Art/Music – Music/Art

The Sex Pistols was a work of art. The artists: Malcolm, John (Lydon/Rotten) and Jamie (albeit with many helpers and assistants, scene changers and stand-ins). It was their collective masterpiece, a work of genius…

The Sex Pistols reminds me of Picasso’s Guernica. An epochal work, inextricably tangled with the fuss and politics it provoked. And beauty wrung from despair. If the Sex Pistols is a looser and more ambiguous work, which meanders into dead corners and mediocre brushwork, this is because its jagged explosion could not be frozen on canvas in a rectangular frame, but was scattered through time as banner headlines, records, rumours and anecdotes, pin-ups, video and movie footage, posters, T-shirts and fashions, and (I almost forgot) live performances. Only the shock waves remain, and the debris.

The Sex Pistols masterpiece stands at the furthermost point where artists have recognised that publicity is as important and, what is more, as malleable a medium as their traditional paints and clay. A point where you may anticipate and plan for the fact that the media do not simply transmit or re-produce your work, but effectively repaint – remake – it.

Malcolm and Jamie [Reid] exacted an artist’s revenge of which Courbet himself would have been proud. For a spell, as incandescent in its way as Palmer’s vision of Shoreham, they flung news values, pictures and factoids back at the media with the concentration of Pollock hurling paint into his enourmous canvases.

Fred Vermorel, friend and fellow student of Malcolm McLaren, quoted in ‘Art Into Pop’, Simon Frith and Howard Horne, 1986.

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