17 November 2016
Gee Vaucher: IntrospectiveFirstsite, Lewis Gardens, High St, Colchester CO1 1JH, UK
12 November 2016-19 February 2017
At Firstsite in Essex, Gee Vaucher’s ‘Introspective’ covers a long career spent tackling political and social issues that are more urgent than ever.
By Nigel Ball
When I was a teenage punk in the early 1980s it would have seemed inconceivable that Gee Vaucher’s artwork might ever grace the walls of a gallery, let alone the front page of a daily newspaper, writes Nigel Ball.
Some 30 years later, both make perfect sense.
Gee Vaucher’s poster for Crass’s single ‘Bloody Revolutions’ (1980), which shows the Queen, the Pope, Liberty and Margaret Thatcher as the Sex Pistols.
Top: Gee Voucher with works from the Portraits of Children Who Have Seen Too Much Too Soon series. Photo courtesy of Firstsite, 2016.
Staff at UK newspaper Daily Mirror found Vaucher’s 1989 artwork Oh America via internet memes, and used it on the front page of editions published on 9 November 2016 to mark the news that Donald Trump had been elected President of the United States. (See Gee Vaucher’s artwork ‘Oh America’ and the story behind the Daily Mirror’s historic US election front page.)
Oh America, 1989, gouache. Originally used for Tackhead’s album Friendly as a Hand Grenade, and used for the front page of the Daily Mirror to mark the US Presidential election results on 9 November 2016. See below.
For Vaucher, born in 1945, and best known for her work with anarcho-punk band Crass (See Eye 33), this is the first time much of her work has been on show. Uncovered from her ‘open house’ in Essex, which she shares with her creative and life partner Penny Rimbaud, the exhibition showcases a side of her output that would surprise those who are only familiar with her album art.
The majority of Vaucher’s work actively sets itself against the mainstream, and often brutally so. But her messages are not ones of negativity; instead, they aim to awaken the viewer’s sense of individuality within a broader society. This is perfectly exemplified by the Crass stage banner gaffer-taped on the back wall that states: There Is No Authority But Yourself.
Crass stage banner There is No Authority But Yourself. Photo by Nigel Ball.
Elsewhere, her approach is one of observation rather than polemic. Unlike some protest graphics, the only instruction meted out is to question everything. There is beauty within the brutality though, and Vaucher never allows her artistry, nor her humour, to be wrong-footed by the heavy themes tackled. The command she has of her work, from hyper-real drawings to immediate collage, displays an artist in full control of both medium and message.
Portraits of Children Who Have Seen Too Much Too Soon, 2016. Photo by Nigel Ball.
Vaucher’s most recent work is among the best in the show. Portraits of Children Who Have Seen Too Much Too Soon, powerfully presents large-scale paintings of children’s faces, distorted to evoke the innocence torn from them by the unknown horrors they have seen.
Illustration from A Week of Knots, Monday – Mother, 2014. Started in 2013, Vaucher’s series, inspired by Max Ernst and R. D. Laing, comprises three books: The Family, Mother and Father.
In A Week of Knots she appropriates the working methods of Max Ernst and marries this with R. D. Laing’s study of relationships to great illustrative effect to question the nature of the family unit.
The Sound of Stones in the Glasshouse, created in collaboration with artist and typographer Christian Brett, quietly draws attention to the breadth of American military interventions and maps them to every president up to Donald Trump. In these Vaucher lays bare the personal in the political.
Gee Vaucher in collaboration with Christian Brett. The Sounds of Stones in the Glasshouse. Photos by Nigel Ball, 2016.
An ongoing project started in response to 9/11, each glass pane is etched with the name of a country invaded by the United States.
The Sound of Stones in the Glasshouse.
Each panel features a US president, a sample of their speeches and a list of the countries invaded while in office.
In 2016, ‘Introspective’ feels vitally necessary – Firstsite should be applauded for having the bravery to champion such an uncompromising critique of the state of the world. In the words of director Sally Shaw: ‘This is no longer an exhibition, it is a survival guide.’
Nigel Ball, design educator, graphic designer, photographer, Ipswich
International Anthem artwork by Gee Vaucher. Photo by Nigel Ball, 2016.
Oh America (see above), overprinted with lines from Penny Rimbaud’s poem of that name, a response to the 11 September 2001 attacks and the subsequent ‘War on Terror’.
‘Oh America, give us justice which is not the searing spite of revenge, peace which is not the product of war nor dependent upon it. Give us freedom where now there is only servitude.’
On 24 November Firstsite will host a screening of Vaucher’s film Angel, a portrait of a young girl in her final years of schooling. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with Vaucher. Firstsite will also be hosting two spoken-word events with Penny Rimbaud, Vaucher’s creative partner, on 25 November 2016 and 13 January 2017.
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