American Artifact: The Rise of American Rock Poster Art (Freakfilms, NR)

Nobody gets rich doing original rock posters but for many it’s a way to express their love of the music.


Concert posters are the madeleine cakes of rock’n’roll. Nothing triggers memories of the Grateful Dead more surely than Stanley Mouse’s “Skeleton and Roses” poster while Victor Moscoso’s psychedelic posters are better than a time machine for transporting you back to San Francisco in the 1960s. The posters were created to advertise the shows, as merchandise to sell and, in a brilliant burst of practical psychology, as post-show giveaways to encourage people to clear the hall (“free poster to the first 500 to exit!”).

Today vintage posters have become collector’s items (I know, blame the baby boomers for inflicting their nostalgia on everyone yet again) but the art of the rock poster never really died and today many gifted artists are creating original posters for contemporary bands. Styles  change—the clashing colors and squiggly lettering of the 1960s rock scene gave way in the 1980’s to black-and-white collages while today a multiplicity of approaches are in evidence—but the spirit of the handmade object remains. And just in case you were wondering, those psychedelic posters were made cryptic on purpose, delivering the message “if you can’t read this, maybe this concert is not for you either.”

All this and more is lovingly documented in American Artifact: The Rise of American Rock Poster Art, which covers both the historical and contemporary rock poster. Director Merle Becker (a 17-year veteran of the film and television industry and director of the documentary Saving Newburgh) spent four years on the film, much of which involved driving all over the country interviewing artists and visiting print shops and archives. It’s a pleasant surprise to learn that many of those 1960s artists are still alive and well (and in some cases looking a lot better than The Who did at the Super Bowl) as well as how many younger artists have taken up the trade. Nobody gets rich doing original rock posters but for many it’s a way to express their love of the music.

Seeing is believing, of course, and the film shows you a lot of classic posters as well as more modern works. So many artists are featured I can’t name them all but here are a few: Stanley Mouse, Victor Moscoso, Frank Kozik, Art Chantry, EMEK, Tara McPherson, Derek Hess, Jay Ryan and Mat Daly. Becker also pays visits to Hatch Show Print in Nashville, one of the world’s oldest letterpress shops, and Wolfgang’s Vault, an archive of 1960s rock posters which offers an authentication service so you can see if you shelled out for an original or a fake.

American Artifact will be released as a two-DVD set on March 27, 2010, but you can pre-order from which also offers more information about the film. The set includes many extras including a director’s commentary, more interviews, a Q & A with the director and some of the artists, and a video lesson in how to make a screen print. American Artifact is already part of the permanent collection at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and if you have any interest in the subject you’ll want it in your personal collection as well.

Sarah Boslaugh

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