Jamie Reid, the graphic designer who defined the visual character of punk with his designs for recordings made by the Sex Pistols in the late 1970s, has died aged 76. His family and the John Marchant Gallery, managers of the Jamie Reid Archive, issued a statement describing Reid as an “artist, iconoclast, anarchist, punk, hippie, rebel and romantic. Jamie leaves behind a beloved daughter Rowan, a granddaughter Rose, and an enormous legacy.”
Writing in The Art Newspaper in 2022, Louisa Buck described Reid’s cover art for the Sex Pistols’ single “God Save the Queen” as “arguably the most iconic punk image of all time. The fact that it was designed in 1977, in the year of the Queen’s silver jubilee, makes it all the more provocative. Reid’s violent subversion of a classic black-and-white photo of the Queen (taken by the royal photographer Peter Grugeon)—by ripping away the eyes and mouth and substituting the title of the single and the band’s name using lettering cut out of newspaper headlines in the manner of a ransom note—offers the perfect visual expression of the Pistols’ snarling lyrics: “God Save the Queen/she ain’t no human being/There is no future/in England’s dreaming”.
Jamie MacGregor Reid was born in Croydon, south London in 1947, but always felt a strong connection to his Scottish roots—his father, City editor of the Daily Sketch, was from Inverness. Jamie studied at John Ruskin Grammar School, Wimbledon College of Art, before enrolling at Croydon College of Art in 1964.
He cut his graphic teeth as a co-founder of the radical political magazine Suburban Press, developing a low-cost newspaper cutting and “ransom note” look that marched with the magazine’s anarchic anti-capitalist character, expressed through densely typed Situationist campaigning journalism—aimed largely at the redevelopment of Croydon’s town centre.
In one of his last interviews, for The Press and Journal, Reid recounted how he was living on the Isle of Lewis, in the west of Scotland, involved in community politics when a telegram arrived from an old friend from his Croydon Art School days, the music manager Malcolm McLaren, asking him if he would make designs for a new band — the Sex Pistols.
After his era-defining designs for “God Save the Queen”, Reid created the artwork for two more Pistols singles during the band’s brief but unmissable reign in the charts—”Pretty Vacant” and “Holidays in the Sun”—as well as the album Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols.
For many years Reid kept a studio in Whitechapel, east London, and, while remaining a community-centred radical all his life, he developed his art output in chastely abstract and druidically inspired directions, exhibiting widely in Britain and abroad. He worked with other bands including the Dead Kennedys and Afro Celt Sound System, and produced protest work for movements including the Anti Poll Tax Alliance and Pussy Riot. He produced a ten-year cycle of installations at the Strongroom Studios in London. X-Large, a 2016 exhibition at Beams Gallery, Tokyo, included vitrines of newspaper cuttings and collage marginalia, a feature of his shows over four decades. His work is in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Tate, the Museum of Fine Art in Houston and MoMA in New York.
One of Reid’s most recent exhibitions, which closed in May, was Jamie Reid: Time for Magic, a year-long land art project, timed to the druidic calendar, at the Lost Gardens of Heligan, at St Austell, in Cornwall, in which Reid’s OVA glyph—his magic symbol combining the Anarchy A with a V for Victory, and symbolising (with ova, the Latin for egg) the cycle of birth and rebirth—was sown into the landscape, in cornflowers, corncockle, poppies and wild carrot.
“I believe that you can actually change things,” Reid told The Press and Journal. “It is possible. People might go in for the nostalgia but they will also see how my work can be overly political and slightly spiritual. It’s more relevant now than it’s ever been.”
- James MacGregor Reid; born Croydon, south London, 16 January 1947; partner of Margi Clarke (one daughter); died 8 August 2023.