Thursday, November 8, 2012

Graphic Underground: London Ontario's Punk Rock History in Posters

A couple of weeks ago, when I was in the midst of The Cold From Hell, I dragged my phlegm-filled carcass out of bed for an hour to attend the opening of the exhibit Graphic Underground: London 1977 - 1990.  The exhibit, curated by artist and musician Brian Lambert and presented by the McIntosh Gallery (but on view at the Forest City Gallery), consists of posters and zines created by artists who were inspired and shaped by the punk rock music scene in London during that time period.  The 300 band-gig posters in the show brought back memories of nights  I spent at Call the Office dancing to music by bands like Suffer Machine, Sheep Look Up, Conning Tower, Luddites, Lifeless Currents,  and The Crawlin' Kingsnakes.  I didn't start to take in the downtown music scene until around 1984, so I missed the first wave of London punk bands like the Zellots, NFG, and the Enemas, and as I was more into funk than punk, London legends 63 Monroe and The Black Donnellys were not on my radar until much later.  I do remember the incredible creativity that went into the making of the posters advertising gigs, and occasionally I would swipe the posters off the telephone poles (after the gig was over, of course!) just for the artwork.  As evidenced by this exhibit, it was obvious I wasn't the only person who did that....

The wall of band-gig posters, which inspired many of the people at the opening to reminisce about about specific band performances and their favourite poster art (and artists)

In addition to posters, the exhibit also featured some original paste-ups like this one for The Black Donnellys

An original paste-up advertising a show featuring the Zellots, an early London punk band

I think a number of people who attended the opening appreciated the sentiment on this woman's t-shirt.

A number of the kids whose parents were artists and musicians formed their own bands back in the 1980's, and some of them also produced some amazing artwork in the form of Zines like Mind Theatre, the brainchild of artist Charles Vincent (known as Chaz back in the day), in the photo above. 

Above is a page from an issue of Mind Theatre, featuring a comic strip drawn by Vincent in 1984

Vincent's work also appeared on posters like the one above.  He got the small symbol that appears at the bottom of the poster tattooed on his arm during the same time period that he created the poster.

Uranus, a local band led by Frank Risdale, played songs that were appreciated as much for their humour as their catchy melodies, and their irreverent attitude carried over to the posters for their gigs

James Reaney Jr., writer for the London Free Press, and fervent supporter of local arts and music

The show opening also included the London launch of artist Jamie Q's latest book, titled "The Possibilities are Endless".  Some of Jamie's art can be seen on the wall behind her.

The show also featured paintings by John Elvis Passion--a character well-known to all of us who worked in music stores in the downtown core during the 80's.  John was the biggest Elvis Presley fan I have ever met and his obsession earned him his name.  He refused to believe that "The King" had died, and every week he would make the rounds of the downtown record stores and ask, "anything new by the king this week?", and we would always respond with, "He's dead, John".  He may have been a bit off his rocker, but he was also a true folk artist and it became a badge of honour to acquire one of his Elvis paintings (I am the proud owner of one!).

The next generation surveys the relics of London's musical past

Dave O'Halloran (above) and his wife Reena founded What Wave,  magazine that celebrated rock and roll, particularly Garage bands.  Dave Clarke, die-hard Garage band fan and local record store legend, occasionally provided the cover art, and often the magazine included a cassette recording featuring some of the bands written about in that particular issue. 

Yours truly, who wouldn't think of letting the fact that she was sick keep her from dressing for the occasion

For more information, and to see more band-gig posters, visit the website for the show.  Graphic Underground: London 1977 - 1990 continues at the Forest City Gallery until December 15th


  1. A proper rock chick outfit for a cool exhibition.
    I wish I'd kept all my flyers and tickets from the 1980s now, there's just a terribly torn Smiths promo poster outstanding.
    Love the story of the Elvis guy and how fab that you own a piece of his colourful art! x


  2. This is a cool exhibition Shelley
    I love how you are dressed for the occasion- especially like the tights or socks you are wearing underneath the pants very cool indeed

    Ariane xxx

  3. Omg, the Uranus poster is hysterical and I want that woman's caffeine t-shirt. You look great!

  4. It looks like a wonderful exhibition, and a great opportunity for reminiscing!
    You did well to make it from your sick bed, and to rock up looking so fabulous, Shelley!
    That Uranus poster with all the tits made me laugh (though I wouldn't have in the 80s, I would have got on my feminist high horse, but I am more relaxed about that stuff these days!) xxxx

  5. I could spend hours here! I love this whole culture, the graphics, the music, etc....And that women's t-shirt is hilarious. She's been through many stages and it all falls to caffeine in the end. My kind of liquid!

    Love how you dressed for it. The edges, colors and patterns look right out of some of these posters.

  6. That's a blast from the past! I'm glad you were able to drag yourself out - and looking so fantastic to boot. I hope you're completely well SOON!

  7. OHHHH, this is bloody amazing!!! Great post, Shelley, and what a fabulous subject for an exhibition! there's a good history of punk here in New zealand, actually, I should look into it! You totalyy looked the part, a frigging ROCKING outfit!XXX

  8. Fantastic bit of cultural history! Heroic effort to not only attend, but look appropriately smashing. Way to go, Shelley - thanks for bringing us the event and in such style.

  9. Great commentary with history and glorious photos. And your outfit was perfection for the event. How persistent and determined you are to look this stylish when ill.

  10. Thank you for this post. Loving your jacket, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
    Have a wonderful Sunday.

  11. Thank you so much for posting this. I am a big fan of your blog and was surprised and delighted to find this post! My husband, Sean Ryan, has some work hanging in that show (he was part of the Mind Theatre crew). We haven't been able to get to the gallery (living in TO with no vehicle) so this was a real treat for us to see it through your lens. Thank you so much.

  12. Wow Shelley! That sure stirred up some ghosts for me. I too had an Elvis painting (and can't for the life of me figure out what happened to it).

  13. The woman with the T-shirt (no sex, no drugs, etc.) is my wife Kate Graham. There are a few photos of mine in Brian's book.