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Black Flag’s ‘Revolutionary’ Iconography Dissected in Raymond Pettibon Documentary

Black Flag MOCA documentary The Art of Punk Raymond Pettibon

If there was ever a band that perfectly combined music and visuals, it was Black Flag. More than three decades later, the hardcore pioneers’ logo continues to take on a life all its own. But in Los Angeles during the late-1970s and ’80s, those four bars represented a movement.

The Museum of Contemporary Art’s new ‘The Art of Punk’ web documentary series kicks off with 20 minutes dedicated to the L.A. quartet and artist Raymond Pettibon, who designed the iconic logo and the ink drawings that would define the band’s aesthetic. Created and directed by rock archivist Bryan Ray Turcotte (Kill Your Idols), the film features interviews with founding members Keith Morris and Chuck Dukowski, legendary frontman Henry Rollins, who joined the band in 1981, as well as Flea of the Red Hot Chili Pepper and Pettibon himself, whose work is dissected at length. 

“You’d go like, ‘Wow. This is not maybe going to bring people to the show, it’s going to get us beat up if we get caught putting them up,'” Rollins says at one point in the film. “And if you look in your punk-rock flyer history, at least in Los Angeles, quickly people were trying to clone Ray’s artwork.”

Sitting on the toilet in his bathroom, surrounded by framed Pettinbon drawings, Flea recalls seeing one poster and thinking, “Something’s going on here and it’s something intense. And those flyers made me feel like there’s something going on that I don’t know about, and it’s romantic and it’s mysterious and it’s heavy and I don’t know what it is, but I want to know… It was revolutionary. People were freaking out. Dedicating their lives to this art.”

“We just ran with it and we didn’t know what the repercussions were going to be,” Morris says. “We didn’t know what was going to happen in the future. We didn’t know if we used an image that it was going to touch so many people or spark so many imaginations. We were just a group of guys. We were going with it, we were going for it.” 

Earlier this year, two Black Flag reunion tours were announced. One — touring as Black Flag — features founding guitarist Greg Ginn, drummer Julio Roberto “Robo” Valverde Valencia, and vocalist Ron Reyes, who sang for Black Flag from 1979 to 1980. The other — comprising Morris (who also screams on behalf of OFF!), original bassist Chuck Dukowski, drummer Bill Stevenson, and guitarist Stephen Egerton of the Descendents and All — is touring as FLAG. And there’s clearly still some bad blood between the former bandmates — as such, Ginn and Co. are noticeably absent from the documentary.