Monday, May 28, 2007

a ROCKIN' tip-o'-the hat to UK screenprinter and rock concert poster artist Nick Rhodes



My good friend Nick Rhodes, head of the Manchester Screenprint Company in England, has over the past 18 months developed a new style for incorporating automotive themes into rock concert posters. Actually, I'm quite impressed with his new approach to the speed lines, with its obviously psychedelic-era homage.
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I featured his Har Mar Superstar piece (shown here, immediately above) in ROCKIN' (page 149, directly opposite the continuing story of Stanley Mouse, and just below John Lennon's psychedelic-painted Rolls Royce), and I was recently captivated by the newest piece in the sequence, done for the gearhead band Fu Manchu (see top piece here).
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I e-mailed Nick a few probative questions about his background and his current work, and what he'd really like to be driving. Here's his reply:
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PG: In what part of England did you grow up?
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NR: I'm 27 now, and I grew up in a small suburb of Manchester called Denton. It was once world famous for its bowler and Trilby hats. Now it's changed dramatically, with most of the old mills demolished. One still stands nearby to where I live, standing amongst the leafy area.
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PG: What's your background? School? Art aspirations?
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NR: I studied 3D design at college, actually designing furniture. I was always practical, sort of the hands-on one in the family. My brother has the mathematical mind--I have the creativity! I was a bit disillusioned with designing as they taught it in college. I felt restricted creatively. Still, I now know how things are made and what process goes into it. After college I went on to university to study fine art painting, and came out with a batchelor's degree in Fine Art . I painted quite photo-realistically, often barren non-places like airport runways, deserted roads, skies, etc. I wanted to paint about travel and all the notions of that--the often solipsistic experiences one has along one's journeys.
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Inspiration comes in many forms to me. Funnily enough--happily enough, too--lyrics and music are massive influences in what I think and come up with. Another significant influence is wildlife. Maybe you can or can't tell from my work, but colors and natural forms in nature inspire me greatly. Everything from the cell structure of a wasp's wing to moss growing on rocks on the moors near my home--the colors and forms are amazing.
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PG: When did you start MSC? Has your plan worked out well?
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NR: I started my screenprinting business about four years ago. I wanted to work for myself for a long time, ever since my mum set up a small business selling baby clothes when I was younger. I saw the process of getting out what you put in--a real life lesson early on. Just before I set up, I worked at an art shop in Manchester for six months, and that was the nail in the coffin for me working for someone else. I was constantly being asked about where to get t-shirts and prints screened, and that made me think, "what the hell am I doing, and why shouldn't I set up a business of my own?
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Also there was one defining moment which really inspired me to set up as I did. That was at the PNE rock poster artists' show (Jermaine Rogers, Emek, and Justin Hampton) at the Richard Goodall Gallery here in town. I met and talked with Justin about how he started and how he overcame the struggles of the early years. It was really good to hear first-hand that he took a gamble and believed with hard work it would pay off. That was very inspiring.
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PG: What was the inspiration for the Har Mar piece and the other VW-based posters, and that compelling "look" you arrived at?
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NR: These posters were a plan of mine ever since I started screening. They're like my fine art paintings with stretched panoramas and an overwhelming sense of space. I wanted to convey my perception of the music the bands play--which, for me, comes directly from when you just jump in to the car, turn on the stereo, move on out, and then zone out. I'm so jealous of the U.S. for having such straight roads to do this properly! Over here, we have congested, bendy roads with traffic road bumps every 200 bloody yards! So yes, these three posters in particular represent my dream of, well, to use your book's title . . . rockin' down the highway.
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PG: Why do you think these three posters achieve their purpose and functionality so well?
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NR: They each have the space I first imagined, then created. Plus, the notion of speeding across a deserted landscape without a care in the world. What's not to love?
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PG: What's the current rock poster scene like in the UK now? Is it finally growing again?
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NR: The scene is here, but very small. Still, there are good signs on the horizon. There are enough of us here now to start showing, for one thing. We're having a poster show in London on July 14th called "Poster Roast," and I think it's gonna get a nice turnout. Plus, gotta say, I'm fortunate that I've the Goodall Gallery on my doorstep. It's thanks to them I can now design and screen posters for big
events at big venues right here in Manchester. They've really helped change band management attitudes towards posters and poster artists--'cause there are now a lot of good artists here that will jump at designing a poster for their favorite band.
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PG: Do you see the current scene in art, rock, and screenprinting having a relationship back to the psychedelic '60s in the UK, especially to those merry boys in London, Hapsash and the Colored Coat? [editor's note: this references the art collective that produced nearly unbelievable visions during the time of Jimi Hendrix and others; their work can be seen in THE ART OF ROCK, the book I authored, published by Abbeville Press in 1987].
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NR: I personally do. I'm seriously into that ethic they had. I don't think it'll be repeated, but it's a great inspiration for this country to have. Unfortunately on a worldwide scale, their work gets somewhat overshadowed by the developments in San Francisco in the late '60s, and it's often just lumped together as "pop art of the time." As an UK lad, that's a real shame because they're up there for me as serious artists and illustrators.
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PG: What innovations do you seek to bring to the world of screenprinting, and even art overall?
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NR: Hey, let history be the judge of that one. Maybe I'll reflect on that when I'm in my slippers! I think I'd like to be remembered as someone who inspired people to look at life in general with an inquisitive mind. Then, we'll see what people have to say about my own art, my own unique style, whatever that may turn out to be in the long run.
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PG: What music are you listening to now?
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NR: I'm currently listening to the Soulsavers new album with Mark Lanegan. [editor's note: see picture of Lanegan by Charles Peterson on page 155 of ROCKIN']. I'm designing and screening two posters for stops on Mark's new tour. Paris and Manchester are my dates. I think Lanegan is the best rock singer out there at the moment.
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PG: What kind of vehicle do you yourself drive?
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NR: I drive a 1971 Beetle everyday. It's a great car, totally love driving it. Its nickname is Rodney, and Rodney needs a respray soon. It's currently metallic turquoise, dropped on the front, like a Cali look. Still undecided on the new color scheme. Sometimes being an artist gets in the way--like, being inspired by everything moving doesn't help one bit!
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PG: What's your dream set o' wheels?
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NR: A VW panel van, dropped, and dirty as hell.
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Cheers, Nick. Good corresponding with a fine up-and-comer. And no, you didn't waffle-on too long at all! Keep those posters comin'.
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