finding beauty in the abysmal

…the classic flower in the dustbin…

by Art Chantry (

THIS is the first punk poster i ever saw. i was attending western washington state college (now, ‘university’) in bellingham, washington. it was 1978 and i was a student trying to build a major for myself, but ended up with so many credits in the art department, that i found myself an ‘art major’.

i was fascinated with dada, surrealism, ancient art, modernism and american trash culture. i love all things rock and roll. i even read rolling stone magazine (!), which is actually where i first read about some crazy thing called a ‘punk rock band’ in england called the ‘sex pistols’. it was a half-page article and it interested me, but i dismissed it. it was too out of place. the world was flashing neon disco chrome and platform shoes and tight clothes purchased from ‘cool’ boutiques. star wars and saturday night fever was still playing in the theaters. bands like boston and wings and kiss and rush blared across campus from the dorm room stereos. it was hell, actually.

AC:there is a lovely 'density' to franko's work that i find completely irresistible.

i listened to the stones, faces, bowie, the dolls, modern lovers, patti smith, the velvets, the stooges, etc. etc. but, i’d never heard of ‘punk rock’. a friend of mine (graphic designer steve ahlbom) lived upstairs from me and started to give me weird records to listen to. he gave records by the ramones and the stranglers, strange little 45 rpm records on a label called ‘dangerhouse’ with songs by scary psycho bands like devo and the avengers and ‘x’. (turns out penelope houston was sending those dangerhouse records to steve, because she was an old friend and fellow art student from western.)

one afternoon, when i was walking down the street near campus, trudging along pondering all this mosh i was pouring into my head – suddenly, i saw this poster stapled to a telephone pole. i stopped dead in my tracks. i was dumbstruck. i had no idea what i was looking at. i recognized it immediately as some sort of dada/surrealist statement. but the context was all wrong. what on earth was it doing on a telephone pole in bellingham, wa? i carefully took it from the wall and then took it home to my crappy little apartment and hung it on the wall. i stared at that thing for several week. i was astonished and utterly smitten. i had no idea by what.

i figured out it was a rock poster – but it was totally unlike any rock poster i’d ever seen before. i was trying to do poster work as early as 1972, copying the psychedelic masters and the arena rock showcards of the 70’s (generally terrible things). something called ‘supergraphics’ were all the rage. clean corporate line work and swiss styling and airbrush were where the money was. so, what the hell was this xeroxed mess doing in this world? it was literally like something from another planet.

to give you an idea what a shock this ‘punk’ look was to the mid-70’s seattle culture, i once watched as a kid walked down the ave (the main street in the u-district) stapling pink sheets of paper to telephone poles. he’d walk up to a pole, whack the poster with a stapler and move to the next. a common sight.

within five minutes, a crowd of angry people walked up to his pole and ripped the poster off of it and tore it into little pieces. then they cheered and moved on to the next pole. they missed one poster. i grabbed it. it simply said, “dead kennedys” (with a date/time/place). the name of the band ALONE was enough to incite violence by casual passersby on the streets of seattle. think about that for a minute…

i asked my girlfriend (who lived in seattle, 100 miles south) to grab more of these “posters”. she started pulling off the telephone poles in the u-district in seattle. the pile of wrinkled,

osote stained, stapled, taped and graffittied items is what i’m showing you today.

this negative trend poster (your ‘bio-dxx’ chart is straight “-5″ across the bottom) is by a guy named only “franko” (real name, frank edie). i immediately spotted his style unmistakable. it was light years beyond the other ‘punk poster’ people in the northwest.

to begin with, he did the posters for seattle’s very first punk rock club – called ‘the bird’ (because it had the name “frank l. bird co.” above the abandoned downtown building’s doorway.) the bird lasted a very short time and was forced by police to move at least three times during it (maybe) year of existence.

frank edie came to town with a floating rock group called “the fruitland famine band”. in the northwest, there was a regular circuit of traveling rock bands, usually traveling in an old school bus and hitting all the college towns up and down the west coast. they tended to be folkie, itinerant, anarchistic, vile rockers, often with surprising talent and much road weary experience. they were often influenced by national trends long before the communities that payed in ever caught on.

for instance, i remember sitting (drunk) in a small hippie bar in bellingham on open mike night. some itinerant dirty hippie musician was playing a dulcimer on stage for tips. he was a good player and a good singer and i thought he was rather listenable. but, soon i recognized the strange song he was cranking out on his dulcimer. it was ‘quicksand’ by david bowie. the next song he played was ‘heroin’ by the velvet underground. i couldn’t believe my ears. here he was playing some of my favorite music to a drunken college hipster crowd, indoctrinating them before they even know what was happening. it was like master propaganda.

the fruitland famine band was one of those traveling strange bands. they brought along their pal, franko, who was a painter/artist type. the earliest poster i ever found for them was a performance where they announced their arrival in seattle – it had had a crude drawing of godzilla attacking the space needle – “the fruitland famine band attacks seattle!”.

the next time i saw them, they (and their manager) had opened up a punk club (the bird), started wearing torn clothing and safety pins and had changed their name to “the enemy”. franko was part of the enemy camp.

franko’s style was an enormous influence on my thinking. his compositional skills are superb. he could take utter trash and put it together in beautiful ways. xeroxed photos lifted from magazines, tired dried out broken presstype, clipped out letters from newspapers, handwriting, marking pen and border tape. all the desperate cheapo stuff i’d already learned to use and experimented with. but, i’d never seen anybody take it to these extremes before.

the closest thing i could compare it to was the sex pistols’ graphics. jamie reid was doing this sort of thing in england, but drew from an entirely different political and cultural sensibility. the point of jamie reid’s situationist philosophy was to destroy art (and culture) from the inside out. his interpretation of graphic design was to debase it to such a primitive and derisive level that literally anybody could do it – you didn’t need to hire a professional or even a knowledgeable graphic designer – just do it yourself. his style was all about empowering the marginalized and disempowered, while destroying the elite and powerful. basically his goal was to put himself out of a job entirely.

franko was coming from an entirely different place, frank edie was a painter. i once attended a show of his at a coffee shop in seattle (the last exit). his painting was wonderful monochrome (often b&w) and covered with stenciled type describing the image. they were often portraits of serial killers like “ted’ (this was before ‘ted bundy’ had even been caught. we all knew the killer staling the streets of seattle then was named ‘ted’). it was stark and beautiful and filled with american trash references.

i don’t think franko knew who jamie reid was, nor had he been exposed to his work for the pistols (outside of possibly a record cover.) punk records and artwork were exceedingly hard to find in the northwest at that point (1977-78). the total context and thinking behind punk was still incredibly piecemeal and foreign and new.

his posters were like his paintings. it was an aesthetic celebration of the dark side. it was finding beauty in the abysmal. it was taking lemons and making lemonade. i understood that and saw it. from that point on, everything i did was heavily influenced by his thinking, his style, his typography, his composition. i had already been working in the same territory prior to his emergence. but, after seeing him pointing the way, i began to sprint and then i ran. i never looked back.

without seeing franko at that precise point in my development, i would never have learned what i know today. he liberated me.

i met the guy once, many years later. he was soft spoken and unassuming. he had solid confidence in his work, but had no idea how impactful it had been in seattle. he was a grand master, but didn’t have a clue. i thanked him and we chatted. then he went away. i have no idea where he is today.

that’s the beauty of this sort of cultural language. it’s visionaries are so deeply buried in the subcultural strata, that unless you are there witnessing it, you never know where this stuff came from. the mainstream design academics toss it aside as “vernacular” (like it’s authorless and grew on a tree). but, those that were there, near some of the beginning can still recall the originals. my little effort here is to (again) attempt to rescue this amazing stylistic graphic designer from the obscurity where he resides.

his influence is still felt today through people who admired him – like me. every person who ever admired my work (or so many others at the rocket or in the world of ‘grunge’) owes a grateful nod to the inspiration of franko. he set the pace for the style that emerged in seattle. that style that (for better or worse) briefly conquered the world.

he’s a classic ‘flower in the dustbin, the wrench in your human machine.”

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