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Sex Pistols artist Jamie Reid dies at 76: How his imagery came to define punk music

Sex Pistols' God Save The Queen flag, designed by Jamie Reid
Sex Pistols' God Save The Queen flag, designed by Jamie Reid Copyright Credit: Dave Caulkin/AP
Copyright Credit: Dave Caulkin/AP
By Theo Farrant
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He was the creative genius behind the artwork of the Sex Pistols' seminal hits in the 1970s, including 'God Save The Queen'.

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Jamie Reid, the legendary British artist behind some of the Sex Pistols' most iconic record covers and artwork, has passed away at the age of 76.

His death was confirmed by the John Marchant Gallery, who look after his extensive collection, in a statement which describes him as an "artist, iconoclast, anarchist, punk, hippie, rebel and romantic." 

"Jamie leaves behind a beloved daughter Rowan, a granddaughter Rose, and an enormous legacy," the statement adds. 

Reid's work, featuring letters cut from newspaper headlines in the style of a ransom note, came close to defining the image of punk rock, particularly in the UK from the late 1970s. 

How Jamie Reid became a punk legend

Born in London, Reid's artistic journey began at Croydon College of Art, where he quickly crossed paths with Malcolm McLaren, the future manager of Sex Pistols, sparking an immediate rapport with him. 

After finishing college, in 1970, Reid took the helm of a radical political magazine named Suburban Press. 

Over the course of five years, he co-led the magazine with Jeremy Brook and Nigel Edwards, and it was during this period that he conceived the now-iconic ransom-note aesthetic. 

After his time running Suburban Press, Reid was enlisted by his old school chum McLaren, now the manager of the newly formed Sex Pistols - consisting of John Lydon (known as Johnny Rotten), Steve Jones, Glen Matlock and Paul Cook - to design the cover of their debut single, 'Anarchy in the UK', released in 1976. 

Reid ingeniously arranged the band's name and the track's title using cut-up letters attached by safety pins onto a distressed Union Flag backdrop. 

DANIEL LEAL/AFP
Gallery assistants put up a work from Jamie Reid, "God Save the Queen", a promotional poster, owned by Sid Vicious, at a preview in London on October 12, 2022DANIEL LEAL/AFP

He went on to create covers for other iconic Sex Pistols singles like 'God Save the Queen', 'Pretty Vacant' and 'Holidays in the Sun', in addition to his revered contribution to the album art for 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'. 

His imagery, including his portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II adorned with a safety pin through her nose and swastika symbols through her eyes, became synonymous with the punk movement. 

While his imprint was deeply etched into the punk scene, Reid's artistic talents also ventured into other projects, including with the world music fusion ensemble Afro Celt Sound System.

Following the news of his passing, fans have taken to social media to pay tribute. 

Jamie Reid 1947 - 2023

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