Clinton Street Theater marquee. Photograph by Andy Portello.
I think it was the colors that leapt out at me first. I was standing at the back of the room, glad to have made my way out of the elevated, seasonal heat and into the cool, dimly lit auditorium of the Clinton Street Theater. Being ocularly challenged, it generally takes my eyes a moment to adjust to the change in light after coming in doors on a sunny day, but even as I waited for a second for the fuzzy to become clear, I could see those colors. A moment passed, clarity continued, and I knew just what they were. “Oooo posters!”
They were spread across the walls of the theater, splayed out in semi-even groupings by artist, and as I hastily headed towards the lower section of the auditorium, I knew I was in for a treat. I’d made my way down to the theater for the showing of Just Like Being There, Scout Shannon’s SXSW-juried documentary about the inner workings of the gig poster community. I’d come for the film, but I was now staying for the posters (a mental high five).
Clinton Street Theater auditorium. Photograph by Andy Portello.
Guy Burwell, Joanna Wecht and alerj discuss the gig poster process. Photograph by Andy Portello.
I’ve had an affinity – some might call it a minor addiction – to poster art for years. My earliest recollections being of the small hand bills my mother showed me from her days in The Haight. Amazing bands like Canned Heat, The Grateful Dead and The Rolling Stones. At that age, I didn’t get the music – it was the art I was hooked on.
I had about 45 minutes to kill before the screening, and I made them count. I poured over all the work, absorbing and re-absorbing as much of the amazing imagery and style as I possibly could right up until the theater went dark. If I could have purchased everything there, it would have been mine, but not today. I quickly grabbed three of my favorites designs – two from Dan Stiles and one from Mike King – and found a seat just as the credits started rolling.
There’s something quite comforting about watching a film and having the additional context of owning some of the pieces being shown on screen. I think it’s a connection that comes from participating in a meta media event mixing art and commerce. Perhaps, it’s that up close and personal contact with artist and artifact that does it. I wondered if this, to a lesser degree, was what people going to Comic-con felt like.
Guy Burwell, Joanna Wecht and Scout Shannon discuss the gig poster process. Photograph by Michael Buchino.
The panelists, left to right: Mike King, Dan Stiles, Andy Stern, Guy Burwell, Joanna Wecht and director Scout Shannon. Photograph by Michael Buchino.
My new contact high carried me right through the rest of the evening as I eagerly absorbed the multitude of stories and insider views coming from the panel. My favorite moment had to be when several of the illustrators came to a consensus that the worst group to work for had to be the Dave Matthews Band (another mental high five).
Before I headed back to the studio for some late night work I had to take one final look at those posters. They were amazing. My budget met (and exceeded), I settled into the role of window shopper and eventually made my way back out.
As I stepped onto the street, my poster fix satiated for the moment, I couldn’t help but think about music, the power that comes from the intertwining of it with design and how being a part of this profession makes me smile.
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Erin Lynch is a designer, writer, and educator living in Vancouver, WA. He owns the design studio, Shop, and is an editor at The Portland Egotist. Reach out and make friends on Twitter: @erinlynch.