“We saw the sleeve and received a very clear signal,” says Peter in his essay in Reasons To Be Cheerful. “Mr Barney Bubbles – whose work we already knew from Hawkwind and Stiff – was saying: “‘Constructivism has my blessing.’ Our response was: ‘Yes, this is the way’.”
Here we discussed how the band’s co-manager Jonh Ingham’s chance encounter with Barney sparked the commission. Barney was able to accomodate Jonh’s freshly acquired interest in constructivism and, at the same time, nod to the band’s self-designed t-shirts.
Now the exact source of inspiration has been identified by Dutch writer and Barney fan Jan Vollaard and Doris Wintgens Hotte, curator at the Stedelijk Museum in Lakenhal, which is hosting the exhibition Theo van Doesburg And The International Avant-Garde.
It is a work entitled Composition In Red, Black And White, one of 12 by the Polish artist Henryk Berlewi to accompany his 1924 manifesto Mechano-Faktura, which proposed that painting be “designed” according to the principles of modern technology and mechanical reproduction.
Berlewi was associated with many of the important figures of the post World War 1 Continental art movements and was later recognised as having pioneered op-art, the abstract geometric work adopted by the fashion industry as decoration in the 60s. In photographs by Edward Hartwig he is surrounded by models in op-art dresses.
Jan showed Doris the Generation X sleeve as part of his preparation for tomorrow’s presentation on Barney’s integration of the work of van Doesburg and his peers such as Berlewi.
“Doris was surprised and intrigued,” says Jan. “Right away she took me to see Berlewi’s painting and explained his manifesto of mechanical constructivism and the way in which he captured movement and form in abstract, square-cornered compositions.”
The Your Generation sleeve is one of the clearest examples of Barney’s distillation of art history references. Using Berlewi’s painting as a springboard, Barney reassembled the elements into a multi-layered piece which accurately expressed the visual minimalism and energy of the punk period, led by the “45” pun on the rpm of the 7in single contained within, and the geometric representation of a record being played from above.
Berlewi is important as an exemplar of Eastern European Jewish graphic art, which would also have chimed with Barney’s Jewish roots. Yiddish scholar Seth L. Wolitz has discussed how, under the influence of El Lissitzky in the early 20s, Berlewi moved from expressionism to constructivism, meeting along the way Van Doesburg, Moholy Nagy and the German Dadaists.
His work was recognized by the avant-garde art dealer Herwarth Walden, who published the manifesto Mechano-Faktura in his publication Der Sturm in 1924.
Forty three years later, Barney recast Berlewi in the frenetic context of punk-rock. In the process he inspired not just Saville and Garrett but also Neville Brody, Al McDowell and successive waves of rock music-mad art students to delve into the art movements of the early 20th century and forge a new design aesthetic.
A Henryk Berlewi archive has recently been launched; Wolitz is among the board members. You can find out more here.
Meanwhile full details of Jan Vollaard’s presentation are here.