February 5 - 11, 1998                                             back

Signs of the Times
How a Boulder man is using the Internet to bring a Sixties rock-and-roll staple back to life.
By Joshua Green

In a converted dairy barn, on the rural Colorado plains just east of Boulder, Jeff Holland puts the finishing touches on a handmade, silk-screened Whiskeytown poster and considers his work as he carefully hangs it to dry.

After wiping his hands, he'll head back into the house and upload a digital version of the poster to his Web page, www.cryptographics.com. The site is a combination virtual art gallery/poster clearinghouse for fans and collectors of silk-screened concert posters, a medium that's flourishing on the Net, helping the poster art genre see its biggest boom since its late-Sixties heyday.

"I'm bluegrass-raised, and that's the kind of stuff I grew up on," says the 40-year-old computer cartographer for the City of Boulder's Open Space Program. "I still like a lot of the old cornerstone stuff, country rock, but to see some of the newer stuff coming out that mixes some of the punk influences is really good."

Holland's latest poster announces an upcoming Whiskeytown show at the Fox Theatre. Others line the walls of his workspace. His one-man company, Cryptographics, has become a legend of sorts for its posters. He's the artist of choice for Colorado venues and has spawned a national cult following, particularly because of his flair for alternative country artwork. Having the ability to reach an world wide audience via the Net has helped, too.

The cryptographics Web site was recently redesigned and is spectacularly fast loading. It has full-color pictures of available posters, along with background on "some of what these images are or what was happening, what the show was like- that sort of thing." The site's also a great resource for anyone interested in poster collecting; it links to other artist and retailer Web sites, and has all the information you could ask for. Holland is eager to meet fans and collectors by e mail and gladly gives tips to those thinking about making their own posters.

But Holland has been into music long before the latest technology boom. "I've got about 200 78s of old western/country, including Lefty Frizell's 'If You Got the Money (I've Got the Time)' without the strings and overdubs," he says. "Got lots of Sons of the Pioneers, Bob Wills and some favorites by Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage. I'm currently hooked on Richard Buckner and really like the weird surf-western breed of Friends of Dean Martinez and Austin-based Death Valley."

But postering wasn't a consideration for Holland until 1984 when he was forced by circumstance to learn silk-screening techniques. While working at Boulder Open Space, Holland filled a need for silk-screen trail signs by teaching himself the necessary skills. "My job is basically to produce maps off of aerial photography," he explains. "Geographic Information Systems, the technology that I use, brought me the skills I'm using for what I'm doing graphically." Combined with the photo-emulsion techniques he learned making trail signs, it took only inspiration for Holland to hit on the idea to make concert posters.

He found inspiration in 1991 when he came across the work of Frank Kozik, a Texas silk-screen artist whose legendary concert posters eventually led him to San Francisco's ArtRock, the biggest poster distributor in the US. "Kozik is the godfather of the current revival of the poster scene," Holland says. "What he was doing was pretty much indie, very underground."

The idea of joining that scene appealed to Holland, and through the Internet he soon discovered other small companies and artists like Psychic Sparkplug, Lindsay Kuhn, Chris Cooper, Chuck Sperry, and Orion Landau, who'd drawn inspiration from the original World War II propaganda posters of the 1940s (including the infamous "I Want You"-pointing Uncle Sam poster). "There's a strong underground collector's movement, too," he notes. "I'm a collector as well, and I love to go places and just kind of tool around the U.S. I'll take posters with me in the back of the car, I'll meet people, and they'll see that it's out there and start trying to find out where more stuff is. It's like that all over."

Finding a market for his work wasn't tough, either. Holland approached the Fox with the idea of creating posters for them, negotiated a standard fee/bartab, and took it from there. Since he got to choose the shows he wanted to make posters for, Holland quickly turned to his love of alt-country music and picked Wilco's first Colorado show. "I'd seen Uncle Tupelo a couple of times and here's a chance to get someone to recognize what's coming through, so I went to the library and did a bunch of research on radios and tried to come up with something that would represent the image of what the band was about at that time," he recalls. The results were spectacular: not only were the posters scooped up by fans, but the show was packed, and Holland found himself with a new vocation. Some new friends, too. "(Wilco lead singer Jeff) Tweedy and the guys are real nice," he says. "They're real friendly and they're into the idea, they like that stuff. I don't go through lawyers or any of that shit; it's definitely grassroots. These guys know that it's promotion, that it's a good thing, so there's never a hassle. They gave me permission to do taping, and they kind of look forward to it when they come to town. I've done three [different posters, one for each of the last three shows] now, and I usually give those guys some to take home."

The posters also wound up in local record stores, garnering enough eager inquiries that Holland soon had another business on the side. Fans and collectors from all over wanted the posters, and Holland kept a liberal supply of leftovers in the barn. Along with a friend, Jay Niemoth, 'he took advantage of the online marketing craze to promote his work. "The Internet aspect has really gotten to be fun because the people that are buying this usually know what they're doing and they're into the silk-screen aspect of it," he says.

Holland is sheepish when it comes to talk of sales--he's clearly not in it for the money. But he's built a loyal following of friends, collectors and music art fans that regularly stop by the site to view the gallery and maybe pick up a poster. It's that collector's mentality that he loves. "Because it's art, on a very small scale, and it's definitely time related," he notes. "Ten or fifteen years from now this will be looked at like stuff from the psychedelic era." In fact, there are already interesting anachronisms in the gallery--a Dave Matthews Band poster from a Fox show a few years back reveals a ticket price of just $5.25. Still, Holland is as enthusiastic as ever.

"It's a cool scene," he continues. "There's not that many people doing it, so everybody kind of finds everybody that's doing the printing. Most have Web sites and are linked to my webpage. The poster scene is its own little world. There's a do-it-yourself thing which is really kind of the ethic. It's grassroots--anybody can do this."

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Fox Theatre
Home page of the popular Boulder music venue.

Wilco
The official site of the alternative country band.

ArtRock
Web site for the San Francisco rock poster distributor.


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