Image: John Lydon’s self-portrait. (Credit: John Schofield/Paul Graves-Brown).
A series of crude graffiti drawn on the walls of a London flat are the "Lascaux of Punk," according to a controversial claim made by two British archaeologists who compared the rude markings to Paleolithic cave art.
Found behind cupboards in the upper room of a two-story 19th-century house at 6 Denmark Street in London, the intact graffiti was drawn by the Sex Pistols' lead singer, John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten). The Sex Pistols ushered in the era of punk in the United Kingdom in the 1970s.
According to John Schofield, of the department of archaeology at the University of York, and independent researcher Paul Graves-Brown, the Pistols' "cave art" is worthy of being reviewed in the same way archaeologists examine prehistoric art. While Lydon drew the pictures, other members of the band wrote some text on the walls.
"Why should graffiti and interior spaces from 1975 not be approached with the same seriousness as those from a thousand years earlier?" The authors make the point in the current issue of the journal Antiquity.
Presenting a "layering of time and of changing relations over time," the Pistol graffiti reveals "feelings and relationships, personal and political," say the researchers.
"Whilst some of this is documented in published biographies and captured in films and documentary, this very archaeological record offers something visceral and immediate and generates unique insight," they opine.
Image: Vicious' portrait. (Credit: John Schofield/Paul Graves-Brown).
Schofield and Graves-Brown found eight cartoons, or caricatures, mainly drawn by Lydon as a reaction to a room "becoming too posh."
"The immediacy and freshness of the graffiti meant we could almost feel the Pistols in this place; we could sense their presence as unruly ghosts, lounging on the sofas and writing on the walls," the archaeologists wrote.
The drawings depict Lydon himself, labeled "A Rotten Bastard"; guitarist Steve Jones, "Fatty Jones"; bassist John Ritchie, also known as Sid Vicious, labeled "Ego Sloshos"; and drummer Paul Cook, "Crawl Crap."
Manager Malcolm McLaren is labeled "Muggerage," John Tiberi, "Boggie," and Sid Vicious's girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, "Nanny Spunger."
While a portrait labeled Hail Ceasariuce Rome’s only hero remains "unidentified and cryptic," the graffiti's associated text is pretty straightforward, with notes such as "DEPRESSED MISERABLE TIRED ILL SICK BOOED& BORED" adding to more crude words.
"The fact that the graffiti could be considered rude, offensive and uncomfortable merely enhances their status and significance. That, after all, is what punk was all about," the researchers wrote.
Whether or not the property should become a conventional heritage site with a blue plaque to mark its historical significance is another question.
Sticking their tongues out at the heritage establishment, Schofield and Graves-Brown agree that it might be better to leave the graffiti to the apparent "informal consensus" responsible for keeping it intact to date.
"In the spirit of punk, perhaps this DIY approach to heritage management is all that the site needs," they conclude.