Aesthetic Approaches and Actions
In almost every large city in America, vestiges of flyer art (also spelled as flier and alternatively known as gig posters and handbills) made for band gigs or concerts remain on traffic and light poles, kiosks, the sides of buildings, cramped record store spaces, and just about anywhere that one can use glue, wheat paste, tacks, thumbnails, tape, and staples. Due to being made by a variety of promoters, designers, band members (as varied as Mick Jones from the Clash and David Yow of Jesus Lizard), and fans, multiple flyers for one show often exist. These works are found in various shapes and sizes, including standard letter copy machine size (8.5 x 11), legal letter size (8.5 x 14), or larger formats such as 11 x 14 . Artists range from self-taught, “naïve” amateurs (an example seen above) to schooled design students and professionals who use a variety of means to reproduce the work, including digital printing, xerography and photocopying (black and white, color, and split fountain printing, seen below), offset/linotype printing, and silkscreening.
Figure 1. Split Fountain
Flyers are made with a variety of techniques, including clip art, cut and paste, hand-drawn illustration, collage and pastiche, and other means, utilizing press on letters, manual and electric typewriter fonts, stencils, typesetting machines, photos, crayons, pencils, pens, markers, and design programs such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop among more contemporary modes.
Whether intact or ripped, shredded or faded, flyers embody a living visual history of artists and bands, sometimes reflecting months, even years, of diligent, ongoing promotional work; hence, one can peel back the past like a sequence of skins on poles layered with leftover flyers. Often times, such flyers, especially during their heyday between 1976-1996, are the sole means of tracing the history of bands, venues, and artists. They are both the ephemera of subcultures and serve as temporary, instant, and often insurgent vernacular expressions. They chronicle and mirror shifts in technology, art, and social practice. As a means to an end — to advertise gigs — they embody different graphic forms, and as social texts, they pay witnesses to punk’s ceaseless and potent tenet — Do-It-Yourself, for many of the flyers are made by amateur, untrained, but energetic artists.
Figure 2. Vernacular and
Vulgar? Flyer by Randy “Biscuit” Turner,
In contrast, in the age of the Internet, digital flyers, which may only exist as virtual designs and never printed, are often emailed to fans or featured on social networking sites such as Myspace and Facebook. However, poster street teams still operate in most cities, such as Portland, where one distributor earns five cents for every poster he is able to affix to wooden and metal utility poles. Yet, promotion may actually be secondary to the conversation that posters enable: “While flyers do not work as successful advertisements for specific shows, they … carry on public conversations with critics, booking agents, and other bands … ” (Shank: 1994).
History and Lore
Flyers are exercises in supposedly short-lived forms because they are often removed or suffer from exposure to inclement weather. The migration and dissemination of punk art, especially flyers, can be understood as revealing the essence of DIY culture, long before one could purchase the Design It Yourself Deck and Guerrilla Art Kit at huge retail “box” bookstores. Throughout the last thirty years, often associated with the rise of the First Wave of UK punk, including gig flyers for the Sex Pistols and the Clash, punk flyers have often been posted illegally, since many communities treat flyers as trash, nuisances, and vandalism, associating it with street art like graffiti. Some municipalities provide public space, such as kiosks, which can reveal official attitude towards public art. In places where flyers are illegal, the spread of these flyers can be understood as events, often done late at night, by street teams or artists who wish to spread information about shows but also contest cultural spaces by producing art with political or social content that can combines a sense of agitprop and agitation.
Figure 3. Anonymous
Year and Artist Unknown.
In the case of bands like Black Flag, who routinely appropriated the designs of Raymond Pettibon (see below), brother of guitarist Gregg Ginn, and made thousands of copies that were furnished to high school kids, the flyering process was furtive, marked both by purpose and “kicks,” resulting in thousands of Xeroxed or offset press flyers plastered on city walls, train bridges, and utility poles, some weathered but still visible for years. As bass player Chuck Dukowski noted on the liner notes to their double album Everything Went Black, “We…plastered the city with our posters…with a literal vengeance” (1982). Four of these Raymond Pettibon posters frame the back sleeve of the record, revealing cops, priests, horned men, and the invocation to “Creepy Crawl” at the Whisky au-go-go, the early hardcore dance, and the name of their 1980 pre-Henry Rollins national tour.
Figure 4. Flyer
by Raymond Pettibon
While Flag was going hit-and-run style in the bowels of L.A., the same street art tactics were employed in Canada by Joey Shithead, then with the Skulls, but later the singer of DOA. In folklore, this tendency, in which two different geographical and cultural areas give rise to the same related phenomena, is dubbed polygenesis. According to Shithead in his autobiography I, Shithead:
I would jam my backpack full of posters, squeezing in a bag of flour and staple gun, and take along my trusted bucket…When there was nowhere to use the staple gun, I would stop at a gas station for some water and mix up a thick, gooey mixture of water and flour. I’d spread the goo on some metal light standards with my hands, and stick up the poster. After a short while my jeans and leather jacket were so covered with the shit that I looked like a drywaller.
During the same time frame, the Final Solution zine staff, based out of New Orleans, reported that in Texas, the leader singer of the Hates was chased down by locals for flyering in Houston, while a member of the Re*cords was chased by the FBI in Austin for printing flyers on the back of IRS forms in 1979. Even the Clash (see below) exhibit flyer lore: broke after a night of flyering London in 1977 with a mixture of flour and water, they ate from the same bucket to quell their hunger. If a myth of origin exists for punk flyering, it might reside within these episodes.
Figure 5. Clash Flyer.
1977, Artist Unknown.
Punk writer David Ensminger has argued that flyers are not simply a byproduct of late-capitalism’s rampant youth cultures but are influenced by a range of earlier art traditions and aesthetics, including linotype woodcuts, such as the anti-Nazi “modernist” of Gerd Arntz (see below); the harsh political machinations unearthed by painters like Goya and Grosz; the solidarity-inspired, bold geometry, and intense color of Russian constructivism; the realism inspired W.P.A. posters of the 1930s, the style and mass commercialism of movie handbills and advertisements, including most notably horror movies; the naïve and art brut philosophy of Dubuffet; the collage and cut-ups of Dada; 1960’s posters emerging from the countercultural, psychedelic era; and the sordid and widely loved comic transgressions such as Tales from the Crypt, Zap Comix, and Mad. Barry Jones, co-owner of the infamous London punk club the Roxy, reinforces this notion: “The cut-up…doing collages was great. I was really into (teen) comics at the time…and I’d just discovered colour Xerox … how it changed the textures of the colors – how it gave it this look – so I started just pasting things up (Heylin: 2007). In addition, the poster reflect 19th century advertising posters that “decorated the once gray streets of Paris. Long before the age of mass media, the posters were the principal means of advertising products, stores, theaters, ballets and local performers. Collecting them became a quick and easy way to “bring the ‘museum of the streets,’ into homes” (Lyons: 2001). In a similar vein, before the Internet, punk posters also seized the public’s imagination.In their early, rugged, cut and paste forms, flyers updated the Parisian advertising trend one hundred years later. Instead of responding to gray city walls with rich tapestries of color and willowy, organic lines, punk art actually mimicked the rust-tinged, scarred industrial landscapes and attempted to penetrate deep into the recesses of the modern the city.
Figure 6. Gerd Artz
Woodcut, Date Unknown.
Flyer artists include many designers who have pursued commercial design and fine arts careers, including Art Chantry, Winston Smith, John Yates, Frank Kozik, Pushead, Mad Marc Rude, Jamie Hernandez (see below), Victor Gastelum, Jeff Nelson, and Shawn Kerri. Others like Randy “Biscuit” Turner, former singer of the Big Boys, Cargo Cult, and Swine King, worked under-the-radar for three decades, as outsider artists eschewing the corporate side of art, hence made little money but were highly influential on the aesthetics of punk graphics.
Figure 7. Jaime
Flyers were also used as mailers, letter stock, or easily reproduced and packaged promotional tools. For instance, Mike Muirs from Suicidal Tendencies used flyers as letterhead to fans, and the label BYO would include a handful of flyers when shipping items to buyers across the world, with a handwritten thank you note. SST, the label behind Black Flag, regularly provided free posters, stickers, flyers, and tour dates, as would Alternative Tentacles, who produced the Dead Kennedys. By the mid-1980s, Dirk Dirksen, show promoter for clubs like Mabuhay Gardens in San Francisco, established a flyer art mail-order service that featured both original copies and reprints on heavy stock. Fanzines regularly featured flyer art in the design layout for articles. In 1986, Maximum Rock’n’Roll published a flyer issue, reprinting dozens of punk and hardcore flyers alongside an essay by DJ Mel Cheplowitz (see below).
Figure 8. Maximum
In 1981, Street Art: The Punk Poster in San Francisco 1977-1981 was published by Peter Belsito, Bob Davis, and Marian Kester following an exhibition of 500 posters at Valencia Tool and Die, a Mission District punk club in an old hardware store, during the Western Front Punk Festival in 1980. By 1985, artist art Chantry published, Instant Litter: Concert Poster from Seattle Punk Culture by HNA books. More recently, the book Fucked Up and Photocopied: Instant Art of the Punk Rock Movement and Punk Is Dead: Punk is Everything by Bryan Turcotte and Christopher Miller have reproduced thousands of glossy, full color flyers along with interviews and narratives of band members and artists. Web sites, such as Shaved Neck, which has digitized dozens of Arizona punk flyers, and Punk History Canada, which displays hundreds of Canadian flyers, have also proliferated, including some linked below. Meanwhile, fanzines like Left of the Dial continue to run special issues dedicated to flyer art (#8). Many bands also actively archive and present flyers on their web sites, including MDC, DRI, and many others, while gigposters.com also features thousands of such works. In July 2011, The University Press of Mississippi published Visual Vitriol: The Punk art and Subcultures of the Punk and Hardcore Generation.
Lyons, Jessica. “Collectors Still Flock to Classic Vintage Posters…” Art Business
News: April, 2001.
Shank, Barry. Dissonant Identities: The Rock’n’Roll Scene in Austin. Wesleyan, 1994.
Shithead, Joey. I Shithead: A Life in Punk. Arsenal Pulp Press: 2004.