JUNE 2, 2008
For years the graffiti emblazoned along a west London Tube track
issued an angry challenge to the deadening conformity of urban life:
'Same thing day after day - Tube - Work - Diner [sic] - Work - Tube -
Armchair - TV - Sleep - Tube - Work - How much more can you take -
One in ten go mad - one in five crack up'.
Its authors were a group of anarchic anti-artists named King Mob,
whose stunts and visual manifestos flowered briefly during the late
Sixties and early Seventies, in opposition to both the Establishment
and the commercialised counter-culture of the Beatles and Carnaby Street.
King Mob's physical manifestations on the walls of Notting Hill have
long faded with its gentrification. However, their leaflets and
posters, recently acquired by Tate Britain, serve as a reminder of the bitter
artistic and political clashes which then seemed commonplace, but are
mainly absent from today's celebrity-driven pop culture.
'Forget All You Have Ever Learned: Begin By Dreaming', declaims one
leaflet. Another urges: 'Destroy the museums'. In the poster
'Luddites: 69', the cartoon character Andy Capp is re-drawn shooting
a policeman. Slogans daubed on walls - 'Burn it all down' and 'The
only race is the rat race' - heralded the strikes, riots and mass
unemployment ushered in by the end of the long summer of love and the
economic crisis of the Seventies.
King Mob was the vision of two brothers, David and Stuart Wise, who
after a stint at Newcastle Art School centred themselves around the
squats of North Kensington.
The brothers and their circle sought to combine anti-consumerist
theories of the avant-garde
Situationist movement with the subversive humour and destructive
traditions of the British 'mob'.
Taking its name from graffiti left on Newgate prison by the Gordon
rioters of 1780 - 'His Majesty King Mob' - the group staged its first
public appearance in June 1968. Dressed as pantomime animals, King
Mob members encouraged protesting families to occupy Powis Square
Gardens, forcing the council to convert them into a playground.
In December, 25 members of King Mob, including one dressed as Santa,
burst into Selfridges to hand out toys to startled children. The
police forced the disgruntled children to return them.
King Mob had no time for the orthodox revolutionary left, which it
despised as 'puritanical', getting into trouble for disrupting the
famous 'Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh' chant on the first London anti-Vietnam
war demonstration with cries of 'Hot chocolate, drinking chocolate'.
And during the occupation of the LSE, their sexually explicit,
scatological posters - to be seen at the Tate - were removed by
King Mob's influence made itself felt long after its active demise,
particularly on the punk movement. Malcolm McLaren claims he was at
the Selfridges event, and King Mob's cut up, home-made graphic
designs fed into the punk look.
Indeed the 'Same thing day after day...' graffiti outside Ladbroke
Grove tube station was still visible during the Notting Hill Carnival
riots of 1976, providing a fitting backdrop to an event with a
special place in the history of British youth rebellion and mob revolt.
King Mob's work will be displayed at Tate Britain from July.