Awendaw Green’s weekly Barn Jams always felt a little different from other shows, likely because of the remote venue and the Lowcountry scenery you pass on the way. Each week, before COVID-19 shifted the live music world, fans of Americana, folk, country, bluegrass and rock would head out to Awendaw Green. And every week for the past 12 years, visual artist Gil Shuler created a unique poster to compliment and promote the shows.
“It became my weekly workout if you will,” Shuler told the City Paper, adding that he has made roughly 650 barn jam posters.
Shuler collected 180 of his favorite images and displayed them in chronological order by year in his new book “Barn Jam Posters.” The majority of these posters have never been put in print before, often existing online. Shuler, the owner of Gil Shuler Graphic Design, puts his talents to work in these art pieces, using creative combinations of music and the natural world.
According to Shuler, each poster is made the night before the Barn Jam after he receives the list of performing artists from Awendaw Green owner Eddie White. “I would just start playing those [artists], listening to music and I might already have an idea in my head that had come up working on something else, or I had listened to music and something in the song gives me an idea,” Shuler said.
Making an individual art piece every Tuesday for 12 years may sound hectic and tedious, but Shuler said he always found it refreshing. “About the time I started doing this for Eddie was about the time the recession hit,” he said. “So, I wasn’t crazy busy for work and I wanted an outlet to really expand on my skills as a designer.”
In the book, White said there is no direction driving the posters, just his friendship with Shuler. “I give him a blank canvas every Tuesday, and he makes unguided, unfiltered, unforced art — and that is a beautiful thing. What we’ve built over time is this eclectic, organic momentum.”
“Barn Jam Posters” shows the progression of Shuler’s work and his portrayal of the Barn Jams. “I wanted folks to see where I started, with the idea of jam jars,” he said. “I exhausted it — I was like, ‘I have nothing else on that.’ That’s when I started playing around with the musical instruments.”
Although he did away with the “jam jar” theme eventually, Shuler’s posters have always made a motif out of nature and music: A rattlesnake is drawn with a guitar body on its tail, a horse eats a carrot held in a microphone stand, a robin sits on a branch with headphones around its head, a leaf sprouts from the stem of a quarter note.
The work is creative on its own, but the volume of work is impressive as well. Shuler enthusiastically admitted that he was surprised he pulled it off. “I’m a creature of habit,” he laughed. “I’m a somewhat traditional person in that I have a lot of traditions … It’s embedded in my family and my kids. We like doing traditions and doing stuff repeatedly, but this is almost obsessive.”
Shuler’s posters have garnered attention from the visual art community, as well. In the book’s forward, Halsey director Mark Sloan described Shuler’s work as “visual jujitsu.”
“He tends to give himself certain restrictions and then works to reverse, subvert, tweak and unsettle those boundaries — and therein lies his genius,” Sloan wrote.