Some of a city’s ever-changing aesthetic details are the overlapping shingles of fliers that coat its telephone poles and coffee shop bulletin boards. The names, colors, and dates change, but they’re always there, serving as old-fashioned advertisements or cheap avenues for artistic experimentation. When he was putting on all-ages rock shows at MassArt, John Boilard noticed that several posters he designed were disappearing almost as fast as he put them up around campus. People were snatching up his hand-printed posters as collectibles.
“I used to have to put tags on the bottom of posters,’’ he says. “They’d say, ‘Please don’t remove this poster until the day of the show because the bands will appreciate if this poster can do its job and advertises for the show. If you like the band, you’ll leave this up.’ I hoped it didn’t seem pretentious or anything.’’
Not all fliers are created equal. They’re not all wrinkled, photocopied handbills. Many bands do without them altogether nowadays, thanks to countless ways to get out the word about shows through social media. But Boilard, who graduated last year and now works as a Web designer, is part of a long tradition of hard-working printmakers who always seem to go a few extra miles. At a show he’s heading up at Lincoln Arts Project, or LAP, in Waltham titled “The National Poster Retrospecticus,’’ he looks to celebrate a wide swath of the current poster-designing community.
The show, which opened last week and celebrates with an opening reception Friday evening (complete with live screen-printing), spreads across the room like the best curated bulletin board ever. It showcases names from all over - from Minneapolis crew Aesthetic Apparatus to Brooklyn duo Two Arms and Massachusetts-based Dan McCarthy. Posters are pinned up to the wall right up against each other, so bleeding borders of sherbet orange ink hover near crisp black edges and cloudy coats of spray paint. It’s a careful clutter that highlights the emulsion-splattered kitchen sink approach that has made Boilard’s events so fresh since he started throwing shows while growing up in Palmer.
“It was a lot like booking bands,’’ he says about getting the work together for the collection. “You just ask your favorite bands to play and, pretty often, they will.’’
Granted, nothing Boilard ever did was really “just like booking bands.’’ He created a venue with legendary status in underground circles when he spent most of his high school years booking touring bands and local groups in a wood shed (“The Shed’’) behind his house. That kick-started his flier making. “I would drop the money on anything,’’ he says. “I’d think, ‘This flier needs transparencies that stick onto it and cost a dollar extra apiece!’ It didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I was into trying that sort of thing.’’
Boilard found kindred spirits in Pat Falco and Elliott Anderson, who’ve run the LAP gallery for a little over a year. They had been working for an artist who ran the building and spotted an empty room in the front last year and decided to use the space for a show for some friends. “We had probably 20 people show up and we knew all of them, but we thought it was awesome,’’ says Falco.
“I think that’s why I related to what these guys were doing,’’ says Boilard. “They just went for it.’’ At a type design show that opened at the LAP last fall, the idea was hatched that a few works that hadn’t fit with that show might make a great start for a poster show if Boilard was interested. By the next morning, he’d e-mailed 40 artists about it.
The guidelines were simple: Everything must be handmade (nothing that rolled out of a computer printer or Xerox machine) and everything must be related to an event. That meant plenty of show posters for bands like Wilco, Sonic Youth, Pete Yorn, and Odd Future. “We were open to anything else though,’’ says Boilard. “Anything from Wiffle ball tournaments to yard sales.’’
The results are gorgeous. There’s plenty of punk rock and pop art smarm - depraved-looking zombie characters, tight comic book half-tone dots - but there’s also an incredible amount of precision in the work, whether in neatly arranged state maps or kaleidoscopic patterns of overlaid colors. There are even prints from Nashville’s storied Hatch Show Print, a letterpress shop famous for vaudeville designs and Hank Williams and Johnny Cash posters.
The connecting thread is the time that went into everything, in the posters themselves and the moments in time they represent.
“All these events have affected all these different people who’ve had great times at them,’’ says Boilard. “And there might be these fliers in people’s living rooms and bedrooms. You don’t know. That was kind of cool to me.’’Matt Parish can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.