John Foy’s legacy: How the Sydney designer shaped the look of punk-rock posters during two decades

John Foy’s legacy:

How the Sydney designer shaped the look of punk-rock posters during two decades
By Constanza Ontiveros Valdés

John Foy has been described as the Australian rock poster guru for good reasons. From the late 1970s to the late 1980s the self-proclaimed citizen of the world created eye-catching posters for some of the most important Sydney-based independent punk record labels and bands of the time. More so, Foy’s designs transformed band gig posters from boring outlines filled with text to artful, avant-garde, and colourful compositions that have recently turned into collectible items. This post explores Foy’s design journey within the punk-rock Australian music scene and explains how he created his pop-inspired irreverent aesthetic.

Who is John Foy?

Foy was born in the southern suburbs of Sydney just before the dawn of the 1960s. From a young age, he was a music fan and frequented independent record stores and labels, such as White Light, which at the time were key tastemakers in respect to cutting-edge music. As shared in this profile, Foy’s design career started in the 1970s almost by chance when the owner of Phantom Records, an Australian record store and independent record label, redirected him to Phantom T-shirts to help with screen printing. Soon after, Foy, who had learned screen printing in high school, started to create his designs after hours and came up with vibrant street advertisements for Phantom Records. Some bands, like the Visitors and Lipstick Killers who rehearsed next door to his shared house, also started to request his work and he designed a few album covers.

After some time, Foy ended up creating Skull Printworks and set up a shop in a warehouse. To identify his position as a designer, Foy reversed his name to ‘YOF’ and for his signature utilized a geometric symbol from his high school wargaming days. As shared on Skull Prints website, under the moniker Skull Designs from 1978 to 1988 John designed hundreds of small-edition posters for cult bands like the Riptides and Lubricated Goat, and international artists including Deborah Harry, Lou Reed, and UK Squeeze. The final poster of the regular output of this company was for The Riptides in 1988. During this time Foy also contributed to releasing music of independent bands through the Red Eye Record Label which he was instrumental in creating.

The revolutionary style of Foy’s posters: from band gig ads to collectible items

Foy’s designs were revolutionary for his time and set up a trend as beforehand band concert posters did not feature any art and he was one of the first ones to incorporate playful and irreverent imagery inspired by pop culture, movies, TV scenes, and his dark sense of humor. Frequently, his hand-made posters were only printed in a series of 110 and included photo-montages of film and movie scenes from his favorite cult shows like The Avengers or Danger Man next to vivid and contrasting colors and psychedelic patterns. According to Foy, one of the most representative posters of his signature style is the one he created for Beasts of Bourbon, an Australian alternative rock/blues band founded in 1983. Coloured in a magenta palette the poster borrowed imagery from the American cult horror movie The Texas ChainSaw Massacre and playfully displayed the band’s members, known for their risky behaviors and for being a badass rock band, as film characters.

However, with the advent of the 1990s the punk independent Sydney scene rapidly declined and eventually, in 1996, Foy withdrew from contemporary music altogether. Regardless of this, during the last few years, his posters have rekindled the attention of vintage poster collectors. Interestingly, the few examples of Foy’s original posters that still exist have been assisted in their survival by the thicker paper utilized to deal with the cheaper water-based ink he used at the time of their creation.

Nowadays, Foy’s posters are housed in some public collections across Australia, have been featured in art exhibitions, and are sold for hundreds to thousands of dollars. As further proof of the drive his designs still have, in 2018, Foy’s relaunched company Skull Printworks published the book Snaps Crack Pop! which features hundreds of his posters and whose second edition is in the works. Aside from their current value as collectible items that represent a revolutionary design aesthetic, Foy’s posters are a testament to the golden era of Australian punk- rock culture and, for many, carry an aura of nostalgia.

Image Credit
‘Flaming Hands’ poster designed by John Foy 2022, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 4 December 2022,

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