Post-Punk’s Public Image Ltd Exhibition

Not to miss this month! The ICA is currently showcasing a presentation of rarely seen photographs and ephemera relating to the early stages of the band Public Image Ltd’s (PiL) design, from 1978-79, with a focus on the design of the album Metal Box. Original band members included John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten – vocals), Keith Levene (lead guitar), Jah Wobble (bass) and Jim Walker (drums). Working closely with photographer and designer Dennis Morris, the display explores the evolution of the band’s identity, from his influential journey to Jamaica with John Lydon in 1978 to the design of the iconic Metal Box. A small but focused collection of artefacts narrate this simple yet meaningful show, while the centrepiece, the historic special edition album Metal Box, throws the images that surround it into context.

Emerging from a period of socio-political change in late 70s London, the image of John Lydon’s new band was a significant move away from the early punk style of The Sex Pistols. This new identity was defined by the influential artist Dennis Morris, who has gathered together the relics of this era in a rare collection. A finely curated and surprisingly moving exhibit, for those that wish to revisit a movement they lived, or those who are simply inspired by it. Open now at the Institute of Contemporary Arts from March 23 to May 15th, 2016, the show is part of a larger exploration of punk history by the ICA. Dennis Morris will also be in conversation with producer Andrew Higgie, on the occasion of the exhibition, this Friday at 1pm at the ICA. Find out more here.

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Dennis Morris gave the group a more satirical, stylised edge that is reflected in his treasure trove of record sleeves and album covers. For PiL’s debut single Public Image, Morris designed a record sleeve in the format of a single folded sheet of tabloid newspaper featuring fictional content about the band. His unique approach to design was further illustrated by the debut PiL album, Public Image: First Issue (1978). In a very un-Punk manner, its cover and sleeve design imitated the layout of popular glossy magazines. These objects question the fine line between satire and reality, and the way that Lydon and the new wave of punk music pushed this line to the limit.

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The band’s second album—the critically acclaimed Post-Punk classic Metal Box (1979)—further reinforced Morris’ approach to branding and promoting the PiL experience. While the album’s title was conceived by Lydon, it was Morris who designed the cover—a metal 16mm celluloid film canister—embossed with the band’s new PiL logo reminiscent of a breakable medicine tablet. This historical offering is the piece de resistance of the show – a bruised, battered, and an undeniably authentic piece of musical history.

Dennis Morris is a British-based artist who has used the camera to produce an in-depth body of work on extraordinary individuals. Closely associated with music, Morris has created some of the most iconic and memorable images of Bob Marley and the Sex Pistols, as well as the Marianne Faithfull Broken English album cover. Morris also created the iconic Public Image Ltd logo and the band’s first two album sleeves, including the Metal Box.

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