Pin-ups, parody, and PR inspire nostalgia and more at 52.5's poster art show 

Prelude to a Gig

GIG!
On display through Oct. 31
52.5 Records
561 King St.
(843) 722-3525
www.corporaterocksucks.com

I remember the first time I saw a gig poster. I'd wandered into a small gallery in San Francisco that sold nothing else. I spent a good hour perusing lithographs for concerts I'd love to have seen, had I only been out of diapers, or at least able to drive.

I finally settled on one of a Tom Waits show circa early 1990s, showing him grinning maniacally and holding an open umbrella while piano keys rain down. Then I gave it to my ex-boyfriend for his birthday.

Man, I wish I could get that poster back.

GIG!, an exhibition currently at 52.5 Records through October, celebrates the art of the gig poster, which is — thankfully — alive and well. While much of the market for gig posters centers on rare and vintage pieces, the works in GIG! focus on more recent concert advertisements, some actually staged in Charleston or made by local artists.

Chuck Keppler, one such local artist and the curator of the show, has managed to draw from a wide variety of stylistic traditions, from stark graphic design to painterly realism, giving the viewer a well-rounded perspective of the gig poster's possibilities.

The one real downside to the show is the hanging of the posters themselves. Most are set well above eye-level, when they really merit a closer view, as one would normally see them on the advertising space. For the most part, these are honest works of art that could stand on their own.

Poster designers have generally attempted to reflect the band in some way, whether in name or musical style. Among the most striking examples is by Half and Half Designs of Columbia for a show at Charleston's Music Farm last spring by Explosions in the Sky. The poster portrays a black-and-white cityscape like old newsprint, overlaid with a Mondrian pattern of irregular blue and green rectangles. At the center of the scene is a round area set off without color, like the perspective of someone watching through a telescope from an adjacent building.

Only then do we notice the tiny, unidentifiable dark figure falling to certain death. The urban vastness sets off the total anonymity of one soul's demise, lost among skyscrapers, somehow managing to mimic the vast, wandering soundscape of Explosions in the Sky's musical style.

On a quieter note is a poster from an alt-country band's 2008 spring tour by Matt Pfahlert of Get A Clue Design Studio. A realistic portrait of a 19th century older gentleman in formal dress looks, without emotion, toward the viewer. The somber earth tones of his skin and clothing are offset by his effusive white beard, which splits at his chin and extends absurdly up either side of his head with a mind of its own, finally meeting above his bald pate to braid itself into the band's name: Wilco.

GIG! also offers a few works of sleek, more iconic advertising, such as curator Keppler's Jucifer poster. The simple, woodcut-type print is of a single jeweled crown. However, the clean blue planes and white lines are overshadowed by a wide splatter of bright red. This "bloody" mark likely alludes to the band's darker sound, and is at the very least a pleasing contrast between the planned and the unpredictable.

The line-up wouldn't be complete without a few pin-ups. One example is a poster by Johnny Thief for a Perpetual Groove show. Thief's background as a tattoo artist clearly shows in his rendering of a woman with huge black ringlets, cat-like green eyes, and red lips, covering barely restrained breasts with both hands. As the concert takes place on Cinco de Mayo, the woman wears a sombrero, and her skin is the white of the Mexican flag between a red and green background.

While a black-and-white photocopied flyer might get the word out about a show quickly and cheaply, there's nothing like a good gig poster to get you excited about a band. The gig poster, as surveyed eloquently in GIG!, sets the stage for a visual element to music that's as powerful as the music itself.

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