Don't Talk To Artist Jamie Reid About The Sex Pistols

After 20 years painting, Reid is sick of being associated with Johnny Rotten's Sex Pistols.

NEW YORK -- It's opening night for artist Jamie Reid's "Peace Is Tough" retrospective. Crowded into the brightly lit Soho gallery are a hundred or so guests -- artists, musicians, friends, all buzzing with the anticipation of a new and highly anticipated show.

The voices of those inside spill out onto the sidewalk, where, past the photographers and doormen, a pair of young skaterats have stopped to see what's going on. Peering through the large open doorway, past the invitation-only crowd, they can barely make out a few of the paintings hung high on the white walls: among them the Sex Pistols' classic covers for Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols and "God Save The Queen."

Idle curiosity turns to instant recognition, even for one so young. "Oh, that guy," remarks one skateboarder, nodding his head as if out of respect for the album that influenced a generation and then some.

Never mind that Reid's show, which opened Sept. 20, is a 20-year retrospective, encompassing the vast amount of work -- rock 'n' roll-related or not -- he has produced through his long career. For better or for worse, Reid is largely known as the artist who pierced the Queen's lip, as well as the social and political consciousness of England, and, subsequently, America. But to be honest, he's bored with that fact.

"The whole thing with the Pistols has been so iconized," says the 50-year-old Reid. "In many ways, the work I was doing before the Pistols is what actually graced the Pistols work."

A few days earlier, Reid sat in an outdoor diner across the street from the gallery. Filled with scaffoldings, dust and blank walls, the exhibit room had a ways to go before the show opened and, consequently, Reid sucked on one cigarette after another, keeping his pack close by the whole time. His dreadlocks were touched with gray; his warm eyes exuded an amusement and intelligence.

This rock artist has given us such memorable attacks on British establishment as a ransom note lettering pasted across the Queen's eye and a safety pin through her lips, images that seem as relevant today, especially in light of public criticisms of Buckingham Palace over its initial silence in the wake of Princess Diana's death. Yet, Sex Pistols artwork was only a small phase in the evolution of his art.

Themes of anarchy, anti-corporation and anti-establishment have always pervaded Reid's artwork in some form. That his talents would be reduced to a few flashes of highly commercialized creativity is unthinkable to him. That matter so disturbs him, that he considers those who know him as the artist for the Sex Pistols, or simply under the label of a Situationist, not among his true fans. "I mean, really, who are the Situationists?" asked Reid, obviously amused by the term. "It is more of a myth than a reality. Most of the work I was doing that got labeled Situationist was, in fact, taking the piss out of Situationism, because it got so highbrow!"

Nevertheless, Reid includes his Sex Pistols' work -- his days with

Malcolm McLaren and Johnny Rotten -- because of the exposure it allows him. Priced at $500 for the large canvases, these pieces normally sit alongside his more recent collages, prints, paintings and multi-media work. "You can see a continuing story," Reid said. "When you look back at those years, at that bunch of work, there are things that fit into now, and things now, that fit into then."

One of Reid's current projects is the Strongroom Studio, a London recording studio designed by Reid and decorated with silk-screened canvases, marble, etched bronze and slate. Many of England's top musical acts, including the Chemical Brothers, Prodigy and even the Spice Girls, have worked within the acclaimed Strongroom. "It is like turning all my painting ideas into architecture," Reid said of the studio. "Bands such as the Prodigy have been recording in that space for a long time now... They've actually found what I've done there great inspiration to their music... Same as The Orb, The Orbital, The Chemical Brothers."

Prodigy's horn-headed Keith Flint had this to say about the Strongroom: "The Strongroom's Studio One is totally inspirational to the brain. The colors and lighting in the room can wake you up but chill you out: It's quite strange."

In turn, Reid said that he is very influenced by the music emerging out of his creation. "It's part and parcel of what I do," he said, describing his multi-media club shows that incorporate drum n' bass and techno with film and laser images to create a music-based, interactive experience.

When asked about the revival of punk, via commercial punk, Reid displays a grudging and grandfatherly attitude. "It makes me realize how little people understood about punk...," he said. "The Prodigy, again, are a good example of a band who've seen punk, understood punk, and moved it into something that is totally relevant to now... The Sex Pistols themselves, if you analyze it, it's pretty much rock 'n' roll, heavy-metal.

"It was the attitude that was far more important. And that attitude is far more interesting to me; the influence it's had outside [of] pop and fashion."

What of the Brit-pop explosion?

"Well, everything is about nostalgia now," said Reid, sounding a bit annoyed. "The whole British indie thing is pure nostalgia... Cover versions of those middle of the road '60s and '70s groups."

With the term "nostalgia" Reid appears to have nailed it. Across the street, his mammoth silk-screened Sex Pistols artwork is about to be put up on walls for curious New Yorkers to reflect upon, remembering and perhaps considering what it meant at the time, and perhaps, what it means again today.

Nostalgia, as every artist knows, is always revered. [Tues., Sept. 30, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]