If live concerts are the heart of the music world, then gig posters are the arteries. Saddled with a practical mission, the concert poster is responsible for getting the word out and bringing people into the show. But poster artists will tell you there's a lot more to it: Each flier contains hidden narratives, personal reflections and a tiny window into the secret codes and aesthetics of a band or scene.
In the vast annals of pop art, the lowly gig poster has often been dismissed, and fans had a hard time seeing a poster unless they were in the right place at the right time. But much has changed in recent years, with online communities like gigposters.com allowing poster artists and fans to come together. This new interconnectedness has brought heightened notoriety to Frank Kozik, Art Chantry and countless others who, through persistent dedication to their craft, help provide a deeper understanding of the rock poster as cultural artifact. And some of their work is pretty nice to look at, too.
An ongoing effect of all this poster-love is the growing number of poster-oriented exhibitions and events. This September's Bumbershoot festival in Seattle will include the fifth installment of Flatstock, at which more than 80 designers will present their work. Here in Portland, two new exhibitions featuring local and national poster artists will be opening within the next few weeks. Here's a sampling of some of the works to be shown, with the artist's own words on the creative process behind each design.
ARTIST: MIKE KING
Show: Grandaddy @ the Crystal Ballroom
"This poster is inspired by the Grandaddy song 'Broken Household Appliance National Forest,' which seems to be a song about animals coping with garbage. Some of my posters illustrate a 'scene,' while others are more design-driven. This is a 'scene' poster. Sometimes I make up a little story about what's happening in the poster. As far as this poster goes, I am not sure. It could be a statement about the subjugation of nature by commerce. Or maybe it's just a surprising pile of trash." (See www.crashamerica.com.)
ARTIST: JASON BROWN
Show: Badger @ the Goodfoot
"Badger is a funk band but tends to get a little crazy during improvisation. I wanted my design to reflect that intensity. I used the shorter feller to represent Badger. By stepping up on a stool he shows that he is willing to enter combat with the larger man despite his size. It's hard to make it in the music industry, but Badger is willing to 'step up' and play their music their way, which is what really matters. The figures are expressionless about their violence, as if to say, 'See this fist? What are you going to do about it?' Which I hope leaves the viewer thinking, 'Hey, I gotta go and check 'em out.'" (See www.thegoodfoot.com/jbrown/.)
ARTIST: GARY HOUSTON
Show: Wilco @ the Roseland Theater
"I wanted to do something sedate, or a bucolic scene in which something was amiss--hence the house on fire. I liked the idea of putting the band's name on the water tower to sublimate it into the design, so it wasn't easily recognizable. The rural township seemed like a good way to present this idea. When this poster was made five years ago, Wilco was more of a twang band with experimental edges (whereas now it is vice versa). The rural scene was my nod to the twang thing--sort of a roots-Americana-Midwest type of music. I like the idea of the integrity and honesty that a small town would have--what you see is what you get." (See www.voodoocatbox.com.)
ARTIST: SEAN HAGGERTY
Show: DJ Geevo vs. DJ Opter @ C Bar
"I approach each project as if it were a very (very) short story. Naturally, the musicians and bands are the main characters, around which a scene is set and a small slice of narrative emerges. In the case of this poster, DJs Gueevo and Opter happen to be rampaging rhino warriors hellbent on aural (and cranial) destruction. I can't draw worth a damn, so all my images are from photos of random stuff I shot, which then gets the Photoshop treatment. Aesthetically, you can't beat the look of old color-halftone, slightly off-register comic books. It's a look I'm still personally trying to fine-tune in my design."
ARTIST: MIKE DISTANTE
Show: Northwest String Summit @ Horning's Hideout
"My inspiration for this piece was fairly straightforward. Anyone who visits this parcel of land in North Plains can attest to the screech and squawk of the plethora of roaming peacock. How could you not pay homage to these nomads of Bob Horning's land? I then tried to tie in the fact that this was the inaugural year of this progressive bluegrass festival (with an acronym of jamgrass), by trying to give it a slightly psychedelic feel with the help of the peacock's plumage--mmmm, plumage. Measuring 10 by 20 inches, these three-color silkscreens were hand-pulled on the poster ghetto press." (See www.templeballgallery.com/distantegallery.html.)
ARTIST: TARA MCPHERSON
Show: Kraftwerk @ The Paramount Theater
"With the Kraftwerk poster, I wanted to push the idea of the technical aspect of their music and how it can be so disjointed and staggered yet remain cohesive. With the robots going down the assembly line, one can view it as they have just been disassembled and are headed for their demise, or (the way that I view it) that they are just about to be assembled and start their robot lives. Most of my illustrations have lots of room for interpretation, and I like that. Giving the viewer options makes for an active relationship between them and the art." (See www.taramcpherson.com.)
NAME: ANDY STERN
Show: 31 Knots @ the Blackbird
"The original source for this poster was a photograph of some Christmas lights I had hanging around my living room. I put the camera on a really slow shutter speed and lit the room all weird, then moved the camera around to create the tracer effect. After that I took the photo and messed around with it in Photoshop until I was happy with the digital end result. This poster was originally meant for the band Explosions in the Sky, and I think the design reflects their music more than any of the bands that actually played this show." (See www.dieselfuelprints.com.)
Posters by Mike King, Jason Brown, Sean Haggerty, Tara McPherson, Mike Distante and Andy Stern will be shown July 29-Aug. 3 at the Goodfoot Lounge, 2845 SE Stark St., 239-9292. 5 pm-2:30 am daily.
Posters by Gary Houston will be shown in August at Ringlers Annex, with an opening reception 5-7 pm Thursday Aug. 5. 1223 SW Stark St., 525-0520. 21+.