Visual Vitriol: The Houston Exhibition

During the 2000/2001 winter season, David Ensminger and Russell Etchen, who designed the first six issues of Left of the Dial, co-curated the Visual Vitriol show at the Lawndale Art Center in the museum district of Houston. It was the first Visual Vitriol show and showcased international flyers from North America, Asia, and Europe, with a special focus on the Texas scenes of Austin and Houston. A number of people helped contribute to the effort, including Christian Arnheiter from local legends the Hates, who donated several historical images from the 1980’s-90’s period, and U-Ron from iconoclastic Really Red, who personally made copies of dozens of posters and mailed them to us. Furthermore, Bill Daniels, Texas photographer and legend, lent a half dozen images that were once published in the rare and brilliant Texas Round-Up zine. His work was juxtaposed next to the colorful, neo-surreal, campy fliers of Randy “Biscuit” Turner of the Big Boys, a band that Daniels once documented. For examples of that work, please see the Big Boys re-issues available on CD from Touch and Go records. In addition, Michael Knott, designer and editor for Round-Up, allowed us to duplicate some of his most expressive works from the period, including larger posters with a “new wave” stylistic feel.

The Italy Section

Lawndale, in an earlier incarnation at a different address in the mid-1980s, hosted notorious punk bands like Black Flag and up-and-coming speed metal doomsayers Slayer. The show used the entire second floor space, and even featured newer, promo-style, full color posters to line the walkway/stairs leading to the space. Dischord Records gave us the rights to run a live Fugazi (featuring former members of Minor Threat and Rites of Spring) video around the clock for the duration of the show, thus adding both volatile sound and savvy moving images to the mix of posters. Both curators were wary of the monochromatic, institutional white walls of the space, but we did not have enough time to paint the walls, so Ensminger decided to take immense rolls of red paper that were readily available and cut them into edgy geometric patterns that resembled Russian constructivist painters, like Malevich. Although this did not impress everyone, it was a short-term solution that did allow for some friction and dynamism in the viewing.

Selections from England

The show received ample coverage from the Houston Press and The Houston Other, and Ensminger spoke at length about the project on a late-night punk radio show at the nearby Pacifica radio station, KPFT. Ensminger’s band at the time, Magnetic 4, a surf-garage band, played the opening night on the first floor. Guitarist Charlie Esperanza, a Houston native who had been an active part of the local scene since the late 1980s, was also a punk flier artist who hand drew most of the B-Movie, monster-themed posters for the band. He also contributed several fliers he did from previous eras. Also, the singer Andreas from the Manges, a quintessential Ramones style pop punk band from La Spezia, Italy, personally donated several original posters, as did Scotti from the Australian label Au-Go-Go (Cramps, John Spencer, etc.). Our Japanese wall included terrific posters provided by Yukihiro Yasuda, who ran the label Ngoo records and led the raucous band Antonio Three, while South Korean fliers were provided by the student, designer, and punk rocker Han Suck Zoo.

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