AND PENS presents,
Return of Secret Origins of the Crass Symbol
by David King
Opening reception Friday August 11, 2023 from 7:30-9:30 PM
with musical performance by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe
“In 1977, David King designed this logo for his friend’s zine cover and later that same friend’s band in Essex, England. This book playfully explores this iconic symbol and the mind of the man that created it.”
– from Secret Origins of the Crass Symbol, published in 2013 by & Pens Press.
In the mid 2000s there was a brief controversy over the ownership and origins of the Crass symbol when a London fashion brand used it as part of a clothing line and then unsuccessfully tried to copyright it. David King (1948 – 2019) knew that over the years the symbol he designed had come to stand not only for the band Crass, but also for anarchy, peace, freedom, autonomy, DIY ethics, a rejection of church and state, a rejection of the system and, for some, a way of life. It was a symbol that could never be owned by anyone. It was designed to be easily reproduced, as evidenced by its proliferation on clothing, walls, badges, jewelry, human skin, the bottom of empty swimming pools, and almost any other surface that would take ink or spray paint.
When faced with the suggestion of someone copyrighting or claiming ownership of his design, King decided to “free the symbol” with humor and color—qualities not always associated with anarcho-punk. His Secret Origins book and related projects expanded the notion of what the symbol could contain—including, but not limited to, wedges of cheese, extended serpents, the Batman logo, tea and coffee pots, smiley faces, the CND logo and more. Today reinterpretations and homages have appeared incorporating killer whales, rainbows and air dancers, to name a few. We know King would have loved these variations, and through them his idea continues to live on.
Return of Secret Origins of the Crass Symbol is an exhibition of King’s process. Alongside the hand-lettered ink drawing for the original book’s cover, there are five scalpel-cut stencils thick with layers of spray paint. These stencils were used not only by King, but also by visitors to 2011’s Spray Day at San Francisco’s Goteblüd gallery, where anyone could apply the designs to clothing, skateboards, toilet seats and anything else they could carry in. Many were later photographed for the book David King Stencils, published by Gingko Press in 2019. These stencils are the literal origins for many reproductions of the Crass symbol, and they offer a simple diagram for how it all began.
David Anthony King (1948 – 2019) was a British born American artist, graphic designer, and musician. He is best known for designing the Crass symbol in 1977. As part of the New York No Wave scene in the late 1970s he played in the bands Arsenal and the Gynaecologists, and later moved to San Francisco where he formed Sleeping Dogs and Brain Rust. He created design work for Danceteria, the Peppermint Lounge, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Details magazine, and many others. In the 2000s he revisited and expanded his design for the Crass symbol through numerous exhibitions as well as producing dozens of self published books of photography and art.