In the long tradition of successful industries encouraging auxiliary growth in various subsectors, the increasing number of talented musicians in Asheville and throughout North Carolina has prompted a steady stream of gig posters. Filling those requests is what local artist Joshua Marc Levy calls “a gang of illustrators, graphic designers and printers, all working to get it all drawn, colored and printed.”
The wealth of creations arising from this niche inspired Levy to curate The Illustrated Rock Art of N.C. group show at Push Skate Shop and Gallery. The exhibition runs Friday, Dec. 8-Sunday, Jan. 7, and focuses on handmade illustrated works.
Along with Levy’s own original drawings, test prints and copies of final prints, an average of six works each by J.T. Lucchesi, Matthew Stuart Decker, Jason Krekel and Lance Wille, Drew De Porter and Ken Vallario will be on display. James Flames, whom Levy considers the best illustrator in rock art from this area, had a last-minute schedule conflict arise, but for his first stab at a show of this kind, the organizer feels good about the assembled collection of posters for nationally touring and local musicians.
“It’s a tricky balance, curating a show like this and having it go smoothly,” Levy says. “I tried to include everyone I personally know or have interacted with previously, without it getting out of hand. These guys are all extremely talented.”
With a passion for music as their foundation, local artists land gig poster work through making connections in the local live music scene, inquiring about collaborations with groups and building positive word-of-mouth. Once the job is secured, client expectations and the artistic process vary wildly.
“Sometimes bands have an idea [of] what they want. Other times they have no idea and give you carte blanche,” says Levy (who has created work for Dinosaur Jr. and The Broadcast, among others). “Sometimes I have to deal with a merch company, who speaks with the management, who gets feedback from the band, and it all gets telephoned in. At other times, I am sitting with a lead guitar player at my desk, figuring it out together in-house.”
Since a poster can take anywhere from two to seven days to draw up, and a few days to print, even the most prolific illustrator can only accomplish so much. The resulting wealth of work to go around and the range of individual styles mean that the artists don’t consider each other to be competition, but the high level of creativity has its own motivating factors.
“Everyone brings the goods,” says Lucchesi (Widespread Panic, Ween). “With the amount of players in the game, you cannot be phoning it in, or you will get called out on it by fans on the interwebs. This is a good thing as it helps keep your art fresh.”
While aching eyes and hands — plus being influenced by hand-drawn artists — shifted Levy away from computer work, De Porter (Taj Mahal, Bootsy Collins) has taken the opposite approach. He now hybridizes the process by drawing via tablet straight into the computer and has seen many other peers integrating technology into their creative processes.
“With the proliferation of programs that allow for the novice person to set type and manipulate imagery, I have noticed a rise in the qualities that accompany that level of output while also watching as people pick up the programs and dive superdeep, creating mesmerizing results,” he says. “That is a beautiful dynamic of this show: There is a room of unique creators who have all found their path up the ever-shifting landscape of the creative mountain, although some of us are still climbing.”
Decker, whose clients include The Flaming Lips and Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros, says he’s always considered gig posters to be a people’s art form. “That’s one of the main reasons I love it,” he says. “Posters remind us of our favorite music and have the capability to bring us to that open, euphoric state of mind that a great concert can bring us to.”
Building on those notions, De Porter thinks posters have endured as an art form because they are physical representations of an abstract experience. “When the fleeting moment has passed, we are left with memories and our work helps to frame that memory,” he says. “The superrad part is that we create these pieces sometimes months before the experience, and it is something special to realize, after a show, that you were able to channel the vibe authentically.”
True to the show’s focus, its opening night features an instrumental set by local rockers Nugget Box. And, to encourage the next generation of poster artists, a portion of sales from the show will be donated to benefit Odyssey Community School’s art and music programs.
“I think it’s going to be a wild, eclectic mix, and our community is in for a treat,” Levy says. “If we do this again in the future, I think it would be fun to have a rotating cast and get some of the other players to exhibit.”
WHAT: The Illustrated Rock Art of N.C.
WHERE: Push Skate Shop and Gallery, 25 Patton Ave. pushtoyproject.com
WHEN: Opening reception Friday, Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m. On view through Sunday, Jan. 7