Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sex, Drugs & Rock Posters

The nineteen sixties were wedged in an era of radical social revolution. The decade was bursting with a liberal counter-culture, which caused a rebellion that lead to the “hippie” attitude and with it grew a dangerous love affair with sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. The sixties are now synonymous with liberals, non-conformists, and the psychedelic music genre. Here in Austin, a city known for its eclectic culture, diverse music scene and that quirky slogan, “Keep Austin Weird”, it’s obvious how we can draw numerous ties to the ideas and general notion of the 1960’s. So it came as no surprise to find a sixties style concert poster pinned in the window of a local pizza joint.

A stylized block typeface combined with playful warping of the text make it hard not to notice the poster immediately, but unfortunately make it very hard to read as well. The flyer is for a concert at Emo’s Lounge, a small venue for alternative music which, on their website, half-jokingly encourages patrons to come out and “support the bands, or, if that ain’t enough, come down and support the long standing, though somewhat ambiguous, history of drunkenness and/or debauchery.” This attitude, faintly reminiscent of sixties culture, and the apparent psychedelic musical influence over the featured bands clearly called for an event poster of a similar nature. Austin based Christian Bland, twenty-seven and owner of Bland Designs, created the poster for the club. The screen printing and graphic design company features many similar designs and typography- all arguably enticing but often illegible.

Butterfield is the font that has been manipulated for this poster. The typeface has bold block lettering with decorative embellishments that help to convey that psychedelic effect. It was officially designed in 1993 by David Nalle, founder of the type foundry, the Scriptorium, which bases the majority of its typefaces on hand lettering from old magazine titles, signs, and maps. Butterfield, however, was specifically influenced by Wes Wilson’s hand-painted lettering from popular concert posters in the 1960’s. Wilson was self-taught and, through a series of fortunate coincidences, found himself redefining the idea of what an event poster should look like. He ignored prior convention of simplicity and disregarded legibility, concerning himself solely with beauty that can be found in the art form.

Sixties concert posters came to define a style for that psychedelic counter-culture, incorporating hand-painted typefaces with bold color choices and a strong incorporation of art nouveau elements. Art Nouveau is a style of art that was popular at the beginning of the 20th century, characterized by highly stylized, flowing designs that seem to grow into plant inspired forms. The Art Nouveau inspiration is even evident in this poster for the “Winter Full Moon Party” but seems to be relying too heavily on the manipulation of the text to carry the air of sixties poster art.

This poster for Emo’s Lounge conveys some of the sixties spirit but is largely unsuccessful in a modern setting because of its illegibility. In my own experimentation with the text I found it difficult to balance legibility with stylized design, especially because of the quantity of text on the poster. I decided it would be best to combine the bold colors of prominent sixties design with modern edges and a legible sans serif typeface but then felt limited by the constraints of computer programs. In response to this, I decided to write out the text in Helvetica by hand which actually corresponded to the process of sixties hand-painted typefaces even more. In the end I felt as though I had not simply redesigned a concert poster but had brought the psychedelic design associated with the hippie era into the 21st century.
(I still need to scan in my redesign with the hand done lettering)

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