Art Rock: Nels “Jagmo” Jacobson

Art Rock is our weekly look at the creation and design of tour posters, merchandise and other music artwork. Because why should your ears have all the fun?

Nels Jacobson likes to keep it simple – a trait he’s very much known for the past 30 years of his rock poster design career. Using minimalist design elements, he focuses on filling space using enormous typography (as seen in the B-52s concert poster shown above). Known as “Jagmo” to his peers, he moved to Austin, getting his start at a venue called Club Foot. After leaving the venue he founded his own design firm named Jagmo Studios, designing posters for the likes of the Ramones, Dead Kennedys, Etta James, and many more. As the original art director for the annual South by Southwest Music Conference (SXSW), Nels designed the official logo and oversaw conference graphics from 1987 through 1992. Throughout his career, he’s received the annual Austin Chronicle Music Award for best concert poster five times and has also written a number of articles on poster art

LiveBuzz: How did you go about designing the poster for the B-52s? Did they ask you to or did you bring it to their attention?

Nels Jacobson: The poster was created to advertise the B-52s December 14, 1989 performance at the City Coliseum in Austin, TX. The promoter of the show hired me to do the poster. I’d been a big fan of the band during the Rock Lobster era. In fact, during a trip to South America in late 1979, I even heard that song being played at a little hole-in-the-wall “discotheque” outside Bogotá. Ten years later, during the Love Shack era, I was delighted to be asked to do this poster.

LB: What was the inspiration behind the artwork? How did you come up with the concept?

NJ: It was my understanding that the name of the band refers to the beehive hairstyle sometimes worn by band members Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson. The hairstyle reportedly was called “B-52” because it resembled the nose of the B-52 Stratofortress bomber. I chose to use the plane as the centerpiece of the poster and to dress the band members as aviators because I felt it would make a compelling image, and the idea made me laugh. By the way, on the back of each poster, the printer and I included plans for folding the poster into a paper airplane.

LB: Did you ever get the chance to meet the band?

NJ: After the show I met the members of the band backstage. They were very nice.

LB: What other bands have you designed for?

NJ: I’ve designed hundreds of posters and handbills. Many are listed on my website. Among them are posters for Iggy Pop, Dead Kennedys, Fela Kuti, Ramones, Etta James, X, Pixies and Pere Ubu, Sinead O’Connor, Jane’s Addiction, John Lee Hooker and Johnny Winter, New Order, Jonathan Richman, Willie Nelson, Public Image Limited, John Cale, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Melissa Etheridge, B.B. King, Milton Nascimento, Divine, Cowboy Junkies, Warren Zevon and Los Lobos.

LB: What’s your design process?

NJ: While I’m deciding how to proceed, I like to immerse myself in the band’s music. The ultimate style and imagery I choose for a particular poster may be related to the kind of music the band plays, or the visual look of the group, or the era it’s most associated with. Or it may reflect the style of the venue where the group will be performing, or the prevailing mood of the day. When I’m trying to come up with a new design, I usually kick around several different ideas for a while. The central image may be the result of an unexpected inspiration, it may evolve out of preliminary sketches, or it may materialize after I’ve been moving design elements around for a while. There isn’t any standard process. Ideally, the end product is a poster that is eye-catching, that makes the group look good and makes the event look like something people would want to attend.

LB: Who are your influences?

NJ: Among my influences are Guy Juke, El Lissitzky, Danny Garrett and Micael (sic) Priest – 3 Texas artists and a Russian.

LB: Do you work in other art mediums?

NJ: Not really. I’ve dabbled in other mediums but poster art is my primary focus. I particularly like working on posters because in addition to the central image or graphic design a poster contains, its text can provide the viewer with a glimpse into what’s going on in the culture at a given moment in time.

Nels currently resides in the Detroit area. Although he has no poster projects on his plate at the moment, he spends time working with nonprofit poster corporations, such as The Rock Poster Society and the American Poster Institute, and organizing the legal program for next year’s SXSW Music Conference in Austin, TX.

One Comment

  1. dwposter|Posted Oct 7, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    Thanks for printing the article. It’s always great so see any news about Nels.

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