Poster Points

Kozik, a former Austinite, was inspired by the works of the '60s poster artists who prepared broadsheets for the likes of Bill Graham's Electric Ballroom. Those posters of the '60s served as more than just invitations to a concert; they were invitations to the counterculture as well. Kozik wanted '90s posters to have a similar reach and be less concerned with a particular band than with the attitudes of their audience. He paved the way for a resurgence of the form by devising a system in which bands and promoters receive free posters, and the rest are sold by a distributor. A handful of artists -- including Houston's Charlie Hardwick, known on his posters only as "Uncle Charlie" -- have followed hot on his heels. Paraphernalia Frame Gallery, a Montrose gallery and frame shop, is currently showcasing Uncle Charlie's fun-house-bright, graphically clean work, designed for bands such as Sonic Youth, Green Day, Gwar and Metallica.

One of the more interesting things about Kozik's system is that record companies and bands themselves are rarely involved in the poster design, making it mainly the artist's expression. The best of the current poster artists mix Zeitgeist with tradition, contributing to both a slow progression of the genre and a sometimes heavy reliance on cliche. For example, Uncle Charlie's poster for The Presidents of the United States of America features a bratty young boy with a wide grin. Look closely, and you'll see that his pupils are actually skulls, a rock and roll standard given new life.

One critic remarked that Saul's paintings take "revenge against a pretentious but incurious public." Similarly, Uncle Charlie's work takes revenge against a style-obsessed but incurious public of his own. That public includes the band itself, often an oblique target of Uncle Charlie's designs. One of his most popular posters is a design for Green Day that features a Looney Tunes Martian holding a lit bomb behind his back. Gun barrels point at him from every direction. In the lower right-hand corner, a hand proffers a wad of bills. Is the little man about to sell out? Uncle Charlie says the image reflects the fact that Green Day was under a lot of pressure after they went big. So much pressure, they signed off on this poster without thinking to ask any questions.

A look at the prints and artist's proofs on display at Paraphernalia reveals that Uncle Charlie is a solid designer, using clean, thickly inked forms to fully activate a poster without crowding it. Like Saul, he focuses on images while his style remains fairly consistent. Bug-eyed kids wielding slingshots and thugs with guns loom out of the picture plane.

These posters don't make explicit judgment calls. Uncle Charlie depicts women as voluptuous blowup dolls, and if any irony is present, it may as well be an accident. In one Nirvana poster, a svelte young thing poses in bondagewear. In a dark Metallica poster, a woman's eyes are clamped shut with wired mechanical gizmos, the virgin either in the clutch of the dynamo or about to have a sweet cyberdream. In a poster done for L-7 and the Melvins, Uncle Charlie was a bit more conscientious -- maybe because L-7 is a grrrl band. A bare minimum of detail -- hardwood floor, no furniture -- sets the scene in a low-rent apartment. A naked man is tiptoeing up behind a bikinied bombshell and can't see that she's wearing a sinister gas mask. The woman is dehumanized, but at least there's more to her than meets the eye.

In most of these posters, we are presented with snapshots, but no point of view. Uncle Charlie uses this ambiguity to poke fun at consumer culture without holding himself above it. A Hammerhead poster features a red-faced devil in a suit saying to a nubile woman, "Look, trust me on this one!" Is this a boss talking to a secretary? A politician to a voter? Uncle Charlie to ticket buyers? Obviously, we're not supposed to trust the boss or the politician, so should we trust the uncle? Just as Peter Saul uses images to service his agenda, Uncle Charlie Hardwick uses them to promote concerts. But to his credit, and unlike Saul, he admits it in the work.

"Crime and Punishment and Other New Paintings" will show through May 18 at Texas Gallery,2012 Peden, 524-1493.

"The Art of Uncle Charlie" will show through June 30 at Paraphernalia Frame Gallery,2602 Waugh, 521-3625.

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