Art Rock
Spotlight On: Chris Shaw

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

Oakland, CA-based artist Chris Shaw is known for his colorful rock posters that he’s designed especially for Bill Graham Presents and San Francisco’s The Fillmore Auditorium. Before designing the bright eye-catching compositions and deep dimensional lettering that he is best known for, Shaw got his start in Boston making Xerox flyers for punk bands in the early 80’s. By the 90′s, he was professionally working as a poster artist. Throughout his career, Shaw has designed hundreds of posters for top musicians, including early Pearl Jam, The Beastie Boys, Metallica, Cypress Hill, Kiss, Jack Johnson, The Hives, Iggy Pop, The Allman Brothers, Foo Fighters – just to name a few. He’s also designed stage sets and concert artwork, including those for the Tibet Freedom Concerts, The Horde Tours, Lollapalooza, and many, many more. Aside from designing posters, Shaw also paints, which he can be found working on from his studio in Oakland.

The Live Buzz: How did you go about designing the poster for Pearl Jam? Did they ask you to or did you bring it to their attention?

Chris Shaw: My Pearl Jam poster was commissioned by the promoter, Bill Graham Presents (BGP), for Pearl Jam’s SF/Bay Area shows in 1993. BGP has a long history of producing beautiful full-color posters for their concerts. The posters are given away as a “Thank You” to the bands, crew, staff, and also to concertgoers. This poster was the centerpiece for a whole backstage Tiki “environment” that I also created. I believe the poster artwork was approved by Pearl Jam, although they didn’t have a direct role in the artwork or design.

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

CS: The inspiration was simple: I love Tikis and spent some time in Hawaii – I returned with a sketchbook full of drawings. I had made several day-glo tiki designs previously, which made it onto posters and nightclub murals, but the Pearl Jam Tiki was the pick of the litter. It was the early 90′s… the tribal thing was hip. It was also a Halloween show, and the orange tiki is vaguely jack-o-lanternish. I wanted the poster to be as bright as possible, so we printed it with day-glo colors.

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

CS: I did get to meet the band, always a nice perk when making a poster!

TLB: What other bands have you designed for?

CS: I’ve been designing rock posters since the late 80′s and have probably produced well over 1,000 of ‘em… so, tons of bands… everything from unknown garage bands, to Pearl Jam, Metallica, The Beastie Boys, Kiss, Primus, etc. I also designed stage sets and concert art during the 90′s, got to work with many more bands and music festivals. It’s great work, I don’t complain.

TLB: What’s your design process?

CS: I like to be traditional, even in the digital world, so everything literally starts with a pencil sketch. From there I ink the artwork in black and white, then scan and add color digitally. Sometimes I do all the colorwork by hand, which I prefer, but it doesn’t always happen with the classic Rock-n-Roll deadline (they always need it yesterday). Once I have a pretty solid image I work with the typography, the type can be made digitally or by hand (the Pearl Jam poster is hand-made type). Ultimately, all the parts get crunched into a single layout, which goes to press. The posters can be printed by silkscreen, offset, etc. depending on their purpose. A poster can be designed in a month or in a couple hours… you do what you gotta do to make the show, you CAN’T miss the deadline with posters. Some of my best posters were quick ones, but the ones I like most generally take a week or two to produce. I think I worked on Pearl Jam for 2-3 weeks.

TLB: Who are your influences?

CS: My influences are vast… In the world of posters I’m influenced by punk flyers, art nouveau, psychedelic posters, modern rock posters, and far too many individual artists to name. Formally, I love Picasso and Cubism, Warhol, Duchamp, and I love the art of the Renaissance, but I also like graffiti, street art, sticker art, skateboard art…. I’m deeply influenced by pop-culture as well. Television, the Internet, media, music, current events, politics, all play key roles in the images I create. Oddly, it’s often easier and better to do posters for bands that you don’t absolutely love. Liking the band helps, but it’s not a prerequisite. Sometimes you can think about things too much when you really like a band and it can foul up the creative mojo… I don’t know how else to put it. That said, it’s also not easy to make a poster for a band you hate. Ultimately, I’ll do a poster for anyone, I’m not at all picky, and I like a challenge.

TLB: Do you work in other art mediums?

CS: Posters are just a part of what I do as an artist. My background is in screen-printing, but I’ve also done a ton of work painting. I got my start painting day-glo murals in nightclubs in the late 80′s. Eventually, painting murals turned into painting stage sets and backdrops – all at a very large scale. When large-format digital printing became a cheaper alternative to hand-painted concert art I moved into doing posters and fine-art paintings full-time, which is what I do now. I also art-direct bands, producing series of posters and working with many different poster artists, currently I’m working with the band Moonalice. I exhibit my posters and paintings frequently in the US, and Europe at galleries, clubs, and poster expos.

Chris Shaw currently has a show of posters and paintings at FAYA Gallery in New York City, which will be up for display until September 26th.

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    Art Rock
    Spotlight On: Chris Shaw

    Oakland-based artist Chris Shaw's known for the colorful rock posters that he’s designed for Pearl Jam and The Allman Brothers as well as having designed stage sets for the Tibet Freedom Concerts, ...There's More »