Over 40 years on from designing the iconic Sex Pistols’ album cover, Jamie Reid’s work is just as relevant as ever.
In a career spanning over five decades, it is a rare feat to find that the highly politicised and engaged works of artist Jamie Reid are still as emphatically relevant today. Reid’s exhibition Taking Liberties: Fifty Years of Protest is currently being hosted by the Made in Paisley gallery. The archive has been chronologically organised, giving the full scope of Reid’s aesthetic and political oeuvre. The single file works look to represent a physical and tactile timeline of Reid’s career. Over time his works become bigger, bolder and visualise the shift in technology and cultural output on offer throughout his career. Nothing is implicit in Reid’s work, which is fully redolent of a not-so-distant and tumultuous time in Britain’s history, one that is echoed almost daily. These abrasive convictions, which triumph both visually and intellectually, allow the viewer to journey through a culturally challenging time in an exquisitely navigated manner.
The accompanying exhibition text makes explicit the motivations and historical significance of Reid’s work and his numerous collaborations. It is an excellently crafted revision of the life and work of this passionate individual. The highly political nature of the works at times require some context. If you don’t fancy asking the engaged gallery staff for some background information, then a swift Google search will empower you with the best lens to witness the impact of Reid’s output.
"It is an excellently crafted revision of the life and work of this passionate individual..."
One particular image of note manifested early in Reid’s career. Homing in on this single image communicates the significance of the entire exhibition, especially in these strange modern times that we are experiencing. The work reads as an official notice, mocking the Public Transport Service as “Your bus service.” The piece communicates the inefficiency of the service and brandishes the London bus logo to deceitfully, but effectively, officiate the statement. Through text alone he satirises the company on, what feels like, the behalf of the people. Artistically sticking it to the man seems a fair way to characterise this work. Reid, who has consistently remained critical of current affairs, decades on has managed to communicate the innermost frustrations of marginalised groups. I contextualise this observation with a recent viral tweet; alongside a headline for The Independent, one Twitter user observes that “Boris Johnson has decided there’s so much misogyny in Britain that there’s no point in trying to tackle it.” In response to the Sarah Everard case, Johnson had expunged claims that misogyny would become a hate crime, the catalyst to mass public outrage.
"Artistically sticking it to the man seems a fair way to characterise this work..."
The relevance of this contemporary issue to Reid’s work is that irony and iconoclasm in art is sometimes seemingly the only appropriate response to the frustrating ineptitude of the political powers at be. What Reid has been expressing so effectively remains relevant and his lens on the world can be applied daily. His concept of imitating commercial powers in order to put words into their mouths feels empowering to those of us who at times feel overwhelmed and underrepresented in many facets of life.
As is seen in a lot of the meme culture that surrounds us on social media, sometimes the best way to counter highly sensitive and conservative topics is to ridicule them. Otherwise, we risk the pitfall of giving them credibility or indulging the absurdity, in which case it becomes difficult to retort. Whereas there is usually little fitting defence to satire that isn’t fighting fire with fire. Reid is ostensibly the master of this. Fluently and effectively deploying elements such as Dada-like collage, appropriation of historical art images, graphic design, text, and iconoclastic critique it is clear to see why his collaborations stretch from the Sex Pistols and Pussy Riot to Extinction Rebellion.
Jamie Reid’s Taking Liberties: 50 Years of Protest is exhibited at Made in Paisley until 28 October 2021.
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