Pity the poor designer hired to create the poster for a rock band's gig. The band wants the work to be creative and eye-catching, but the design must incorporate a specific set of information about the show, so it can't be dominated by a graphic; the poster has to be cheap enough to produce in quantity (all bands are cheap when it comes to everything except their guitars), but it can't look cheaply made; the poster must be durable enough to survive a few nights out in the elements, but no matter how durable, every poster is destined to disappear the day after the show. (If the designer is able to satisfy all of these contradictory demands and still make a beautiful poster, chances are the work will be stolen before the show.) Every commission is an opportunity to make something beautiful but ephemeral.
Of course, there are those designers who create posters that surpass all of the required elements; their work is commercial in origin but purely fine art in execution. Artists such as Brady Vest from Kansas City's Hammerpress Studios (www.hammerpress.net), our town's own Eric Woods of Firecracker Press (www.firecrackerpress.com) and Fudge from Los Angeles' Fudge Factory (check out his book Right Wing Conservatives Getting Racked at www.fudgefactorycomics.com) utilize the old-world techniques of letterpress and silkscreen to create works that are both temporary and timeless. Their posters are the locus of strong design and effective communication, and long after the last power chord fades, their works hang in dorms, lofts and galleries as treasured objects.
The art of these three draftsmen, along with the work of several other artists from across the nation, is displayed in Shaw's Gallery's (4065 Shaw Avenue; 314-664-4041 or www.shawsgallery.com) new show, Paper Cuts and Track Marks. The show opens with a free public reception from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday, September 3, and in the true spirit of commercial art, prints of most of the work are available for purchase. Be sure to choose wisely, because even though the posters are mass-produced by hand-operated machines, each one in a series exhibits small discrepancies that makes it unique.