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Paper Kingdom Release Show


For the past two years, Maryland Institute College of Art graduate

, 23, has been collecting concert posters made and designed by local artists. It's an interest that turned into her second book,

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, spotlighting the work of Johnston and Alex Fine, Ana Benaroya, Beth Varden, Exit 10, Bruce Willen and Nolen Strals of Post Typography, Caleb Stine, Dan Deacon, Jimmy Joe Roche, Dina Kelberman, James Sarsgaard, Jordan Bernier, Justin Lucas, Justin Levy, Kali Ciesemier, Kathy Fahey, Katie Rose, Kevin Sherry, Ryan Compton, Jennifer Bagheri, Jeff McGrath, Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez, Lexie Mountain, Logan Hicks, Mike Apichella, Noel Friebert, Brian Randolph, Roby Newton, Peter Quinn, Red Prairie Press, Scott Denisson, Shaun Flynn, Wildfire Wildfire, Tommy Rouse, Amy Waller, and Scott Opirhory (note: a few of these artists have contributed illustrations or designs to

City Paper

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). Funded in part by a grant from the

,

Paper Kingdom

collects roughly 160 posters and spans 1993 to 2008, offering a visual tour through 15 years of local music, and includes interviews about poster-making and Baltimore with Apichella, Deacon, Dennison, Fahey, Flynn, LeGrand, and Strals.

CP

caught up with Johnston over the weekend at a Hampden café to discuss the book--whose official release party happens Sunday, Aug. 10, at the

at 9 p.m. with

,

, and

--and local music and arts. "I just really like living here because there's a lot going on in music and art," she says. "And posters represent the fusion of the two."

CP:

How did this come about? What made you want to do this?

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Elena Johnston:

I was going to MICA and right after I graduated I would see people and how they continued to do art outside of MICA and I started collecting posters--that my friends had made, such as Lesser [Gonzalez Alvarez] and Jordan [Bernier]. And then I became friends with people who are older and have been around longer and with bands not associated with MICA who were making work or had collections of posters.

CP:

Such as?

EJ:

Like James [Sarsgaard] from Noble Lake. He had a lot of old folky posters from Long Live Death and stuff like that. And when I became more committed to the project, I met up with this guy named Tim Kabara, who has been around for a while and has a huge collection of '90s hardcore posters, and he let me borrow them. And I basically realized that there's so much more history than the things that I had seen and were happening now--different musical genres that were more popular in Baltimore and how they're being represented through poster art. The ones from the '90s are pre-internet and they're photocopies, black and white, and they have stuff, like, directions written on the poster.

CP:

Information from before you were able to look up stuff online?

EJ:

Yeah, exactly--the accessibility of information was a lot less. Now, we have MySpace and so many different digital ways of seeing what's going on, which is a good thing. But knowing [what these older posters had to convey] makes the do-it-yourself poster more valuable, too.

CP:

So did you have to scan everything? Or are poster-makers actually keeping digital versions of their work these days?

EJ:

Some people did. Like Post Typography, people who are actually making a business out of their work, had digital copies. Other people also did. And some people took digital photos [of the posters]. But most of them are scans just because it's better quality.

CP:

Is there anything of the current generation of poster-makers, your peers, that stand out as a particular style or trend for local poster art? Something that stands out from posters made in other cities or eras?

EJ:

Well . . .

CP:

I ask because I'm 38 years old and I grew up with 1980s and early-'90s show posters that were almost exclusively photocopy collages and the like, cobbled-together scenes and ideas that were taking off around the country but, thanks to publications like

Maximum Rock n Roll

and then moving around the country myself, I started to notice different looks and tone in shows. What I'd see in Boston was rather different from what I'd see in Dallas, for instance. And I was just curious if you noticed anything about the look, content, style, process, or whatever of Baltimore poster art right now.

EJ:

Well, most of them are screen-printed, which is amazing and kind of a labor of love for the people who are doing it. And that was the one thing that drew me to them. The first ones that really stood out to me were really colorful and really beautiful ink colors, and you could tell that people put a lot of work into them and they really cared the event and the musicians that they were representing. Like this one [pointing to a Post Typography design in the book]. They spray-paint stenciled on a paper plate. I think that's amazing--it becomes more of an object, it's not just a photocopy. And the photocopies are really great and they represent a specific time, but I think this is really special.

CP:

Was there anything about the '90s posters that really stood out for you? I mean, it's not that long ago, but the technology and the whole approach to making show posters has change so radically since then.

EJ:

It's true. I think people were doing interesting things. Like Mike Apichella, one of the artists in here, he has really interesting drawings, and he would do them and photocopy them and have the text as more of an image as well. Now, though, I think we have more capabilities to work with color and things like that.

CP

:

Which is something that, I guess, did sort of evolve over the 1990s and into this decade--the re-emergence of concert posters as art objects themselves. And you can see that here--everything from photocopy collages to more original designs and layouts and sizes

.

EJ:

And I think they all work well together in a collection. It was hard to find some of the dates on some of them. There's a Lungfish poster in here that could have been from '91, but I couldn't actually find out which year it was from.

CP:

So with local screen-print posters, how many are usually done in a run? A thousand? 500?

EJ:

Less. Jordan Bernier and Scott Denisson and this other guy named Alex Dondero--he prints a lot of the Wham City stuff--they all are primarily screen-printers, I think, besides [Post Typography's] Nolen [Strals] and Bruce [Willen]. But I think they do, maybe, like 100 [copies of posters]. It's really limited because there's only so many places you can put them up around Baltimore that people go to to see what's going on.

CP:

Clubs, MICA, the Charles Theatre . . .

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EJ:

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Golden West, Video Americain, Holy Frijoles!, you know? And then they have a bunch that they can keep for themselves or give out to people.

CP:

Are people selling them? I ask because at DIY print fairs like Flatstock poster designers from all over North America offer their works for sale.

EJ:

I don't know about that.

CP:

South by Southwest started including it in its music programming a few years back, started in part by Frank Kozik, I think.

[Editor's note: Flatstock is officially the poster show sponsored by the

, which was started by a group of poster artists in 2002. Flatstock was co-started by the API and Kozik that same year as a way to enable poster artists to sell works directly to the public and was held in San Francisco.]

EJ:

That's cute. And I guess if you have that in mind you'd make more. This is the interview part [pointing at the book].

CP:

Did you ask everybody similar questions?

EJ:

Yeah, a lot of the questions are the same, but they have different answers. But basically, we just talked about making posters--or, for Victoria [LeGrand], about other people making posters for them and how they think the posters represent them visually as a band, what they think about Baltimore art. And, like, I asked about how they do posters, how they approach them, and asked about their situation.

CP:

Have local bands and artists gotten to know local poster artists? I mean, granted, I realize everybody in Baltimore knows everybody else, but in the sense of bands getting to know poster artists' styles and ideas and whatnot. Do local bands go looking for people to make their posters, or is it more a situation where it's somebody in the band or a friend of the band that has an idea for a poster? Have poster artists generated any kind of visual recognition for their works?

EJ:

Yeah, I think that people in bands have begin to find a visual vocabulary or become comfortable with specific people to make something for shows. Like, for instance, people who know Wzt Hearts associate Shaun [Flynn]'s artwork with them. Like, Dan [Deacon] does a lot of his own posters, but other people also do posters for him.

CP:

So you said you started by collecting posters. Did you just swipe them off a wall?

EJ:

Yeah--well, I would always wait until after the event. [laughs] But I worked at Video Americain and I worked at [Holy] Frijoles!, so I was around them all the time.

CP:

Do you get paid for making show posters? Or is it more that the band or whoever just covers printing and materials costs?

EJ:

It depends. Sometimes the band asks, "Can you do this for me?" Or they'll pay you for your design. Or, like, with Beach House, I've done stuff for them because I saw one of their posters and thought, "That is such an awful poster." I don't even know who did it, but I thought there needs to be a better poster representing this show. So I did it and they said, "That's totally awesome." And then I did their T-shirts and have done other stuff for them. It kind of works out well--you're just kind of interested in something and want to do something with it. You know, graduating from MICA you sort of struggle with the art for art's sake kind of thing, whereas this is having a really specific reason to do something. I think the project aspect of doing posters is a really good thing. You're given information and you're allowed enough creativity to do stuff. They're more utilitarian.

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