Handprinted posters are colorful memories of San Francisco concerts

High Volume, an exhibit of archival limited-edition rock posters by Chuck Sperry, displays at the San Francisco Public Library on Nov. 9. This is the library's first exhibit that can be viewed from all sides of the main atrium, as the hanging poster displays are double-sided.
By Lulu Orozco
The Guardsman

 

The San Francisco Public Library is currently displaying a new collection of concert posters in its Art, Music & Recreation Center Exhibit Space.

The exhibit, “High Volume: Rock Art from the Chuck Sperry Archive and Firehouse Goldenvoice Poster Series,” includes over 100 limited edition, hand-printed rock art posters designed by Chuck Sperry and other local poster artists. The exhibition is free and on display through Jan. 6, 2012.

San Francisco artist and Firehouse Kustom Rockart Company co-owner Sperry donated the series to the library’s Art, Music and Recreation Department in early 2011. The poster archive highlights music performances at the Regency and Warfield theaters in San Francisco from 2008 to present, as well as posters from selected Firehouse-related cultural events throughout the city.

Rock concert poster art was once seen everywhere in San Francisco throughout the 1960’s — the high period of the pre-punk, rock and hippie eras — according to Sperry and Firehouse co-owner Ron Donovan.

Rock poster art or “gig art” were displayed all over town, in record stores and at rock venues. The posters were collectible and a “must-have” memorabilia of a show, creating a concert-goers gallery of event history proudly displayed on apartment walls.

The 1960’s art of creating concert posters has become a modern tradition in the Bay Area and continues with poster artists working with today’s bands.

“I try to gear everything towards the band when designing a poster, I want the audience to feel and see the band,” said Gregg Gordon, a Bay Area artist who contributed to the Hank III poster series under the art direction of Sperry.

Bands such as Nick Cave, Phoenix, Marilyn Manson, Bad Religion, Prodigy, Black Keys and Manu Chao all have one thing in common, they represent the music history and live performance archive of San Francisco through their rock art posters.

“It’s great that we have the collection here because they reserve a certain Bay Area aesthetic,” said Jason Gibbs, a librarian at the San Francisco Public Library.

Each poster in the collection is made up of sixteen or more colors applied as individual layers on a silkscreen making this collection unique for it’s hand-printed technique.

The collection is a huge palette of colors and styles: beautiful silhouettes of vibrant women, Japanese nishiki-e wood block style, Austrian Expressionism, punk rock chaos and the famous 1960’s psychedelia style with graceful lettering in loops and swirls.

“Sperry and his print house have been doing this for at least 20 years,” said Gretchen Good, a librarian at the San Francisco Public Library.  “He’s become the fabric of my music venue experience since I’ve lived in San Francisco.”

Concert venues like The Fillmore, which still gives away free gig posters for sold out shows, and stores like Amoeba Records, continue to exhibit more than 20 years of historical art rock posters. Some are even for sale. The Rock Poster Society also presents an annual exhibition in San Francisco of contemporary and historical work.