore themes including 1960s Ska, Rocksteady and Bluebeat; 1970s Suedeheads and Bootboys; 1970s and 1980s Punk, Hardcore, Oi!, Skunx and Street Punk and Gender and Sexuality.

Rice and Peas, Dandy & Shandy record
Rice and Peas, Dandy & Shandy record

A fascinating range of skinhead zines will be on show, highlighting the distinctive graphic style of the movement.

‘Skinhead graphics tend to be overtly hard-hitting and direct – the use
of high contrast black and white photography and line art is mirrored
by bold typographic treatments and 
the adoption of strongly upright and condensed sans serif or heavy uppercase gothic typefaces.’ Bestley explains.

‘As with punk fanzines, Letraset dry transfer lettering is commonplace within later skinhead fanzines, with access to a wide range of suitable or appropriate typefaces limited and thus generally standardised through convention rather than design.’

Collaged poster.
Collaged poster.

Where Have All the Bootboys Gone? runs from 23 October ­ 2 November at Upper Street Gallery, London College of Communication, Elephant & Castle, London, SE1

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  • Queenie Creole November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Attended this with high hopes, but instead of the expected exploration of the influence of Jamaican reggae and the cultural mix of the Original skinheads Sadly, and rather oddly, this exhibition chose to focus almost exclusively on other, more sensationalistic aspects; actually physically segregating the original black cultural influence from the main part of the exhibition, relegating it firmly to the sidelines. In a separate room, in the lower basement level to be precise…
    I didn’t even realise it was down there until someone told me…

    How does one talk about Skinhead style with not one visual representation of the Original Skinhead Style, which was so influenced by black Jamaican style?
    This exhibition reminded me of how the white record labels of the sixties never put faces of Black artists on records (a la Otis Blue) so the white public wouldn’t refuse to purchase the records.

    When questioned by an audience member about the dearth of black faces in the exhibition, one organizer, patiently explained there were no black faces in his fanzine because they didn’t show up so well in print, or words to that effect…

    The main part of the exhibition focused entirely on the 2nd wave, particularly on the racist/Neo-Nazi elements. Seeing the band Skrewdriver featured so prominently on the walls of the exhibition (with no explanation/commentary of their true cultural significance; ie. almost single-handedly starting the 80s international Neo-Nazi/White Power movement) AND being given pride of place in the slide show projected during the lecture made MY blood boil and offended MY sense of honour…

    The organizers have wasted an opportunity to explore Skinhead culture/art because contrary to all the advertising, there was NO round table discussion with senior academics about design.

    Two of the lecturers who were meant to take part in the round table discussion didn’t even turn up! So, we simply treated to Sun columnist, Garry Bushell holding forth, being tenderly interviewed by a historian who wanted to “clear up misunderstandings” about the Oi! movement. (Which no-one but the more, err, mature members of the audience had the slightest clue as to what it was actually about.. The number of times I had mystified foreign students asking me “What iss zis Oi???.) I can assure you, we did not misunderstand what it was about when it happened. Unlike the students, we were there…

    It’s a bit self-serving to have one of the subjects of your next book as the sole guest for an exhibition symposium which never even bothered to address its advertised subject, art or design…

    By the time certain audience members (plants?) were talking about “the ethnic cleansing of Canning Town” and repeatedly saying “Hitler was a Socialist” I began to sense something altogether darker taking place…

    I’d go so far as to say this exhibition in its current state would not be allowed in Germany or the US because they are so strict with displaying material likely to incite racial hatred.
    I don’t know what organisers intentions were, but it failed abysmally to deliver its promise.

    As for featuring the Skrewdriver/Oi! logos displayed again and again in the slide show, and on the walls (with no accompanying explanation/denouncement) I can only assume the organisers chose to stage a very deliberately provocative exhibition, designed to shock and offend.

    There is no other explanation, ALL of them cannot be that completely stupid…
    Most disappointing…

    The college should have known better than to trust these people, and worst of all, during black history month.

    They might as well have burned a cross in the space…

    Queenie Creole 28.10.13

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