On a wall plastered with advertisements for live music, Dusty Dirtweed’s posters are hard to miss. With their Xeroxed punk aesthetic, trippy typography and gnarly illustrations, they’re the kinds of iconic posters that end up on bedroom walls—and perhaps even on eBay.
Dustyn Peterman, the local artist who goes by Dusty Dirtweed, wants his posters to stand out, and his hard work is paying off. Working with Soda Bar, Art Fag Recordings and other promoters and musicians, he’s been getting increased exposure in the local scene, with concertgoers collecting his posters and more bands reaching out to work with him.
But Peterman hesitates to call his distinct style a “brand.” Asked if he’d consider turning Dusty Dirtweed into a full-time job, he responds with a resounding, “Fuck that!” Really, he’d like nothing more than to hunker down in his apartment and while away the hours with a brush and a pot of India ink. He calls his work “butthead art” or “dude art.”
“I think it has to do with, like, the dude loser in his mom’s basement, or his own basement or his own little escapist reality—that little dude. He’s making his own art, pushing forward over and over again. It’s for no one, and he’s lost in it,” Peterman says. “That’s me, and that’s a lot of other dudes who are just drawing, you know?”
With their stark color palette, intentional smudges and disfigured words, Peterman’s hand-drawn posters have a subversive, vaguely sinister quality. They’re usually peppered with little messages that address the viewer directly, and what they say sometimes depends on whether Dusty actually digs the show. “VERY COOL DUDE,” the small type says on one flyer. On another poster, the note is a touch more ambivalent: “THIS SHOULD BE COOL.” On still another, a barely noticeable message in the bottom corner simply says, “COSTS MONEY.”
Still, Peterman has a knack for capturing the vibe of a show. On a flyer for the second annual San Diego Experimental Guitar Show, a concert held at Soda Bar in January 2011, he drew Jimi Hendrix with a bionic arm and a spiked shoulder pad, rocking out on a guitar that was transforming into a trippy, two-eyed serpent. As it turned out, The Locust’s Bobby Bray performed a mutated, Hendrix-style rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the show.
“He checks out the bands to get a feel for the show before he starts on the poster,” says Soda Bar booker Cory Stier, who works with Peterman regularly. “Other artists should take note.”
Like the Marvel Comics superheroes of his youth, 29-year-old Peterman likes to keep a low profile (for this story, he insisted on being photographed in a hand-made monster mask). But in two interviews at Influx Café in Golden Hill, he proves to be a friendly dude. As he smokes Pall Malls and sips coffee, he says he often makes band posters for free, though he always appreciates a burrito, a bong rip or a ride to Kinko’s in exchange for his services.
Indeed, the “dude art” ethos has as much to do with his craft as friendship. Peterman collaborates on many of his posters with his friend William Keihn, a San Francisco artist who’s designed iconic album and poster artwork for garage-rock acts like Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees (Keihn did the borders and lettering for the Experimental Guitar Show flyer).
Peterman and Keihn grew up together in Muncie, Ind. They met in middle school and later both attended Indiana University’s Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis. Today, they share a similar worldview about their art; Keihn calls their aesthetic “loser design.”
“Neither of us, I think, could really cut it in the conventional world of graphic design. I think we both kind of think it’s bullshit, anyway,” he says. “I don’t think that way in which we design has as much to do with the client as it has to do with our own conversations, our own personal dialogue back and forth.”
Today, they mostly work together online and share their ideas on an art blog, Mushroom Necklace. But in January, they spent a marathon week together in the Bauer Mansion, a basement recording studio with a fanciful, closed-off vibe. Powered by junk food, energy drinks and cigarettes, they produced screen-prints of imaginary-concert posters for a Mushroom Necklace show called Hate Expo, currently on display at Domy Books in Houston, Texas.
Printed on brightly colored poster paper, the posters flip promotional conventions on their head with glib, cynical messages. One poster advertises “JUST SOME BANDS” at “THE BAR WE ALL HATE.” Another, promoting a venue called “Loser Bar,” lashes out at the viewer with drawings of bad luck symbols—a broken mirror, a man walking under a staircase, a black cat—and antagonistic messages like “TROUBLE WILL FIND YOU” and “FUCK OFF.”
Making the posters was a form of therapy. Keihn had been going through a dark time, he says, and they used the project to purge negative feelings.
“It’s a miracle we got it done and I was available for my best friend when he needed it most,” Peterman says. “It makes me want to cry; it really does.”
Before going to art school, Peterman says he developed his chops at the local train yard as a graffiti artist. He loved throwing up big bombs and badass characters, spraying on cars in the moonlight while the freight trains rushed past. Hiding in the bushes from security guards, he found the experience exhilarating.
But he grew disenchanted with graffiti when it became clear that many artists were most interested in boosting their egos. To him, some were more like plumbers, doing the same thing over and over again.
Now, Dusty Dirtweed is worried about losing touch with his own inner dudeness. With his posters getting increasingly popular, he’s been taking on more projects, including a redesign of Soda Bar’s website, a music video for the band Plateaus and artwork for a split 7-inch by TRMRS and Night Beats that’s being co-released by Volcom Entertainment and Resurrection Records.
To help pay the bills, he’s begun charging for some of his services and working with more bands he doesn’t know. Still, he puts most value in the opinions of his fellow dudes.
“That’s what I’m most concerned with,” he says. “Are my dudes going to think this poster rules?”
The cover art for the 2012 Local Music Issue was done special for us by Dusty Dirtweed, aka Dustyn Peterman. The untitled piece, modeled on a catalog printout found in an old LP, highlights made-up bands like Bedroom Ben, Sublime Rip and The Diegans.