“The history books will tell what happened, but the art will tell them how we felt about it.”
Scout Shannon’s documentary on the rise of gig posters, Just Like Being There, offers a glimpse into the art of poster making, as well as the commercial recognition and benefits now being reaped by many of the artists. Their success may not be necessarily skyrocketing – it is an indie endeavor, after all – but the medium is certainly getting more attention and their work is being championed by bands, galleries and websites.
The documentary starts by giving a short overview of the resurgence starting in the mid- to late ‘90s, although they didn’t really start getting larger notice until later. By going to different studios, presses, and artists, Just Like Being There gives a good overall perspective to how the work actually gets done. Some artists get their posters screen printed by an independent press, others create their own makeshift operations, and others still buy high end state of the art equipment. Regardless of the method used, the screen printing process is an investment in time and energy, particularly if it’s approached in a very tactile, step-by-step process. Jay Ryan is one artist who chooses to create in such a way and watching his approach highlights just how much work goes into creating just one piece.
Ryan, along with Daniel Danger, are the two artists whose work and processes get the most time in the documentary. Their styles are completely different – Ryan tends to work a lot with animal figures, particularly cats and dogs, while Danger focuses on landscapes and buildings with immense detail. Though they may produce posters that seemingly have nothing in common, their work speaks to the variance of poster art that exists, as well as the community of artists that embrace so much diversity in what they create.
Studios such as Landland and Aesthetic Apparatus create gig posters, as well as art prints. The debate over the two has been a main point of contention for some who participate in Flatstock, a yearly poster convention that has grown since its first show in 2002. Some say that is should stay limited to gig posters, as there are other venues available to showcase art prints, while others welcome all who want to participate. It’s an interesting argument, but ultimately there is too much crossover to really keep the two separate.
The documentary introduces a fair amount of artists and studios in just under 90 minutes, and they are but a small sampling in a field that is growing exponentially. As more and more bands use poster art to define tours or even individual shows, the demand for artists naturally increases, especially as many bands strive to use artists from the cities in which they perform. The local approach is part of why more and more artists cropping up. The internet makes it much easier to locate a local artist, see their work to determine of they would fit the aesthetic of the band, and request a show poster. It’s a system that essentially makes it possible for artists to gain some momentum from just a few jobs.
Indie bands are highlighted because they go hand-in-hand with independently produced posters, and in turn, they are usually limited works for a limited audience, albeit a growing one. Nada Surf, The Thermals, Ra Ra Riot, and Archers of Loaf are just a few of the bands interviewed who sing the praises of their poster art. The genuine appreciation and respect for the artists producing these works comes through and emphasizes their unique relationship. Taylor Swift certainly isn’t commissioning any of these artists to produce posters to sell at her concerts. However, it is precisely because of the independent approach that the relationship between artist and band is so successful – they can appreciate the creative struggle in much the same way – as many artists have approached bands at their shows, uncommissioned posters in hand, hoping to get permission to sell them and split the profits, often to varying levels of success.
Apart from gig posters, the indie poster revolution has also seen many artists re-imagining movie posters for special screenings, such as those held at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas. Both the movie and music posters often share overlapping artists, although most artists tend to favor one over the other. Well known movie poster artists such as Tyler Stout, known for his posters that often include every character and key scenes from a film; and Olly Moss, who tends towards cleaner, more graphic single images have found great success in the limited run releases for their work.
Kevin Tong is another excellent artist who divides his work pretty evenly between gig posters and movie and television-themed posters. His style is fluid, detailed, and beautifully colored. Tong freehands much of his art and then scans it to a computer to finish up. Watching Tong, along with other artists, using computers to create their posters is another example of how the work has evolved. Some may argue that using computers isn’t really art, but without real artistic skill, a computer would useless in bringing an image to life.
In discussing the often limited amounts of posters produced, it’s important to note the explosion of a secondary market online that marks up prices, often before the seller has even received the poster. It has become a highly collectible product with some artists being especially coveted.
Just Like Being There is an engrossing documentary that attempts to cover a lot of ground. Because of the growth of the field, it would be impossible to showcase all the artists producing great work now, but the documentary does a great job of highlighting the many featured. The resurgence of gig posters has raised the quality level and introduced a large group of talent to the medium. As it continues to gain notice, it will surely grow and introduce even more artists, but its independent streak remains a key component to its success, making for a truly independent mix of art and commerce.
The DVD includes a slew of deleted scenes, mostly focused on Ryan and Danger, that are a great addition to the documentary, as well as expanded interviews and performances with the bands featured.
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