They’re the names behind the hand-crafted posters you’ve ogled at Reckless Records and covertly ripped off the walls at Schubas: Mat Daly, Sonnenzimmer, Diana Sudyka. After years of defining the look of Chicago’s indie-music scene, the city’s top screenprinters show off their personal aesthetics in “Busted Amp,” curated by Anchor Graphics, a nonprofit print studio currently based at Columbia College. The show opens Thursday 26 at Columbia’s A+D Gallery in the South Loop.
James Iannaccone, Anchor Graphics’ assistant director, speaks of “Busted Amp” as a long-overdue partnership between the studio and the city’s screenprinters. “With us not doing very much screenprinting here in our shop, we haven’t had much of an opportunity to interact” with that community, he says. (Screenprinting applies images to a material by forcing ink through a mesh, which is partially covered by a stencil. Artists often use screenprinting to make posters and T-shirts because of its low cost, but Anchor Graphics specializes in less-commercial techniques.)
Gig-poster artists aren’t exactly known for their creative restraint, but Anchor Graphics wanted to give these artists the chance to present work completely unbound by clients’ limitations. With personal art, “there’s more of a free exchange of ideas,” says the studio’s director, David Jones. “It’s more about collaboration with the space and with colleagues.”
Most of the show’s 14 artists have long-forged kinships as teachers, students and colleagues. At the heart of the scene is the founder of Screwball Press, Steve Walters, who has mentored many of the city’s local printers since 1991. “If you ask anyone here, they’ll say it was [Walters] who really pushed screenprinting and band art into a fine art [in Chicago],” says Iannaccone. Walters’s best-known pupil, musician-artist Jay Ryan (most recognized for his absurdist animal motifs), has trained a new generation of screenprinters at his own shop, Bird Machine, which created posters for the Pitchfork Music Festival in 2006 and 2007.
A planned group installation piece underscores the artists’ unusual synergy. In addition to presenting their individual work, the artists will stencil and screenprint images directly onto the gallery’s walls, allowing their individual designs to overlap and blend into each other. “It really plays into the collaborative nature of the scene,” says Iannaccone. “Since these guys have learned from each other, it makes it easy for them to work with each other.”
Because the artists are creating work specifically for the show, much of it on-site, at press time the final look of “Busted Amp” was a mystery to its own artists and curators. “We kind of like that,” says Jones, who notes that the show draws its inspiration from the “open and social” spirit of both screenprinting and live concerts, “rather than just [throwing old] work on the walls, which is kind of stale and static.”
Once confined to the collections of rock obsessives, gig posters recently have become an entry point for novice art collectors who don’t necessarily feel at home in a traditional gallery setting. Jones sees “Busted Amp” as an opportunity to bring these individuals into the fold. “We hear a lot of conversation about galleries being just four white walls,” he says. “This is our way of addressing that and approaching the [gallery] as a place to interact.”