Music and poster design have danced hand in hand for decades.
The rise of the American gig poster really began in the 1960s, a decade well known for its intense cultural and political trends. Rock, soul, pop, reggae and blues music were beginning to dominate the ‘50s doo-wop fever. Andy Warhol was dazzling the creative community with his pop art. Out-of-this world concert posters for Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Jefferson Airplane were surfacing and influencing the new open-minded industry. America was leaving their apprehensive ways at the door and embracing an era of revolution rich in forward thinking ideals on science, technology, music, and art.
Fast-forward to present day where design and music are still thriving companions in the industry; both very much a powerful expression on their own, but when fused together creates a dynamic, unique statement. Many websites, like GigPosters.com, and art showcases have honored the tradition of show posters and poster design, but none are like The National Poster Retrospecticus. This traveling showcase features over 250 hand-printed event posters created by over 80 different contemporary artists from all over the United States, and it will make a stop in Philadelphia this Saturday.
John Boilard, the creator of The NPR, was heavily involved in western Massachusetts’ DIY music scene around 1998; playing in a number of bands and setting up an average of 20 shows each year, including a total of 100 held in his mother’s backyard shed. If you know anything about the DIY ethic, you know that it boasts a self-sufficient attitude—do it all yourself or get nothing done at all. This idea was motivating and forced creativity in situations where options were few. Boilard, who goes by JP Boneyard, needed a way to get the word out about his shows. “The necessity to promote these events is what lead me to discover my passion for design and knack for problem solving.”
From there, his natural talent flourished and spawned a one-off show called the Western Massachusetts Flyer Retrospecticus. The idea was first suggested to be a solo show, a way to visually culminate seven years of Boilard’s flyer designs; but he had a better idea. “A solo show felt weird to me. If the shows were all about [the] community, why not involve the rest of the folks making, even better, posters?” It was a hit.
In 2011, Boilard was once again asked to assemble a poster show, but with a national angle. The show proposed would invite selected artists from all over the country to create and submit hand screen-printed works that would travel around the U.S.A. The enthusiasm for this type of work was lofty at the time. The artists were chosen and the show hit the road and has been on tour ever since with a constant alternating lineup of talented designers from every corner of the country. It has parked itself in cities like Burlington, Detroit, and St. Louis, and now, Philadelphia.
After over two years of traveling, The NPR has finally made its way to here, thanks to Masthead Print Studio’s owner and creator Shawn Hileman, who invited the show to Philadelphia. Shawn is a prominent, local graphic artist, who has done work for companies such as Urban Outfitters and AEG, one of the world’s biggest entertainment companies, and does freelance whenever he can. On top of that, he’s busy curating print-based monthly shows at his Northern Liberties studio space that functions as a gallery, print shop and apartment. “JP [Boilard] has done the impossible. I know from personal experience how difficult it is to organize artists and he's conquered the goliath of poster collection,” said Shawn. “For him to bring the show to Philly, where the poster scene rocks, seems like the perfect combination.” Philadelphia’s seen a spike in poster culture, with organizations such as the Philadelphia Poster Guild—a project that merges together artists musicians and local venues —and gallery spaces such as Masthead and Space 1026.
Although poster design has become refined with the use of computers and design software, that DIY edge is never going to die. “It's a nice break to interact with an object that was made by another human's hands and possess a unique quality to the work, even in its imperfections—which are sometimes celebrated, says JP.” I have a hunch that folks respond so well to this aesthetic because it just feels more real, more relatable in comparison to flat, shinny and plastic.”
The National Poster Restrospecticus takes place Saturday, September 14 at Masthead Print Studio located 340 Brown Street in Philadelphia from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. More information can be found on the NPR’s website. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
If you're interested in hosting The NPR in your town, contact John here.