Record sleeves and album artwork are often cited as the things that get people into graphic design – or even get people knowing what the discipline is in the first place. For many, they’re the most obvious site where art meets commerce; where collaboration between a particular visual artist and musician(s) becomes evident.
As such, there’s certainly an established, if unofficial, canon when it comes to famous sleeve design, especially in the UK. There’s Malcolm Garrett and his work with Buzzcocks and Duran Duran; Peter Saville’s Factory Records designs; Vaughan Oliver’s distinctive designs for 4AD; Barney Bubbles’ iconic Stiff Records work.
But on the whole, we don’t see too much in the way of women’s sleeve designs (with Linder’s superb image on the Garrett-designed Orgasm Addict the exception, of course). However, a new book is looking to remedy that, in the case of one designer at least, by celebrating the work of Gee Vaucher.
Authored by Rebecca Binns, a writer and lecturer on art, design and cultural history, the book is published by Manchester University Press, and offers the first critical assessment of Vaucher’s work. According to the publisher, Vaucher is “one of the people who defined punk’s protest art in the 1970s and 1980s” and as such, “deserves to be much better known”.
Among the bands she created sleeves for are anarcho-punk stalwarts Crass; and as the book illustrates, she also collaborated extensively with band member Penny Rimbaud on artworks such as performances at venues including the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford. She also created illustrations for his set of 50 poems titled Acts of Love, which were assembled in an LP case with no record in it. The set was published in 1984 once Rimbaud had created music to accompany the poems, and after Crass had disbanded.
As well as offering an overview of Vaucher’s career – which also included designing sleeves for The Charlatans and seeing her 1989 painting Oh America! appear on the front page of the Daily Mirror the day after Trump’s 2016 election victory – the book also offers a whistle-stop tour through later 20th century counterculture. We hear about the Fluxus movement; COUM Transmissions (the collective led by Genesis P Orridge of Throbbing Gristle, who Vaucher seems to have had very little time for); the 1970s gatherings at Stonehenge; free festivals; the radical underground press; the Situationists.
We also learn about Vaucher’s relationship with punk’s most famous designer, Jamie Reid. According to the book, the pair shared “an anarchistic outlook, valuing personal and political autonomy rather than conventional career structures”. The same chapter goes on to pay Linder Sterling her due, discussing her work with Buzzcock and Magazine, which was often created under assumed names like Anxious Images; as well as her work for Factory Records and the Haçienda.
“This book examines [Vaucher’s] unique position connecting avant-garde art movements, counterculture, punk, and even contemporary street art,” says the publisher. “While Vaucher rejects all ‘isms’, her work offers a unique take on the history of feminist art. The book explores how her life has shaped her output.”
Gee Vaucher: Beyond Punk, Feminism, and the Avant-Garde is published by Manchester University Press; manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk