Words: Jared GniewekWhat is the purpose of the rock and roll poster? Is it simply to advertise a date for a rock n roll performance. Is it another way for music to exist in our cultural landscape? Is it a collectible? A tool to add gravity to the "cool factor" of musicians? It is many things far beyond something so trite as a commercial illustration.
A well rendered piece of poster art becomes a supplement to the text of a musical performance. It becomes, over time, as important as album cover art. It adds a visual element to focus on in conjunction with the music. We codify the text of the music through this filter. A static video, it becomes a motif or sigil to evoke the connotations of a band. Some album covers and rock poster art are so much a part of a rock band that it is an image that instantly creates synapses. For example, when I see an image of Iron Maiden's mascot, Eddy (especially when drawn by the incomparable, Derek Riggs) I instantly hear the opening guitar to Number of the Beast. It is another way of understanding music, Of making music your own or of claiming ownership of music. Of making music a more integral part of the psyche.
The book, Don't Hold Your Breath: Nothing New from Brian Ewing (his first- and edited by him) is a purposeful exhibition of his varied styles. While known most for his fat-line skulls which evoke tattoo flash, he bravely opens with a delightful image of a geisha eating dragons and rice out of a chinese food carton. A great sense of visual irony is at play here and many of his images are quite funny. Like bold, giant, four color cartoons. His image of an emo kid crying, or the use of the aforementioned Eddy for a band that makes music on the opposite end of the rock spectrum from Iron Maiden. Ewing's work, like that of a great cartoonist, has a story. When looking, one can quite easily imagine the moments leading up to and past the chrystallized image. Some of his posters tell a further story using background detail to enrich and reinforce the central figure.
One finds his inspirations to be varied and unapologetic. He has co opted many styles of imagery.There are many elements of comic design in his work. From the Saturday Morning Cartoon-esque lettering on some pieces, to occasional Kirby crackle. His color choices are reminiscent of the best of Dave Stewart and his rendering has a tendency to look similar to Mike Allred. He is a fan of music and art and truly draws for fans. Spend an hour or so with him and you'll see the ways he evokes imagery to further a band into the brain pan of those that love it already.
A rather telling quote goes something like this:
"Often times fans understand a bands work better than the band themselves. You're not worried about artists respecting you. It's more important to make the fans happy."
I would say that if you are into rock poster art he is doing some great work and the book is quite simply a "must have". His writing about the pieces is illuminating and I, for one, appreciated the recommendations of artists, musicians, and bars throughout the book. If you're a comic fan looking for some great bands to check out and want to see some eye splattering images, the book will leave you with a visual feast that rocks far harder than a book of super-hero pin-ups can on the best day.
Reviewer Jared Gniewek joined Graphic NYC with the site's relaunch in September, 2009. Jared has worked in the music industry as a back line technician, performer, and promoter. He has also been a freelance writer whose work can be seen in the recent re-launch of Tales from the Crypt and heard on The Dark Sense, an audio anthology of the macabre for which he is also the story editor. Jared’s blog, Die By The Pen, outlines his philosophies and personal quest as a writer. His cartooning can be found on his blog Scary-Oke, a monster indy cartoon karaoke game stemming from his own twisted mind