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
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,"
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."
Home page of the popular Boulder music venue.
The official site of the alternative country band.
Web site for the San Francisco rock poster distributor.