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The Chuck Sperry Interview and Poster Giveaway
So happy to share this with everyone at last. Chuck Sperry was gracious enough to find time during his whirl wind tours of the US and Europe to do the interview. It is almost everything you ever wanted to know about Chuck and art.
On top of that he is giving 6 of you lucky readers one of his sold out Manu Chao Posters (read about it HERE). Drop a comment be creative or insightful (something more than 1 or 2 words) and I will use the Random Number Generator to pick 6 people to receive a poster. ONE ENTRY PER PERSON PER HOUSEHOLD. Be sure to leave a name. Entries will be accepted until Midnight tonight Tuesday PST. NO MORE ENTRIES
Needless to say I was blown away with the interview then again when he said hey lets giveaway 6 posters.
And now I give you Chuck Sperry
What's your back ground as far as education and working before Firehouse?
I came to the Firehouse with years of artistic experience behind me. I was raised an artist in Dayton, Ohio by artist parents.
My Father, John Sperry, was apprenticed to Master Sculptor Robert Koepnik; and Koepnik had studied under the famous Swedish sculptor Carl Milles. Carl Milles had studied with Auguste Rodin. I used to work on sculptures along side my Dad, in my Dad's studio and also in Robert Koepnik's studio, as a boy.
Robert Koepnik's studio made a great impression on me as a boy. He did many, many sculptures for municipal and church commissions. The studio was a converted barn in the Ohio countryside. There were angels, saints and figural sculptures packed into this huge space, jutting out from the shadows and even hanging by ropes up into the darkness. It was like a church of art. My mouth just dropped open at the sight! And I got to work in there, next to my Dad.
My Mother Sally Sperry was a painter and used to take me and my sister and brothers out with her when she'd paint landscapes in Southwestern Ohio. She had a studio in the basement of our house in Dayton, where she did her own paintings and advertising illustrations for Elder Beerman, a department store downtown. She had piles of typography books and advertising annuals which I used to pore through as a kid. By the time I graduated from high school my mother had climbed up through the advertising department and had become a regional vice president of advertising of the company. So her success - especially as a woman in the chauvinistic 70's - was a huge inspiration to me.
My older brothers and sister were hippies and had San Francisco and Detroit rock posters in their bedrooms. Hanging out with my brothers and sister, that's where I saw my first Gary Grimshaw, Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso and Peter Max posters.
I was enrolled in art programs at The Living Arts Center in Dayton, Ohio and at The Dayton Art Institute.
By the time I went to the University of Missouri School of Journalism, I was serious about art. That first day at college, I went into the university cafeteria at the student union, I picked up the student newspaper, called the maneater and I saw the political cartoon in there. It was awful! I thought, "Hell! I can do better than that!"
I worked on three political cartoons and brought them to the editors in their attic offices at the headquarters of the maneater. It was a great environment with garreted ceilings and graffiti going back to the 1930's on the walls. The student editors were leaning back in their seats drinking coffee and cracking jokes when I walked in with these drawings. They took a look, and hired me on the spot. I asked what I got paid, and they laughed and said it was lucky they didn't throw my impudent freshman ass out. I made two cartoons a week for for four years.
I was the only person on the editorial pages that didn't draw a salary for his work. I wanted that to change. After six months, I asked the editors to come to the student union with me for something. I asked them to watch as people picked up and read the maneater. We watched and they said, "What are we looking for?" I said, "Look at what everyone turns to first." Then we watched about ten people pick up the newspaper and page straight to my cartoon.
"See they pick up the paper and go to my cartoon first." I said, "Now can I get paid?" They laughed, "Alright, Chuck, you got it. $75 bucks a week." As a good tradesman, when I passed my position to the next cartoonist, I made sure he got paid too.
I had a dual major of Journalism and Art at the University of Missouri and studied art with Frank Stack (aka Foolbert Sturgeon, author of "The Adventures of Jesus"), who had made some of the first underground cartoons and who had worked with Gilbert Shelton (author of "The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers") at the Texas Ranger in Austin, Texas. I used to go by Frank's office to rap about art and comics and movies and American culture in general. He is a storehouse of cultural info. Frank Stack got me fired up to be an underground cartoonist.
As I graduated I was watching what was going on in New York City. There was RAW magazine, edited by Art Spiegelman and Francois Mouly, and a great painting scene. Meanwhile, I was in Missouri making an occasional illustration and op-ed cartoons for the Columbia Daily Tribune. I started a punk zine called Java, made some posters for local bands, Bone Deep and the Art Sluts, one for Blind Idiot God, in the summer of 1984, but I moved out to New York City in 1985.
Once there I got swept into the political underground comic World War 3 Illustrated. I worked with Seth Tobocman, Peter Kuper and Eric Drooker as co-editor of the magazine. I did this for four years while living in the political squatting scene on The Lower East Side. I used my art and journalism backgrounds to help create World War 3 Illustrated, so I'd somehow derailed my education to work for a subversive magazine, so that was cool.
The squatting scene was coming to an ugly head by 1989 and I could see it coming, and moved to San Francisco the same year. I got to the Bay Area just in time for the 1989 Earthquake. I was living in Oakland in the Neurosis band practice house. In fact, my bedroom was right above their studio. I paid $40 to live there because there was so much noise. I slept with headphones on, and when anyone asked how I could stand it, I told them the truth, "I lived above the Swans' practice space in New York City so I'm used to it."
I made posters for rock concerts and soon moved to Studio 4 in the Mission. We had shows there at our collective house. I made posters for Steel Pole Bath Tub, Fugazi, The Looters, Trunk, Hemi, Bomb, and some other bands during that time. The telephone poles around San Francisco were thick with posters and there were no rules around postering then. It was like an outdoor gallery, and all the poster artists checked out each other's work on the poles, and we all knew each other from their work there.
The copy shops were the center of the xerox poster and 'sine scene. Usually the guy behind the counter was in a band, and stoked you free copies if you were making a band flyer. I worked at the famed punk 'zine Maximum Rocknroll for a few months.
I was volunteering at Artist Television Access, where I met Marshall Weber, who organized a National Association of Artists Organizations grant and I was brought onboard to create a retrospective of World War 3 Illustrated in San Francisco. NAAO is funding by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pew Charitable Trust. So even before I started Firehouse I had worked with a large national granted exhibition.
About the same time, I made a show of xerox telephone pole flyers called "Phonepole Faves" with Robert Collison who was making all the posters for the Kennel Club and with Seth Maxwell Malice who was making all the flyers for the Covered Wagon. Two things came from that show in 1990. First, Grant McKinnon from San Francisco Rock Posters and Collectibles, introduced me to this gorgeous woman who had a huge punk rock flyer collection. That woman was Nancy Langhofer, who I've been with ever since. Secondly, the artists who showed in that "Phonepole Faves" show started an underground magazine, called Filth Weekly Weird News, which lasted for about five years.
Robert Collison became the Chief Editor, I became the Art Editor, of Filth magazine. It was my job to collect comics, find an artist for the cover and since I worked at Comic Relief - the comic book store on Haight Street - I stored and distributed Filth up and down Haight Street. Nancy was the manager of the store and I worked at the front counter. I had collected comics and cover illustrations by Spain Rodriguez, S Clay Wilson, Robert Crumb, Paul Mavrides, Gary Grimshaw, Rigo, Mats Stromberg, Hal Robbins, and a lot more. We had a circulation of 10,000 issues every month or two. It was a helluva great time! The Guardian and SF Weekly were picking up some of our story ideas, and about the time we were issued press passes, we decided to kill the magazine.
US News and World Report sent a reporter to interview the editors of Filth magazine. They were asking us to define the "Slacker Generation," which was completely ludicrous to us. We set them up to interview this homeless stoner dude that was sleeping in the Filth offices. This guy was eternally stoned and didn't know what he was talking about, and we just laughed when the article came out. Obviously, US News couldn't figure out how it was possible that this dude could possibly put out a magazine let alone tie his own shoes. Filth was killed in 1996.
I met Ron Donovan at the comic book store where I worked, Comic Relief. Ron was living around the corner on Haight and Clayton. My office headquarters was the front counter at Comic Relief, and Ron's office headquarters was the Copy Central on Haight Street. I was making flyers for local bands like Bomb and Steel Pole Bath Tub. Ron was making flyers for The Mermen. We started rapping about making posters. And it turned out we got hired to do Fillmore posters within a week or two of each other.
Are you from the SF Bay area?
I grew up in Dayton, Ohio. Moved to Ft. Lauderdale briefly for my last two years of high school at Northeast High, went to the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri. After school I moved to New York City. From there I came to San Francisco, where I've lived ever since. In fact, after meeting Nancy, we've lived in the same apartment in the Haight Ashbury district for twenty years.
So how long have you been designing and printing posters ?
Since the 1980's really. When the Fillmore re-opened around 1993 and by 1994 I was hired to make my first Fillmore poster by Arlene Owseichik, the art director at Bill Graham Presents. My first professional rock poster then was for Superchunk in 1994. I will never forget it because "Polvo" dropped out at the last minute and the band they hired to fill in was "Overwhelming Colorfast". Now you try to fit that into the same space! All hand lettered. My second Fillmore was for Stone Temple Pilots. I moved on to printing my own posters in silkscreen in 1994 when I met Ron Donovan and he invited me to join Psychic Sparkplug.
What drew you to creating art and posters ?
In creating art I have always been drawn to popular forms like posters, graffiti and comics. I like to reach regular people on the street. In New York City I had been exposed to the gallery scene there, during the art boom of the 1980's. I worked briefly with the sculptor David Hacker, who had a show at Tony Shafrazi Gallery in Soho. At the same time I was working on World War 3 Illustrated, a politically committed magazine, and the two worlds didn't exist in the same dimension. I had to make a choice and I naturally moved toward the popular art form of comics, graffiti and poster making.
Have you always printed your own posters ?
At first, I was hired by Bill Graham Presents to make posters. Arlene Owseichik was the art director there. She gave me a lot of freedom and I have always respected her ability to balance the needs of the band, the promoter, the artist and weigh all this in the Fillmore Poster Series. It's a big job, with a lot of people involved and she has always, always made the poster artist feel most free, special and part of a grand San Francisco Tradition. The Fillmore Poster Series is a great San Francisco Tradition: with the great 1960's artists, Wes Wilson, Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso, and Rick Griffin - starting it out - and the artists, David Singer, Randy Tuten, Randal Chavez, Gary Grimshaw and others - continuing this tradition. The New Fillmore artists continued this tradition with me and Ron Donovan and Chris Shaw and Rex Ray among others. It is a great club to be part of. And it made me take my poster work seriously.
The deal worked out to receiving 50 offset posters and a pay check from BGP. There was art direction, and your idea sometimes didn't find a friendly reception. And so you had to go back and do it over. It was hard work and I always did my best to add up to the work that had preceded me. It taught me the fundamentals of great poster designing.
Ron Donovan and I started making our own poster in our own silkscreen studio at about the same time we were making our first Fillmore posters in 1994. It was a much better deal. We could make as many as we wanted. Sell them ourselves. Control the edition. Decide who we made them for. Make anything we wanted. Pretty much call the shots. Freedom of the Press is guaranteed only to those who own one.
To this day, 16 years and still going strong, I design and print all of my own posters and prints.
I don't like it when artists who don't print their own work act like they do. That's elitist, untruthful and wrong. I think it's part of the class system that we have grown to culturally accept having to do with working with your hands. As if manual dexterity is of a lower order of importance in the making of art, than to make something with your mind and to direct the labor to produce it. I feel this relationship of the artist as boss who directs labor to produce art, further emphasizes the elitism of a class stratified society.
In fact, working with your hands while using your mind is the very essence of artistic activity. This activity unifies the physical and cerebral into one activity. When I make my own art - when I actually print it - it is the fullest expression of my command of my mental artistic aims and my physical material conditions. It is pretentious to lead people to believe you produce your own prints, when you pay someone else to produce them.
If it is so glorious to produce the print, as many claim to do, when they do not, then why not get into the print studio and do the actual work. By working with the actual printing you will learn something about color, composition, design, screen printing itself (which is a physical activity), paper, ink, texture, luminosity, and the relationship between color and form. It will make you a better artist. If you do not print your own editions, don't pretend like you do; It's untruthful, and therefore can not be art. Truth is Beauty and Beauty is Truth. There I said it.
How did Psychic Sparkplug get started and who was part of it?
I met Ron Donovan in 1994; we each had one or two Fillmore posters under our belt. Ron was working with Orion Landau in a company they had together called the Psychic Sparkplug. The studio was about 144 square feet with a loft. We called it the Chemical Box or Squishy Womperland because the toxic oil based inks left a heavy atmosphere in there. Ron and Orion had worked out the ink system using Nazdar oil based inks and the paper I was to use for about ten years - heavy coated Carolina paper stock. Ron and Orion and I printed posters together at the Psychic Sparkplug for two years.
At the same time I joined Ron and Orion at Psychic Sparkplug in 1994, I was working on Filth magazine as Art Director and Comics Editor and was working on two murals with Barry McGee, Aaron Nobel, Rigo23, John Fadeff, Isis Rodriguez, Susan Green and some others. The first mural was for the International Longshoremen's and Warehouser's Union local Number 6. The next mural was a part of the Clarion Mural Project and was funded by the Haas Foundation, and is still in the entryway of the Redstone Building at 16th and Capp Street, in San Francisco. The Redstone used to be the San Francisco Labor Temple.
At the end of this year and early next, I'm restoring my mural there which depicts a democratic meeting of striking workers during the 1934 San Francisco General Strike. A wheelchair lift went in right through the middle of Harry Bridges, the Strike Leader of the 1934 General Strike in San Francisco, and I have to restore his image.
Psychic Sparkplug was Orion and Ron, and I came and joined in 1994. I made posters for Steel Pole Bath Tub, Jawbreaker, Man or Astroman, The Vandals, SNFU, Fear (with Ron), among others.
In 1995 we met with Phil Cushway and he put our posters in the Artrock Catalog. The Artrock Catalog was a great place to see who was who in the poster scene immediately preceding Gigposters.com and Expressobeans.com - in the days before the internet revolution - if you can image it. Phil's Artrock Catalog was the state of the poster art at the time, a real brief on who was who and what they were making in the mid-90's.
Gary Grimshaw moved from Detroit to San Francisco at that time - Phil had given him a multiple poster contract - and Gary and his wife Laura Grimshaw, me, Ron and Orion teamed up to make two annual poster shows at Off The Wall Gallery on Haight Street. Gary Grimshaw, Victor Moscoso, Frank Kozik, Coop, Psychic Sparkplug, Emek, Dennis Loren, John Seabury, and others joined at the two shows we had there called Temporary Insanity 1 and 2.
In 1995 Gary invited Psychic Sparkplug to join in the opening of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a poster show organized by Derek Hess called Visual Jams in Cleveland, Ohio. So I got to bring it all home to Ohio as part of the festivities.
I'll never forget, I was chilling in the hotel room and Ron and Orion came in saying, "Hey, Chuck, we want you to meet someone." I jumped off the bed to shake Wes Wilson's hand, and there I was standing in my underwear. It was pretty much like your typical nightmare - y'know - meeting your hero and looking down to discover you're not wearing any pants. Nice! Wes laughed it off.
Where did you learn how to design and print posters ?
I learned how to design posters by trial and error in xerox for punk shows throughout the 1980's. The idea behind most of these posters was to shock and get attention. By the time I moved to San Francisco, I was good at it. I was making cartoon art in World War 3 Illustrated, Filth and Ron Turner at Last Gasp was publishing Last Gasp, Comics and Stories, edited by Noah Mass. Noah hired a lot of the Filth artists. Frank Kozik did a cover for one of those.
Ron Don taught me the fundamentals of printing at the Psychic Sparkplug.
But let me add one thought to that - I am an extremely hard worker, and very responsible; no one taught me that, it's just the way I am. That's maybe the most important attributes to have as an artist / printer: my work ethic and sense of responsibility.
I have made so many posters, and done so many heroic print sessions (you have no idea what I've been through!), that most printing issues are really second nature to me. I can comprehend and react to material conditions being thrown at me in the printing process and quickly resolve any problem.
Unforseen innovations arise from the physical printing process. Ink is a great teacher. Sweat is good for you. Printing and making art is athletic on a certain level.
How did Firehouse Kustom Rockart get its name and start?
Arlene Owseichik the art director down at Bill Graham Presents called me one day. She said she had a special job for me and that it might lead to something special. Orion had left town with his girlfriend, taking the Psychic Sparkplug with him and never doing anything more with it. Ron and I were working on some projects together, and generally I was looking for a new studio to get into. So that's when Arlene called she introduced me to Johnny Volker, a union chief for the San Francisco Fire Department.
Johnny V needed me to paint a construction trailer that had been donated to the Firefighter Union by a construction company - he needed me to turn it into a mobile Santa's Workshop for the Firefighters Toy Program. I said I'd do it, we agreed on a fee, and then he showed me where I'd paint it.
He picked me up in a 1950's fire truck and took me down to Station 4 on Pacific and Polk Street right on the edge of Pacific Heights - where all the city's wealthiest families have mansions on a hill. The station house was abandoned and in it was the construction trailer. He said, "Pretty cool, huh?" Then he showed me around. Upstairs was the bunkhouse, a 1500 square foot room with a firepole slicing down to the ground floor. While Johnny V showed me around, he explained that he had saved Bill Graham's poster collection, when he was the fire captain on the fire that struck Bill Graham's offices sometime in the 1980's. Johnny had successfully saved all of Bill Graham's poster archive and tapes and movies of shows. Bill Graham awarded Johnny V free "Ins" to any show for life for that.
I invited Mission artists Aaron Noble and Susan Green to paint the inside of the construction trailer like Santa's workshop, and I painted the outside to be the North Pole. It took six weeks to finish. Johnny V used to come by with beers and sit there and smoke cigars and rap out with me while I painted. The whole time he was sizing me up.
One day he came by with a huge, beat-up, heavily carved and decorated chair, saying, "Hey, what do you think? Looks like Santa's throne doesn't it?" And I said, "Hey, man, there's a group of Dutch Guilders in town, guiding the Dome of City Hall, I bet we could get in down there and show them this chair and they'd guild it for free." Johnny V loved to do fudge like that, and he said, "Hot fudge, Sperry, let's go over there right now." We rolled over in the fire truck and found the guilders working in the City Hall. Johnny pulled one of the guilders aside and we took him out to the chair in the truck, and he explained the charity. The guilder agreed right there to steal some of the gold-leaf from the job and make us a Santa's throne out of this old beat up chair. We lugged it into their workroom at City Hall.
Johnny V took me back to the abandoned Station 4 and popped a couple of beers, handed me one, and we walked upstairs to the bunkhouse on the second floor, and he said, "So I guess you've pretty much made yourself at home around this station house…" And I said, "Yeah, what a cool old building!" He looked at me and said, "How'd you like to keep an eye on it for me? You know, you're an artist, I'm sure you can find something to do with it. You just have got to keep it all hush-hush. Nothing permanent. But it's your's to use as long as I can run resistance for you."
That's how I got the Firehouse. I called Ron right away. I said, "Dude! You are never going to believe this, but my friend at the Firefighters Union has given me this Firehouse to use as a studio!" So we went there and checked it out for making it into a studio. We scrubbed up the second floor and repainted it and set up our Firehouse print studio. Ron and I were in there for four years from 1997 to 2001.
The arrangement we had is that we kept it looking like we were only doing one job at a time in there. We moved all the posters out immediately. We didn't put anything up on the walls. Once a Fire Captain in full dress uniform came over by surprise. He was so quiet, we didn't see him until he was walking into the print studio and we were working on a poster. He was this old Irish American dude and he turned beet red, said, "What the God Damned Sam Hell is going on in here!!" We mumbled something about Johnny V and doing a project for the Firefighters Union and he said, "Well, we'll see about that." And stormed out. Johnny calmed him down and held our back. In return we did posters every Christmas for the Toy Program, and I designed some firehouse logos for some of the stations around town.
So that's how we got the name Firehouse. Our original studio was actually a firehouse with a pole and firetruck in it.
What made you start using metallic inks before anyone else ?
Fluorescents were covered by Kozik. We figured metallics turned it up a notch.
It wasn't until a couple of years later that I realized that Mucha's posters were done with metallic ink. All the reproductions of his posters that I had seen didn't bring that to my attention until relatively recently. We thought we had taken the next logical step. And of course it's the 21st Century and everything is supposed to be shiny and metallic, right?
What is allure of Art Nouveau? Why does it strike such a strong in love so many people?
The Art Nouveau style is incredibly rich and beautiful. I think it says something about the beginning of the 20th Century just as it does about the beginning of the 21st. It was a great influence over the 1960's artists and refreshed their vision at the beginning of the San Francisco poster movement. It wasn't until Wes Wilson saw and incorporated the Art Nouveau and Vienna Secessionist style of drawing and lettering into his posters, that the modern rock poster tradition got it's start.
I think you can look at the work of the Psychedelic artists as so advanced that it really belongs as a fore-runner of 21st Century art. It's populism and immediacy is so groundbreaking that it belongs to this Century and not the last. I am using these Art Nouveau and Vienna Secessionist forms and lettering to make a reconnection to the mainspring of the poster tradition.
I heard but was not able to confirm, but which museums have your work in them?
The Library of Congress has a few of my Fillmore posters, and some posters I printed for World War 3 Illustrated.
The deYoung Museum / Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, Achenbach Design Archive has several of my posters.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has my American Artifact poster in their collection.
Any ritual to get warmed up to draw ?
The sketch is usually done on typewriter paper, and I work through a half dozen of those, starting with a gesture and ending up with a drawing in pencil. I transfer this to Smooth Bristol as a final pencil sketch. Tape the drawing onto the back of a fresh sheet of Smooth Bristol and start to ink with a light table, so I can see the pencil sketch.
I take a Windsor Newton Finest Sable Brush, fill a plate with ink, fill a coffee cup with water, and fill another coffee cup with coffee and get started. It usually takes me a line or two to get inspired. After that, I get out of my own way until I'm done.
Do you find listening to a bands music helps in creative process ?
Absolutely! For example, my Mogwai poster would not have been possible without it. The line work in the hair is a visual representation of what I was listening to. I wanted to make a visual representation of the sound, a mass of forms weaving in and out until it frays at the edges and fades out.
Who or what continues to influence your work today ?
My best work is very influenced by making abstract forms and hieroglyphic line that is resolved in the mind of the perceiver. I like the work of the post-impressionists in this regard, and the early abstract painters in terms of pure formally based abstraction from a perceived image. I like to create pieces that ask the viewer to reassemble them in their own mind. It a freedom I'd like to give to my viewer.
Optical art, psychedelic art and the theories of color, the perception of color and their use by an artist come into play in my work. I've read Josef Albers, "Interaction of Colors," and highly recommend this book to any artist. I'm interested in the power of color and it's perception and it's relation to other colors in a work of art.
The work of Malleus brought me a great influence, at a time when I was throwing many of my shop-worn ideas away. I had reached a point where I needed to shake my world up.
In 2005 The Art of Modern Rock had come out and I felt it was perhaps opportunistic at that point to assume a feeling of "having made it" and to capitalize on that perception.
To give you an idea of how important being published in this book was, The Art of Modern Rock had a predecessor called The Art of Rock. The Art of Rock was often called The Bible in the poster artist circles. And The Art of Modern Rock was being referred to as The New Testament. Being published in it, I felt, necessitated an upending of everything I had done up to that point. I guess I went to find myself and delve a little deeper into what I was doing in art.
I went to Europe to make a studio in Milan in the Centro Sociale Leoncavallo in 2006. The people there offered me 1000 square feet of studio space in the largest oldest squat in Europe. I took them up on the invitation. I made posters for European shows and started traveling all over Europe making exhibitions and exploring the poster tradition in Europe.
I looked for shows where I could see the original poster art had began in the 1870's with Jules Cheret, and in the 1890's with Toulouse Lautrec, and in the 1900's with Alphonse Mucha. I went to a lot of museums to see the works of these and others like Gustave Klimt. Mucha and Klimt were using the metallic palette that I'd been using for a decade with great delicacy and beauty. Their gentle touch with metallics influenced me. I also saw with the work of Malleus how it was possible to translate these influences to the present-day and make them relevant.
A great influence that happened to me was to live in Liguria in Italy in a gorgeous port village south of Leirici, which was an unspoiled place of unbelievable beauty. This also happened in 2006. The poet P B Shelley and Lord Byron had lived there nearly two centuries before and the author DH Lawrence had had a house which was within swimming distance of my little house which was right on the Sea. I had a balcony which opened onto the rocks that spilled down to the water. I rented this house for one year, and was able to stay there for months at a time. It was an amazing place to sit and think and plot out the next move, and just be, to fill myself with the beauty and randomness of nature right by the Sea. The natural setting there effected me like no art could.
Two shows occurred at this time that further moved me to re-examine my place in the world. The Cultural Ministry of Serbia invited me to exhibit and lecture about my art as a nationally sponsored event in the capital Belgrade. Having that responsibility given to me forced me to confront my responsibility to the medium of Rock Posters.
Soon after, I was invited to make a show in Athens. I spent 10 days there exploring the remains of the ancient city of Athens that litters the hills beyond the Parthenon. I spent three or four days climbing around the vestiges of the old district of Athens, pouring through the mosaic and pottery and broken houses that cover nearly three hills worth of the old site of Athens.
On one day, Jeff Smith, the creator of Bone (the bestselling independent comic in the world), wandered from Socrates' prison room to the Sanctuary of the Muses where we gave an offering. Afterwards we sat in the grassy field in front of the Bema on Pynx Hill. The Bema is the stone podium where speakers stood and spoke to an assembled crowd of about 6000 people, where the world's first democracy started. It was sobering experience.
Growing up in the bay, who was your favorite local gig poster artist?
Chris Shaw. I feel we understand each other perfectly. We both have the responsibility of carrying on the San Francisco poster tradition, while art directing a contemporary poster series, and creating our own art. That's something we both do. Chris has art directed the Moonalice poster series for some years and I have art directed the Firehouse Goldenvoice Poster Series. We have a lot in common. He's a great painter as well, and I own a number of his paintings.
How much of an influence are these old guys on your work even to this day?
Without Gary Grimshaw, Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso, Wes Wilson, Rick Griffin - I doubt I'd be making posters today. I have nothing but a deep gratitude for them! Thank you!
It's was amazing to see a major resurgence of the poster world during the 90's through today, what would you be doing if that didn't happen?
I haven't any clue. I'd have to reinvent it so I could make posters I suppose. I can't imagine my life having any other meaning.
Who's your favorite modern era gig poster artist? How about local bay area artist?
I spoke about Malleus, with whom I share a sense of aesthetics. Tara McPherson's jump to painting is very inspiring, and I think she knows very well how to handle her painting and her place in the art world.
In terms of Bay Area, I'm inspired by my old friend Rigo23 who has done beautiful indoor and outdoor installations and mosaic civic works around the world, across from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, in the SFMOMA, and commemorated the 1968 Olympic Black Panther Salute in a civic sculpture in the quadrangle of San Jose State University.
What was the last poster you bought and just had to have ?
I recently bought a signed Robert Crumb silkscreen poster from 1967, "Keep On Truckin'" - my brother had this in his bedroom when I was a kid.
Whenever I make a poster for the Firehouse Goldenvoice Poster Series, I archive a number for myself, whoever is the artist. Part of my motivation for inviting an artist to make a poster for the series is to archive a number of them. One of the perks to actually printing posters, is that the people you invite to your studio to print, either arrange to leave you with some of the edition or plain stoke you a couple at the end. It's part of the reason I keep my hands in the ink.
I love having a poster after I've either helped make it or given over my studio to it's production. When I make shows with people or organize shows as was the case with Malleus or Chris Hopewell of Jacknife posters in Bristol, UK, we usually have a session of poster trading at some point.
Will there be any more collaborations with other artists that you have not worked with in the future?
Absolutely, that's the beauty of having a print studio, and making quality prints with people I respect.
What piece of art that you created are you most proud of ?
The last one. Until I make another.
Is there a band you have not created a poster for and want to?
I've made a poster for The Beatles (technically for their book, "Anthology"), The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, but two I missed were The Clash and The Who.
I've made a number of prints in tribute to Joe Strummer. My first Joe Strummer poster was adapted from a photograph by Pennie Smith and it was used with Pennie and my permission for the cover of his official biography written by Chris Salewicz and published by Harper Collins.
I met Mick Jones at my show in London in 2008 and we talked at length. Great guy and he knew my work.
I walked up to him and said, "Hi Mick, enjoying yourself?" He recognized my American accent and said, "You must be Chuck Sperry, master of ceremonies." That knocked me out. Did - like - Mick Jones just utter my name? He had just sung Guns of Brixton with La Plebe, one of my favorite San Francisco bands, who we invited to play at our London poster show. What a generous soul!
How did the trips to Europe start, not many artists have that opportunity on a regular basis?
Firehouse was invited to make our first show show in Berlin by a rock promoter called Flying Piston in 1999. Once we made dozens of friends there, we couldn't go a year without visiting them! After awhile I got to know my way around there really well, and it doesn't even feel foreign so much any more. It's just one world. Traveling with your art connects you to people.
You're in Europe right now, are there going to be any European influences in your upcoming work ?
Well, it took me so long to get to this interview that I've come back home, gone to New York City, come back home, gone back to Switzerland for a week, and come back home again. This was a heavy travel year!
I didn't go to Europe the whole first year I worked on Warfield and Regency Theater posters, just to get into the groove of the big responsibility of this series. These are two of the biggest venues in the Bay Area, and definitely two of the most historic theaters here.
It is a dream job, one I've worked my whole life to be able to handle. It offers me endlessly great bands and the opportunity to create a series for two historic venues and art direct the entire series. It comes with a burden of responsibility. Most of the time, I can forget the responsibility part and enjoy - really it's just plain fun and great!
So in the interest of keeping the posters coming along in the series, I wanted to get to poster number 100 before I left on any European tour, like the tours Ron and I made from 1999 to 2008. After we got into the groove with Goldenvoice, I organized a tour for this last year.
So in 2010, we made 18 shows across Europe, and spent one week at the Glastonbury Music Festival with Chris Hopewell of Jacknife Posters of Bristol. It was a regular rock and roll poster tour. And to top it off, we just had a five date tour of Switzerland with Lindsey Kuhn. Between the two tours I had the pleasure to slip away to New York City to make a gallery show with Chris Shaw at Faya Gallery in Soho. It's been hectic man!
How would you classify Jorge; motherly, mascot, hippy or valet?
Incredibly loyal friend.
Who's weirder........Zoltron or Zio?
Zoltron has a cool weird that comes from being from an artist family like me.
Zio has a kind of hip rock star weird that comes from working with Ron Donovan.
Does Zoltron have Super Powers and can you reveal his secret identity ?
Show me the secret Z handshake and you're on.
Niners or Raiders?
Joe Montana or Steve Young?
Do you find yourself envious of Al Davis' leisure suits?
Nope, I dig his shades.
Who makes the world's greatest taco?
Il Farolito - taco and enchilada - on Mission in San Francisco - open late.
La Poblana - tacos poblanos - on Hollis in the East Bay - takes the same time to eat as to dry the emulsion on the screens.
General art-related discussion.
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“But as Garcia said, you know, the '60s ain't over till the fat lady gets high. And that means that whatever it takes to get you high: sometimes grief, sometimes it's prayer, fasting. I prefer a joint.”-Ken Kesey