For decades, Nirvana’s iconic X-Eye Smiley Face logo has been one of rock’n’roll’s most enduring symbols of youthful angst. The origins of the logo, however, remain a mystery. Some say that Kurt Cobain designed it himself in 1991, riffing off the logo for the Seattle strip club The Lusty Lady, while others say that it came from Sub Pop’s first art director Lisa Orth and designer Grant Alden. The controversies surrounding the legal ownership of the Nirvana logo came to a head in 2020, when Robert Fisher, an art director at Geffen Records, filed a lawsuit claiming that he designed the distinctive logo and was owed royalties. Johnny Romeo playfully examines the royalty fiasco surrounding the acclaimed grunge band’s logo with gleeful Absurdism in Sub Pop, as he mashes together the yellow Nirvana logo with the body of a Napoleonic royal dressed in distinguished regalia. Drawing inspiration from Nirvana’s 1993 grunge anthem ‘Pennyroyal Tea’, the word assemblage ‘Royal Tease’ plays off the word ‘royalties’ to comically ask the question: where are all the royalties from Nirvana’s logo? A master of visual puns, the humour of the text passage ‘Royal Tease’ is further heightened when one considers that Romeo has teased the audience with only half a royal and gone so far as to allude to the sleazy striptease of The Lusty Lady. The title of the painting pays homage to Sub Pop, the legendary Seattle-based record label who famously signed Nirvana and was responsible for popularizing grunge music in the late 80s and early 90s. Within the context of the painting, Romeo claims the term ‘Sub Pop’ for his own, employing it to playfully describe his practice as a culture jammer and the way in which he substitutes (‘subs’) and appropriates imagery to make refreshing, new forms of Pop.
H34594 Sub Pop
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Johnny Romeo is an internationally acclaimed Australian painter. Considered Australia’s leading Pop artist, Romeo is spearheading the global Neo-Expressionist Pop movement with his electrifying collision of rock’n’roll swagger, comic book aesthetics and street art. Described by GQ Magazine Australia as ‘part punk, part pop’, Romeo’s Kitsch Pop works are explosive sugar rushes of Technicolour imagery and urban grittiness that are turning heads worldwide.
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