The Face of Rock and Roll

A new coffee table book spotlights a vital, neglected art genre and gives a few Houston poster artists their due

After returning to Houston, Uncle Charlie became the visual complement to the city's music scene for the next five or so years. "Charlie came in really big," King says. "I think Charlie really knew how to deal with the venues and the bands, and he understood the look of the times. He just knew how to capture it. He was in the right place and the right time and he knew what to do about it. He used to have billboards for radio stations in Houston. One of the things that happened with him was that as the type of music that was popular changed, his style was not really changing with that music. I think that the people who related to a band like Nine Inch Nails -- which is very dark -- weren't as attracted to his very wild, cartoony-bright style, because that band's music is very dark and gloomy."

"I'm stuck on the bold, bright colors," Charlie told me. "I don't know why. I'm also a package designer, and my favorite packages are stuff like candy bars -- you know, real bold and bright graphics. Maybe it's the kid in me."

"I think that really gave a guy like Jermaine a chance to move in, because stylistically he was quite different," King says. "His style has changed dramatically over the years. He's built up a real following because his stuff is so unique."

Indeed it is. Jermaine takes extreme delight in fucking with people's heads. There's his take on the Beatles: For a Chemical Brothers poster, he took a resolutely cheery Sgt. Pepper's-era image of the Liverpool lads and transformed them into wild-eyed demons and zombies. His locally infamous unhinged teddy bear series was the product of the same idea: Take something huggable and cuddly and turn it into a nightmare. "They're security, they're innocence," he said in the book. "So, when you take something innocent and make it eight feet tall with sharp teeth, weird red eyes and little Manson Family X's on its forehead, not to mention the mysterious number 72, it freaks people out -- makes them think -- and they don't really know why."

Uncle Charlie is usually far more lighthearted. "Most of the time the band seems to come established with a personality, and I try to emulate that as best as I can, but also try to have fun with it," he said. "For example, I've got a U2 poster that looks like a Brillo pad package. I did that for a couple of reasons. The first was that the band is now more of a brand than a band, so that was the inside joke. But then I used Brillo because I looked down at a newspaper on my desk and it was the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Menil, which actually had his Brillo pad art piece. So I thought to myself, I can emulate Andy Warhol and sort of make fun of U2, or at least make a statement. But also make a U2 poster that a U2 fan would definitely want to own."

King says it's not just U2 fans or even music fans who want to own these posters now. He says that the wider art world has taken notice -- especially overseas. "If you travel to Europe right now, any European art museum you go to has this book prominently displayed," he says. "People over there want to bring U.S. poster artists over there to tour. I think it's very similar to a lot of other things -- people don't appreciate what they have in their own backyard."

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