The Graphic Art of the Underground

It’s a pretty neat trick, to take a bunch of stuff you’ve seen before, thread it together and give you a slightly different view of the world at the end. But that’s what Ian Lowey and Suzy Prince do in The Graphic Art of the Underground.

The usual graphic design suspects, and plenty of familiar images, are all here. There’s Hapshash and the Coloured Coat and Family Dog’s psychedelic screenprinted posters, Jamie Reid punk graphics, Peter Saville’s hard industrial design for Factory, and Barney Bubbles riotous album sleeves, and they all deserve their places here.

But Lowey and Prince thread together more diverse artists, illustrators, designers and makers to create their narrative, which starts with Von Dutch and Ed Roth customising Hot Rods and ends with Rob Ryan’s papercuts and Naomi Ryder’s embroidered illustrations. It’s that bringing together of the bright mainstream of popular culture, and of  the dark corners of underground art, which make this such a strong book.

That wider story finds ‘the spirit of youthful energy and rebellion’ threaded across the last 60 years, and constantly starting underground before moving to the mainstream.

It’s fair to say that in almost every case, the makers – whether of custom cars, psychedelic posters, punk fanzines, street art, designer toys or indie crafts – see themselves as bold explorer’s of unknown places, largely independent of what’s gone before. But the line Lowey and Prince draw from a Von Dutch car paintjob to a Gandalf’s Garden front cover to a Barney Bubbles album sleeve to an Alex Gross painting to a Pete Fowler toy is pretty straight.

It’s a captivating story, well told, and suggests that some things we’re familiar with are worth looking at again, and some things we’ve never seen are worth taking the time to investigate. If you’re interested in youth culture or underground art, graphic design or independent crafting, there’s enough in here to make this a useful (and in the future, well thumbed) addition to your bookcase.

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