Graphic Content: Art of the New Music Poster

by Jeff White July 2, 2004

Pop art, retro, cliché and leading edge graphic design have all converged in a one-of-a- kind, may-never-happen-quite-this-way-again show at Landmark Arts, the galleries of the Texas Tech School of Art.

Dirk Fowler ...Poster for Modest Mouse, 2003... screenprint...

Dirk Fowler, assistant professor of Design Communications, graphic artist, curator and unsigned independent rock artist ditto head, has combed through a hefty lineup of 1,000-plus rock-n-roll poster designers from the U.S. and Canada, coming up with 25 artists whose designs fit his idea of the “new” rock music poster.

The Graphic Content: Art of the New Music Poster highlights the explosion that is currently taking place in the rock music poster scene, honing in on the most influential graphic artists who are creating what is affectionately called the “new” rock poster. The exhibit focuses on contemporary screen-printed rock posters, particularly those created since 2000. Fowler notes that skulls, flames and hot rod chicks are just some of the standard fodder for concert posters, but the genre has reached a second (or third) golden age of sorts. Each of the graphic artists who are tuned into what’s going on outside of Top 40 radio are out there laboring into the early morning hours, pulling screens in garages and warehouses, to keep the movement afoot.

Asterik Studio poster for Stretch Armstrong... screenprint... 2003

Rock music posters have a venerable history. San Francisco’s Fillmore theater collection graces the wall upstairs, tracing the evolution of poster art as well as chronicling the performances at the Fillmore. Now, however, contemporary poster artists are creating art that goes beyond its origins of Art Nouveau inspired patterns, day-glow colors, redolent nudes and hand-drawn typography. As Fowler sees it, new rock poster art not only incorporates the typography and simplified, straightforward graphics of contemporary design, but also (perhaps for the first time) has more of an emphasis on the conceptual image of the music. The new music poster, epitomized in the 112 prints that were selected for the show, is divergent from the early days of rock and roll in the “50s, psychedelic tunes of the “60s and the photocopied menagerie of punk flyers of the “70s and “80s.

Until recently, poster artists weren”t much recognized beyond the music industry. Suggesting a shift in status, new music posters have recently begun to appear in mainstream art and design magazines like PRINT and Communication Arts, and poster artists like Jeff Kleinsmith are grabbing unforeseen limelight. Taschen Books recently listed Kleinsmith among the top 100 most important designers of the 21st Century. Asterik Studio (Don Clark, Demetre Arges, and Ryan Clarck), represented here by its poster for a Seattle gig of the band Stretch Armstrong, has been nominated for four Dove Awards. The multi-talented Tara McPherson’s figures in the Built to Spill poster reveal her interest in illustration, comic book drawing, and independent rock music. McPherson is currently completing a series project for Vertigo Comics.

All of these artists featured in the exhibition are in Paul Grushkin’s forthcoming anthology, The Art of Modern Rock. Grushkin will help bring the exhibit to a close as he lectures on rock music history during the Art of Rock Symposium in Lubbock. The work on display represents the “fine” gig poster movement of screen-printed, letterpress, or xerographic posters in limited edition promoting contemporary bands such as Built to Spill, Death Cab for Cutie, Modest Mouse and Pedro the Lion.

Jeff Whitley is a writer and aspiring artist living in Lubbock.

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