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Concert Poster Artists Document the Sights and Sound of Music

Published: Thursday, January 19, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 17:01

Ryan Avery music posters

Ryan A. Ruiz

Phoenix College freshman Ryan Avery implements his art background to create digital collage concert posters for local shows.

There's a science to every art; even the gig poster.

Almost anyone can design posters if they have the right connections and own a computer. After asking a handful of artists all over America who have designed at least one poster for a Phoenix show, it seems the fine print applies to those who have been able to turn something that was once done out of promotional necessity into a lucrative art form.

Emek Golan is perhaps one of the most prolific and recognized contemporary music-related poster artists. Other artists, like Jared Connor, are recognized for projects like his limited edition tour posters for The Mars Volta. While that's all swell, there are still dozens of shows in PHX every night rivaling for residents' attention.

True, it probably takes more than a snazzy poster to wrestle $40 from your bank account to see a band like Tool. However, it's a different battle to separate your pocket and $6 to see a Trunk Space gig of lesser-knowns.

Like most young club rats in the 1980s, Bill Ramsey collected flyers from punk rock and hardcore gigs he attended in Dallas. It wasn't until he moved to Tucson to study photography that he found himself spending his nights in a copy shop alongside Wayne Keeler making paste-up flyers for Keeler's band G-Whiz.

He eventually volunteered to make posters through the University's Student Union Activity Board, where his first "big" poster was for Firehose and Pollo Elastico.

"I just went and looked at a copy of this," he wrote in an email. "Wow, it was bad."

Ramsey, who moved to Phoenix a few years later in 1990 and began playing drums in a band, started to make posters promoting his and friends' shows at now-defunct spots like the Silver Dollar Club, where he also made posters for the likes of Fugazi, Green Day, The Offspring, Econochrist and NOFX.

This was put on hold when his band toured, and when he returned he started working with Corey Adams and Will Anderson at the Nile and for promoter Steve Naughton of Medical Presents. Because this wasn't a full-time gig, life got in the way of designing posters until just a few years ago when Jeremiah Gratza from President Gator asked Ramsey to design a few posters.

We don't have to tell you 1992 isn't 2012.

"The days of black and white collage flyers were really quickly replaced by computer-generated work for a time with the spread of low-cost desktop publishing," Ramsey said. "Some really great computer-generated work came out of this, but I really like seeing the craftsmanship of a great illustration or letterpress design in some of the more modern posters. Also, I love that most of the more obscure hardcore and punk shows going on in town these days have gone back to the black and white, cut and paste aesthetic."

Illustrator and designer Paul Granese, who works out of Pennsylvania, is someone who believes in layering traditional illustrations with the help of technology. He's recently been into creating textures by scanning things like tree bark, broken glass, dirt, wrinkled paper and such into his computer. The rest of his work is primarily completed in Photoshop.

There's clearly a functional purpose to poster art: to promote the band. But it's becoming less about that and more about a piece of immediately nostalgic art – which became an opportunity to turn an otherwise necessary project into a lucrative one.

"I think the main change since I started is the notion of poster artists selling their work," Ramsey said. "While I'm sure it went on before my time, I distinctly remember how folks like Frank Kozik, TAZ and others were the first people I remember really making a go at selling their work for the kind of music that I like."

These days, there are a handful of art shows where fans may wait hours in line for the chance of grabbing a gig poster designed by artists like Emek, as mentioned in the 2009 documentary "American Artifact."

However, most local designers aren't making much money, if any at all. Granese, who has worked with over 200 clients in the last four years, got into gig posters when his friend started a booking company and promised free admission in exchange for promotional posters. He did suggest that some artists can make anywhere from $100 to $1,000,000 for poster designs.

Despite the promise of a pay-off or a vehicle to getting artistic exposure, nearly all gig poster artists agree there has to be a genuine love for music. Ryan Avery, artist and front man of Phoenix band Fathers Day, got into gig posters for the love of music — and because he thought some of the other posters out there "sucked."

"Most people don't look at a press photo of a bunch of dudes with douche beards and bad hair and say to themselves, ‘This looks like a band I would really like to see live,' but if they see something really cool or interesting like a monster or something graphic and crass like a naked woman climbing out of a pile of garbage, it will most likely grab their attention and pique their interest."

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