Samuel Johnson said a long time ago, "Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement." So if advertising has soul, as the author suggested, then at what point does it become art?
"You can create fine art all you want and that's its own thing," explains Steven "Maynard" Chastain. But, he adds, "if it's not putting asses in the seats, it's not working. This has a direct purpose."
Chastain is one of 10 "gig poster" artists to be featured at Plastered: 2, an exhibit that gathers some of the city's top artists whose job it is to visualize and advertise upcoming concerts. Their work helps drive music fans to shows, but it also adds color, concept and creative energy to the music scene as a whole.
In its second year, Chastain started Plastered with fellow poster artist Scrojo after attending Flatstock, a similar show at the annual South-by-Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas.
"There really isn't a cohesive scene in San Diego as much as other towns," says Chastain. "We wanted to start Plastered to help bring all these little vacuums together into one, and to help form a nucleus for a local scene."
He then smiles and readily confesses, "Oh, and basically get loaded."
Yes, soused music freaks are part of the experience-what'd you expect, single-serve wine glasses and gourmet hors d'oeuvres? Some polite chat about contrast and composition?
Though bereft of formal art pomp-and-circumstance, Plastered offers a menagerie of local pop-art talent. With the exception of Rich Sanderson, all of the artists featured in last year's show are returning, along with some new editions. If you've ever looked at the walls in local clubs like the Belly Up Tavern, The Casbah or 4th & B, you've probably seen their work.
One of these styles belongs to Guy Burwell (in art, he is the mono-monikered guyburwell), whose work has a vivid, 3-D feel similar to Tank Girl artist Jamie Hewlett. Burwell, whose work has appeared in Penthouse and in national ad campaigns for Three Musketeers and M&Ms, doesn't feel the art is diminished by the influence of commerce.
"It's all art to me," he offers. "It certainly has to be an advertisement, but it focuses your mind on what people need to be told-what kind of imagery you need to give them."
And that seems to be where a lot of gig-poster artists agree. Although allowed quite a bit of freedom, they must convey not only a visual sense of a band's aesthetic, but also translate the sound. Many gig-poster artists tend to focus on one outstanding trait of the musician or band-not unlike political cartoonists who focus on George Dubya's super-sized ears or Bill Clinton's wino nose. Chastain likens it to underground music, comparing the creative control granted to a poster artist to the artistic license a musician has when not influenced by a major record label.
"You don't have to deal with management, and sometimes not even the band," says Michael Buchmiller, another returning artist whose style has more of a silver-age comic book feel but more recently has been flirting with minimalist texturing.
The real thing that separates the rock posters from "fine art," Burwell suggests, is this "lack of critique." No one looks at posters critically-it's either cute or stupid; you either like it or you don't. Most of the artists are commissioned by venues to do the posters and rarely recoup their costs (of materials or hours) unless they make enough copies to sell. Most do it to just to contribute to their culture-the San Diego music scene.
"This is a fun art, and it's out in public all the time," says Burwell. "It's tied me directly into entertainment, rock bands, music, bars and just being out. What more do you want?"
Yet the self-promotional benefits aren't lost on artists like Buchmiller.
"They're like 11-by-17 business cards," he says. "If the bands like them, I'll get real paying jobs doing their album art or website."
Other artists to look for at Plastered: 2 are Doug Barker, who has a cut-and-paste clip-art feel and who Chastain describes as a "punk-rock guerilla"; R. Black, quite possibly the most eccentric and intrepid of the bunch, who borrows from Japanese comics and sometimes the torrid romance novels of the '50s; and newcomers like Shauna Salazar, John Warner and Travis White, who all bring something inimitable and refreshing to the table.
Ultimately, Chastain and Scrojo would like to do two shows a year-one exclusively local and a larger, more inclusive event at Street Scene, where droves of people could see and buy their work.
For now, however, they'll be content to show in local record stores and basically get loaded.
The opening for Plastered: 2 will be held at M-Theory Records, 7 p.m. on May 27. Free. The exhibit runs through June 17. 619-269-2963.