Pop to Punk: Ramones and Visual Art
Two conversations hosted by Hey! Ho! Let’s Go! co-curator Marc H. Miller
Jun 19 2016
In the tenements, lofts, and nightclubs of 1970s New York, punk musicians mingled with visual artists who were just as eager for something new. Taking cues from Andy Warhol’s work with the Velvet Underground, and from the psychedelic rock posters and underground comics of Haight-Ashbury, these artists allied themselves with the CBGB bands. Punk would be as much a visual movement as a musical one.
Punk, the magazine that named the movement, was started by John Holmstrom, Legs McNeil, and Ged Dunn—youngsters who saw the magazine more as a trick to get into clubs than as a stepping-stone to careers in publishing. Holmstrom, a student of Mad magazine founder Harvey Kurtzmann at the School of Visual Arts, brought a comic-book aesthetic to rock journalism. His illustrations appear on two Ramones albums. Roberta Bayley, Punk’s principal photographer and photo editor, also worked the door at CBGB, where she got to know subjects like Blondie, Richard Hell, and the Ramones, who used one of her images from Punk as their first album cover.
The Ramones found another co-conspirator in Arturo Vega (1947–2013), who drew on his background in screen-printing to make posters and t-shirts for the band. As the band’s art director, Vega incorporated neo-classical pomp into their stage backdrops and lighting. In consultation with the Ramones, Vega designed their heraldic logo, a riff on the U.S. presidential seal. Artist Ted Riederer worked with Arturo in his final years and is now the gallery director of the non-profit art space Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project. Sandra Schulman knew Vega from the Lower East Side art scene of the 1980s, and later curated an exhibition of his paintings in Miami Beach. Her book, Spiritual America: the Catalog, recounts her experience at the legendary gallery founded by Richard Prince.
Joining both discussions is Chris Stein, a co-founder of the band Blondie, who studied along with John Holmstrom at SVA, and whose photography in Punk’s earliest issues established Blondie’s place in the magazine’s tongue-in-cheek world. Stein got to know the Ramones at CBGB, and soon joined them as a fixture at Arturo Vega’s loft around the corner. A trained artist, Stein shared Vega’s and the Ramones’ interest in visual branding, and used his photography to create (with singer Deborah Harry) Blondie’s popular image. Stein will sign copies of his book, Chris Stein/Negative, for sale at the museum.
Moderator Marc H. Miller, the co-curator of Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk, was one of the curators of the 1978 exhibition Punk Art at the Washington Project for the Arts.
1-2:30pm Punk Magazine: The Original Fanzine
With Punk co-founder and cartoonist John Holmstrom, photographer Roberta Bayley, and contributing editor Chris Stein
3-4:30pm The Legacy of Arturo Vega, Art Director of the Ramones
With artist Ted Riederer and arts writer Sandra Schulman, and musician and photographer Chris Stein
Images: Original Ramones t-shirts from Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk designed by Arturo Vega, Ramones logo silkscreen, Curt Hoppe, Arturo Vega, 2010. Black-and-white photograph. Courtesy the artist, Arturo Vega, Ramones, 1975. Poster. Courtesy the collection of Curt Hoppe. Roberta Bayley, Photograph for Ramones (Sire Records), 1976. Printed 2016. Silver gelatin prints. Courtesy the artist. John Holmstrom, Watch Out! Punk is Coming!!, 1975. Promotional flyer. Courtesy the collection of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Cleveland, Ohio. Ramones in front of banner by Arturo Vega. Photograph by Chris Stein