THE DAY OF DONALD Trump’s election as US president, Gee Vaucher’s acclaimed 1990 gouache on card Oh, America (originally commissioned for the cover of the 1989 Tackhead album Friendly as a Hand Grenade) became something of an (almost wholly unattributed) internet meme, shared numerous times on the social web, as people responded to the news of Trump’s victory at the polls.
In the UK, Oh, America has been appropriated as the front page illustration for the Daily Mirror‘s post-mortem on the election – it’s now confirmed that the Mirror used this image with the knowledge and permission of Vaucher, and that her artistry is credited on the front page of the print edition of the paper, and inside.
UPDATE: 12 November 2016:
The Mirror has now published a piece describing the selection process around Gee Vaucher’s artwork:
Gee Vaucher’s artwork ‘Oh America’ and the story behind the Daily Mirror’s historic US election front page
IN THE INEVITABLE avalanche of social media fallout that followed Donald Trump’s astonishing victory, one image struck the mind more forcefully than others.
The words ‘Donald Trump elected President’ are arguably all that’s required to convey the full impact of the 2016 US election result.
But in today’s digital world, where news travels as fast as a tweet or email, national newspapers face the unenviable task of summing up the story in a few words and a memorable image, but better than has already been done online – and hopefully better than its competitors.
That’s when an inspired editorial decision is required.
“We knew we wanted to create an iconic front page to mark Trump’s amazing and historic victory, so we were all keeping an eye out for something striking,” said The Mirror‘s Editor-in-Chief, Lloyd Embley.
“It was morning editorial conference and our picture editor, Michael Rye, was showing the senior team a selection of images relating to the US election.”
“And suddenly – bang! There it was. It was perfect.”
The image in question came from the inevitable avalanche of social media memes that followed the election result.
The next task was to find out where the image originated, who owned the copyright, and whether permission for its use was available.
Fortunately, not only did the image prove to be a cult artwork, but the British artist behind it, Gee Vaucher, is about to enjoy her first major retrospective exhibition.
“Michael tracked down Gee and she kindly gave us permission to use it,” says Embley.
“Every day is a special day editing the Daily Mirror but seeing that front page on the news stand will live long in my memory.”
The image is titled ‘Oh America’ and was created in 1989.
When The Mirror asked Gee for a comment to accompany our article she offered the following words.
‘Give us justice which is not the searing spite of revenge, peace which is not the product of war nor dependent upon it. Give us freedom where now there is only servitude.’
The words are by British punk poet-philosopher Penny Rimbaud, Vaucher’s lifelong creative partner, and have previously been superimposed over a version of the image.
The artwork – gouache on card – has also previously been used as the cover of an album by hip-hop group Tackhead on 1989’s Friendly as a Hand Grenade.
WHO IS GEE VAUCHER?
The Dagenham-born artist is a pioneering figure in the DIY and protest art scenes and has been working for more than 40 years.
She first rose to prominence in anarcho-punk band Crass in the late ’70s, who performed under minimal lighting in front of video collage backdrops, often created by Vaucher.
Born in 1945, Vaucher spent her formative years working as a political illustrator for publications including The New York Times and New York Magazine.
Her work straddles the gap between the absurd and the harrowing, focusing on political, personal, environmental and humanitarian messages. Her works are often collage or photomontage.
Throughout her career, she has produced books and ‘zines, allowing her the control to produce and disseminate work through her own channels and on her own terms. Her most recent work, A Week of Knots, was published through Vaucher’s own Exitstencil Press.
The radical counter-cultural touchstone, who designed the sleeve for The Charlatans album Who We Touch among others, was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Essex in 2016.
WHERE CAN I SEE THE ACTUAL ARTWORK?
‘Oh America’ features in Introspective, the first major British show of Vaucher’s work, which takes place at Firstsite, Colchester, from November 12 2016 – February 19 2017.
You can see more details about the exhibition here.
Gavin Alley. 2016. Gee Vaucher’s artwork ‘Oh America’ and the story behind the Daily Mirror’s historic US election front page, Daily Mirror, 10 November. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/gee-vauchers-artwork-oh-america-9231864.
Gee Vaucher, Oh, America, 1990.
Gee Vaucher’s Introspective exhibition opens at the Firstsite gallery, Lewis Gardens, High Street, Colchester CO1 1JH on Friday (11 November 2016).
UPDATE: 12 November 2016: Interestingly, in the copy of The Mirror front page Tweeted in the Crass and Southern Records accounts (presumably from the first edition London copies printed early on 10 November), the image does not include a credit to Vaucher’s in the top-left hand of the image (as seen in the later editions, including the one above).
Below is a blow-up of the additional small credit on page 13 of the print edition of The Mirror: