Friday, 17 February 2017

Art of Punk: Arturo Vega and The Ramones

Arturo Vega was a Mexican-born graphic designer, art director and artist, most famously known for having created the logo for The Ramones. He had such a close relationship with the band that he was commonly known as ‘the fifth Ramone’ – plus he went to all but two of their shows within their 22 year career! As a huge fan of The Ramones, Colin insisted that I make Arturo my next Art of Punk subject – to be honest, he wasn’t sure why he hadn’t thought to suggest it before. Sadly Arturo Vega passed away in 2013 at age 65 but legendary imagery that he left behind will never be forgotten.

Let’s start with The Ramones logo. It was created as a sort of parody of the US presidential seal but featuring an apple tree branch (instead of an olive branch) and a baseball bat –  a reference to the song Beat On The Brat from the band’s first album. Instead of saying ‘Seal of the President of the United States’, The Ramones logo, of course, famously states the (original) members of the band’s names – Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee and Tommy. A few years before he died, Arturo had the logo tattooed on his back – interestingly he swapped out Tommy for ‘Arty’, which I can only assume is himself.

The logo is one of the most famous in the history of music, let alone punk rock. It is also probably one of the most iconic logos that has been appropriated for other uses, including other bands borrowing its design РColin has a Masked Intruder t-shirt that comes to mind. I also came across this Pokémon logo that I found rather amusing.

Arturo is credited with pretty much creating the idea of a band t-shirt – I know, wow! Even before he’d created the famous logo, he printed some shirts with just ‘RAMONES’ on them. The band themselves were skeptical about whether anyone would buy them – especially as they were an unknown act at the time. But music fans did buy them. And when the presidential seal logo was designed and printed onto t-shirts they bought even more. Demand was so high, even in the early days, that Arturo had to outsource the printing of the shirts to other companies.

This quote taken from Hampton Arts Hub sums up how the use of the logo exploded:
Soon that deal grew into something much larger as he made licensing deals around the world for everything from sneakers and socks, to shorts, jackets, wallets, skate boards, baby clothes, hats and stickers – all bearing the logo. They were, and still are, sold in stores globally and online. They sold more T-shirts than records and probably they sold more T-shirts than tickets.’

As well as t-shirts, Arturo produced many of the images for The Ramones’ record sleeves. This was long before people were designing album artwork on computers and Arturo’s early designs for the band were created using photos taken in a photobooth. And for their live performances, he hand-painted huge banners! I dread to think how much time and patience that must have taken to get it looking just perfect.

This art of punk post has taken me an unusually long time to put together. This is partly because I’m super busy but also because I keep getting sidetracked reading articles and listening to podcasts about Arturo and The Ramones. I also spent a fair amount of time flicking through Colin’s copy of On The Road with The Ramones, a book written by Monte A Melnick, the band’s close friend and tour manager – a must have for any punk fan.

At some point this year we'd like to go to Berlin and visit the Ramones Museum, so if / when that happens I imagine I will get to see a whole load more of Arturo Vega's work. Maybe I'll share some photographs in a blog post…

On a side note:

You may or may not have noticed that Art of Punk posts have become very infrequent over the past couple of months. This is partly, as I mentioned before, because I am super busy in life in general but also because I've been dedicating more of my time to writing album reviews. There’s just so much great stuff in punk rock at the moment that I, and the rest of the CPRW team, want to write about, so Art of Punk is going to be taking a bit of a backseat for a while.

There will still be Art of Punk posts as and when I write them although they will no longer be posted specifically on Tuesdays – in fact, more often than not they will be posted on Fridays. If anyone has any ideas of suggestions for future posts then let me know! (Tweet me, etc.) Until then…

This post was written by Emma Prew.