By Jess Wertheim, REA Intern
I’m a sucker for posters—I just can’t get enough of them. It’s rare that I walk down the streets of New York without pausing to look at a poster. The truth is, not everyone has an appreciation for posters, an appreciation for the art, the typography, the idea, the message, and time that goes into making a poster. It’s not just an ad or a sign. Poster design is an art.
Ever wonder what happened to the art of poster ads? The vivid, bold colored graphics of abstract images or the drawing of the everyday person depicted in everyday activity. Many of today’s ads are filled with celebrity faces and bodies,
chiseled and primed, digitally enhanced, defect-free, touched-up and packaged. Got Milk? Need a camera? If it’s good enough for Christie Brinkley and Ashton Kutcher, it must be worth buying. Even the fictional Geico caveman has achieved celebrity.
One type of poster art that always catches my eye is the music poster. Whether a simple or intricate design, music posters have evolved without simply relying on the celebrity image.
The following are a few of the many influential and memorable music poster artists:
Jules Cheret: Jules Cheret is a very well-known graphic design poster artist from the 1800’s. He is recognized for his famous three stone process, which gave printers the ability to produce all colors. His work often featured a single, attractive, elegant woman dancing in order to depict the ambiance of the belle époque. His art actually enticed people to come to see the shows. In 1884, Cheret organized the first ever group exhibition of posters and in 1886 published the first book on poster art. In 1890, Cheret was awarded the Legion of Honour by the French government, a reflection of the advancements in art he had made.
Stanley Mouse: Turning to more recent history, Stanley Mouse is a poster artist most famous for his Grateful Dead Posters that he created alongside Alton Kelley. They teamed up as well to create posters for The Family Dog, the group that organizes live concerts at the Avalon Ballroom. Mouse and Kelley would often work alongside one another (one was left-handed, the other right-handed). Rock-and-roll music was in the foreground and background of the political and cultural revolution of the ‘60s era; and music was a catalyst that brought people and protests together. The Mouse-Kelley art captured that mood and spirit.
“Kelley had the unique ability to translate the music being played into these amazing images that captured the spirit of who we were and what the music was all about,” said the Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart.
Bonnie MacLean: In the late ‘60s, poster artist Bonnie MacLean obtained her inspiration from the shows at the Fillmore where she collected tickets, handed out programs, and counted money. In addition, she also did the hand lettering on the chalkboard for upcoming shows, which eventually led to her poster creations. MacLean often depicted women in a deep stare in combination with 60’s style lettering. Her bright colors and wavy typography are reminiscent of the times.
Wes Wilson: Around that same time, Wes Wilson helped establish the psychedelic rock poster. His art is directed at and made for a specific audience: those that are familiar with the psychedelic experience. Wilson’s style, particularly the exaggerated hand lettering, developed as a result of his personal familiarity with the psychedelic experience. The influential typography that Wilson used was originated from the Vienna Secessionist lettering.
Jim Pollock: More recently, Jim Pollock first began making pen and ink posters for the band Phish when they were an unknown small group at the University of Vermont. He has maintained a close relationship with the band, and has continued making posters for them as well as other bands. He is known for his brightly colored linoleum cuts.
Tripp Shealy: Today, Tripp Shealy is a fairly well known poster artist in the live music scene from Boulder, Colorado. His prints tend to be reminiscent of the ‘60’s: geometrical, colorful, and trippy.
As Wayne Coyne, the lead singer of the Flaming Lips, said, “Rock posters have hypnotic powers. Maybe it’s the different dimensions of the lettering, or maybe it’s the colors the artists use, or maybe it’s because of some strange, unintentional miracle in their design, but I’ve believed in them and have wanted to leap (into their world) and infuse myself with them.”