BAZOOKA: The French left-wing newspaper Libération was so excited by Bazooka that in 1977, the ‘graphic commando’ was offered a period of editorial control over the paper – and ran riot, offending everyone, including the incumbent hippy editorial team. Eventually Bazooka was given its own newspaper.
In 1977, Britain was celebrating the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, and patting itself on the back for inventing anarchy in the UK.
Across the Channel, French punk was regarded by the bourgeoisie as chic rather than shock.
Two artists calling themselves Kiki and Loulou Picasso – young men barely in their twenties – decided to stage the revolution themselves, working with like-minded peers from the Beaux Arts of Paris in a collective they named Bazooka (both a weapon and an instrument). Their style of illustration paid homage to the Futurists, while embracing the anarchy of British punks.
Curator of East London’s Aubin Gallery, British artist Stuart Semple, is behind the first ever showing of Bazooka’s work in the UK – including a collaboration with designer Neville Brody in a unique installation entitled Decoration Kit for Disturbed Teenager
. The show forms part of the inaugural Anti Design Festival 2010, the brain-child of Brody.
To understand the artistic bomb Bazooka dropped, post-baby boomer generations should imagine the climate Bazooka was operating in: the Cold War was chilly – the Berlin Wall stood firm and glasnost was not even a twinkle in public sensibilities; industry rattled on, broken but not bowed; terrorism had hit the man on the street – and war heroes were still heroes. Punk seemed dangerous in a climate when using expletives on television was subversive. Oh, and there was no Disneyland Paris – or Channel Tunnel.
The French left-wing newspaper Libération was so excited by Bazooka that in 1977, the ‘graphic commando’ was offered a period of editorial control over the paper – and ran riot, offending everyone, including the incumbent hippy editorial team. Eventually Bazooka was given its own newspaper.
Walking to the Aubin Gallery in Shoreditch on a sunny, autumnal evening, there seemed more anarchy on Old Street in rush hour than in the urbane calm of the gallery, with Bazooka’s iconic works neatly arranged on the walls.
Bazooka’s portraiture is striking: if you get the feeling you are being watched, you probably are: the grave-faced children of Bazooka and Brody’s collaboration accost you with a steady gaze that follows you round the room, intent on making their own study of the viewer. The printed textile The scene I witnessed was a repetition (2010
) has got your number, however much you shift about.
This is not an exhibition you can always be polite at: the retrospective illustrations were often for publication in newspapers and if you don’t hog the space and get up close, you will miss the detail, as expressions change, stories unfold and the polite conventions of society come crashing down with a slogan or visual detail. Totalitarianism and its microcosm, the family unit, take the most hits.
The illustrations are executed en gris with a vivid counterpoint. In a recent interview with Stuart Semple, Kiki and Loulou Picasso described Bazooka’s style as a third image created from the juxtaposition of two images with different styles, promoting the idea of Mix.
“Being modern is to be able to mix two old ideas to create a new one,” Loulou Picasso told Semple.
In retrospect, does that make the work of Bazooka still seem punk and anarchic today?
Yes – but in the way Vivienne Westwood was punk and anarchic: the execution is impeccable – it is the composition that subverts.
While at Libération, the graphic commando truly unnerved society by forming a close fascination for – and contact with – Germany’s Baader Meinhof Group; and details of Bazooka’s contact with the group were published in Libération. The publications offended politically-correct left-wingers, war veterans and even the newspaper’s photojournalists – but were eagerly awaited by the paper’s readers.
More than thirty years’ on, Kiki Picasso claims we are now living in a “sad, decadent, dull era”.
“Both in Paris and London, the situation is disastrous. So-called democratically elected politicians are becoming more and more threatening,” he says.
“But do not worry,” he adds reassuringly. “We are here to help you change everything.”
Prepare to be Bazooka’d.
Bazooka is part of the Anti Design Festival 2010 and runs at the Aubin Gallery in Redchurch Street, London E2 until 3 October.