A show poster is more than an advertisement for an upcoming gig, it’s an historical marker, a place and time captured in paper and ink. You can’t wear a band’s shirt everyday without it falling apart or compromising the cotton with sweat and food stains, but a poster can hang in your house or apartment or office or dorm room undisturbed forever. Posters are personal. They share a space with you, they don’t cover you like a t-shirt.
Clay Hayes’ book is a collection of some of the finest posters from his website, Gigposters.com, an online community of designers and fans showcasing the incredible poster work being done around the world. Letterpress, screen printing, digital, and mash-ups of all forms do more than just advertise, they become art. The whole point is to grab someone’s attention.
Say you’re leaving your local record store and you see a strange drawing on the door of a multi-eyed creature watching a bunch of televisions and drinking a giant soda. You stop to read the text, which is written in near-illegible blobs pouring from two of the creature’s crying eyes, and see that your least favorite local band, the one whose bassist used to be in that really good band you saw a few years ago, is playing a free show at your least favorite local bar tomorrow night.
You’re obviously not going to go, but you stand there staring at this poster long enough to wonder why the hell someone drew this amazing image for this obnoxious band. They don’t sound like an eyeball monster with gelatinous tears and a thirst for TV and soda. They sound like Nickelback. But that poster!
That’s truly the wonder of this book. No matter how many times one opens the book there is always something new to see, a shape or line that stands out. The posters seem to change with your mood, or the weather, the images evoking different spirits, stories, ideas. The best ones have nothing apparently in common with their subjects. Texas artist Dirk Fowler’s design for a 2006 Ramblin’ Jack Elliot show, for example, features a cowboy riding a whale, an unlikely pairing that somehow still works. Finding a connection is as much a tool of the artist as is paper and ink, even if the connection is only in the artist’s brain.
Each artist in the book is represented by several examples of their work, as well as a brief profile. These aren’t in-depth descriptions of process, but rather snapshots of influences, materials, and ideas about making posters. It is not cliché to say that the work speaks for itself.
Hayes’ book is a design feat in itself. Each page is perforated and meant to detach, giving readers 101 mini-prints, making this a book one can literally deconstruct. This feature harkens back to the built-in disposability of posters which one hung on telephone poles, bar windows, or community bulletins boards.
Now though, gig posters are meant to be cherished. They’re the last great rock and roll commodity, merchandise elevated above the commercial and into the artistic by the artists featured here and the others like them. Actually, they’ve always been art, and it’s the quality of the work, in everything from basic design down to the minute details, that makes these posters so amazing.
At a live show there are musicians and fans, but swirling there above the stage, the invisible sounds of music become the monster destroying Tokyo, the six-gun showdown on a dusty street. Hayes’ book collects these images and shows the proper reverence and respect for an art form that is experiencing its golden age. More than anything else, though, this book rocks.