Never Mind The Buzzcocks
It's not just album art Linder is famous for. Colette Meacher talks to her about Morrissey, Yoko Ono and Woman's Own
CM: Tell us about your artistic practice
LS: Over the past thirty years I have worked across a variety of media - predominantly photomontage, photography, print and performance. Also, I have written and sung songs, made various transformative garments, published three books and yet my themes are probably always the same: glamour and grammar - and that which liberates the subject and that which confines.
CM: You were in a punk band called Ludus in the 1970s; how did punk impact upon your work?
LS: Well, to be exact, I formed Ludus in the post-punk period - 1978 - when everything went slightly weird in British culture. Punk had managed to create a crack within culture and some of us wanted to drive the wedge in a little further.
CM: Did you go to art school and how do you think art school informed/ shaped the emergence of punk music and the DIY ethos of the mid-late 70's?
LS: I went to art school in Manchester and at that time, the Fine Art department was full of large people in even large jumpers and open-toed sandals (this was still the autumn term), with beards too - and, in a very northern comic way, I could add, "and that was just the women", but I won't. The Graphic Design department however held the promise of airbrushing, Lettraset and lithography, amongst other delights. Certain individuals looked quite Godlike too, so I signed up. The DIY ethos was already happening sartorially, maybe because shops like Chelsea Girl, Bus Stop and Miss Selfridge were as good as it got in Manchester. We almost all wore second hand clothes - in those days clothing from the Thirties onwards was still in plentiful, cheap supply and my best friend studied fashion too, so I rarely wore anything from contemporary shops. Punk just upped the sartorial ante.
CM: Where did it all go wrong with punk?
LS: Where did it all go right? It was such a ragbag of ideas, all happening very quickly, under so such media scrutiny that really it was a wonder that anyone managed to get onstage to a microphone, even less onto a record. By June 1977, my mother's 'Woman's Own' magazine had a feature 'DIY Punk for Your Daughter', it became that cosy, that quickly.
CM: How significant was meeting and becoming friends with Morrissey for both your music and art?
LS: Morrissey and I met in 1976, so we both were probably already in despair at Woman's Own for many reasons, even before the punk DIY daughter feature. We hadn't been born then and were still in utero creatively, but as terrible twins we knew that life could only be survived from a position of great opposition.
CM: Are you still friends with Mozzer now that he's not so miserable now?
LS: Morrissey is the funniest man I know - and I know some very funny men - even in the most maudlin hour he can always say something that turns everything upside down and then somehow the right way up again.
CM: How did your artistic practice spill over into making album covers?
LS: It was always having the right picture at the right time for the right artist. I could never seem to make images to order, so whether it was the photomontage that Buzzcocks used for 'Orgasm Addict', or the photograph that became the cover for Morrissey's 'Your Arsenal, the works already existed and were then requested for album sleeves.
CM: Your artwork adorned album covers when vinyl was still king. Now there's talk about a resurgence of vinyl because people want the whole package - the artwork, the sleevenotes, the physicality of a record spinning on the decks. Has the art of music been lessened by the predominance of CDs and downloads, do you think?
LS: Well, I remember that sometimes people would buy records even without having a player, just so that they could own the object, it was that important. You would then take the record to a friend's house to play it, probably on a Saturday afternoon, such was life. Maybe there is so much of everything today, a glut, every album of every group ever recorded available somewhere, we could drown in sound now.
CM: Who would you like to illustrate for today?
LS: The Esbjorn Svensson Trio, I'd like to make a performance piece with them too.
CM: How difficult is it to collaborate with musicians when making cover art for albums? How much of an element of compromising artistic integrity is there, if at all?
LS: I could never compromise, hence a relatively small number of album covers.
CM: How important is artwork and image for a band's success?
LS: Oh, success is such a strange territory. The grafting onto a band of someone else's graphic vision, and a stylists make over, does not automatically make the transition from unknown to known any easier. I think that we are all so style literate now that everything can just become "another look" and one band can disolve into another visually and sonically. Whether it was the days of the Hollywood Dream Factory or now from the corporate depths of Parlephone EMI, true stardom is thankfully as elusive as ever, regardless of the packaging.
CM: Do you have any forthcoming projects with bands in terms of either performing or making cover art?
LS: I'm in deep conclave with "what Linder did next" and solo projects are very much in focus. Having said that, Fate tends to work in unpredictable ways in my life and just as I turn my back on one aspect of practice, an invitation seems to arrive to take me straight back there.
CM: You recently had a solo show in Paris - can you tell us more about this? What sort of work are you making now and how has this been informed by your musical collaborations?
LS: The show in Paris - 'We Who Are Her Hero' - was interesting because I showed a selection of work made between 1977 and 2006 and I realised that it was very difficult to tell when any of the pieces had been made. Time seemed difficult to ascertain. The French really wanted to know about context, concept and technique so lots of complex questions from incredibly stylish people of every age. Earlier this year, as part of the Tate Triennial, I performed, "The Working Class Goes To Paradise" - three rock bands playing simultaneously for four hours whilst I and twelve other women, repeated sequences of dance steps and hand gestures. It was a sort of electric storm in the heart of Tate Britain - the first art gallery that I ever visited at sixteen years of age - the audience and all that were involved just locked in for the duration and again, time slipped and slid about.
CM: What do you think about the Guardian journalist Philip Hoare's claim that you are 'the missing link between Tracey Emin and Yoko Ono'?
LS: The phrase was a useful shorthand for those new to my work. I used to listen to Yoko Ono's 'Fly' album in the dark in 1979, it made me shiver. Vocally, with Ludus, I sometimes used to pay homage to Ono's vocal technique during long improvisations - at this point most people left, which somehow seemed the whole point at the time - not trying to please anyone.
CM: Which artists inform your work today and why?
LS: At the moment, there are books about Eileen Agar, Merce Cunningham, Richard Hamilton and Dada on my desk. I like to always look forwards and back at the same time, Janus had the right idea.
CM: What is the lyric that most vitally captures your vision of life?
LS: In the here and now, it has to be, gloriously:
At last I am born
it took me a long, long time
but now I am born
which also leaves the last words on the subject to my spiritual obstetrician, Morrissey. And it's good news, it's twins!