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Poster Boy

Rock art legend Uncle Charlie will not be denied.

Poster Boy

Like what you see? Be sure to check out our slideshow of Uncle Charlie's coolest concert posters.

Uncle Charlie chats with an aging punk while people buzz inside his Bayou City Arts Festival tent, which looks like Walt Disney's toilet after a long night of swigging paint and dropping acid.

The swarm rifles through Uncle Charlie's works: graphic-designed posters pimping dozens of rock bands like The Who, Wilco, Radiohead and Willie Nelson. Each print is splashed with sugar skulls or alien gangsters or demented circus clowns.

Charlie Hardwick's vivid concert posters drew music lovers to his booth at Houston's prestigious Bayou City Arts Festival.
Mandy Oaklander
Charlie Hardwick's vivid concert posters drew music lovers to his booth at Houston's prestigious Bayou City Arts Festival.
Now 42, Hardwick has designed posters for some of the world's most famous bands, including his childhood heroes The Who.
Mandy Oaklander
Now 42, Hardwick has designed posters for some of the world's most famous bands, including his childhood heroes The Who.

With blue eyes behind black, thick-lensed frames, brown hair, and an orange ketchup stain on his shirt, Uncle Charlie, 42, is a legend. Ever since he was a private-school kid in a punk group, Uncle Charlie — real name: Charlie Hardwick — has created fliers for music shows.

Now, he's a rock art legend, one of the first people famous bands turn to when they need a brash, fuck-you poster. In Art of Modern Rock, a book co-authored by rock-and-roll historian Paul Grushkin and largely considered the bible of rock art, Hardwick appears in more sections than any other artist. With experience in the worlds of both corporate design and punk DIY, Hardwick graces Grushkin's chapter "temporary insanity" as effortlessly as his designs grace Minute Maid products. "You can't look away," Grushkin says. "The best rock-and-roll artists have always had that about them: the ability to stare down the public. The public has got to react. You cannot look at Charlie's art and not react."

Most of his fans here today have seen his colorful work on House of Blues marquees in Houston and across the country, and they line up to meet Uncle Charlie in the flesh. He greets his many admirers with a slow and purposeful handshake, one that starts as a right-angle bend at the elbow and extends forward on an even plane. Sometimes he misses by a few inches.

"I'm gonna go run to the restroom real quick," Hardwick finally says to the punk after what seems like half an hour. But this is no quick escape. He stands shakily as his wife Stephanie, who's sitting beside him, reaches into his backpack and hands him his retractable white cane with the red tip. Hardwick snaps it into place and heads off slowly, sweeping the crowded sidewalk in front of him with his stick. The punk looks confused, and people watching from a nearby bench start whispering.

His fans know that Uncle Charlie's art has changed throughout his career — especially over the past few years. What many of them don't know is that Uncle Charlie is blind.
_____________________

Twice a week, Uncle Charlie mounts his bike and teeters three miles to the closest bus stop in The Woodlands. Provided he doesn't wreck his bike en route, which he's done eight times already this year, he catches the bus all the way downtown. He then walks the few blocks to the Metro rail, rides it a couple stops more. For Hardwick, the end of the line is always Tacos a Go-Go.

The whole staff knows him at the small, cheerful taqueria right off the rail. Hardwick's touch to the decor there is unmistakable; his Día de los Muertos-esque skull stickers hang next to the menus, and his same colorful design graces the stools.

Hardwick smiles to the whole store and greets the staff personally with animated hellos. He orders breakfast tacos at the counter and hands his card to the cashier, knocking over pens and menus. Bending his head close to the receipt, he squints, and the cashier indicates the signature line with an exaggerated flourish. "You know the drill," he tells her brightly in the direction of her voice.

Hardwick has been fleeing the suburbs ever since he was a kid. The fifth of five boys, and the youngest by eight years, Hardwick was largely left to raise himself. He was an angry kid, and nothing seemed to interest him: not school, not his parents' country club and not even art, though his talent was recognized early on. Little Hardwick won the local Hallmark's Halloween children's contest. He drew a scene creepy beyond his years with bubbling cauldrons, witches and his trademark skulls. Hardwick's neighbor enrolled him in a drawing class at the zoo, where kids would draw the animals. He hated it, he said. The people were weird.

Everything switched at 13, when Hardwick's closest brother took him to a Who concert. That night he discovered two things that would change his life forever: rock shows and Montrose. "It was just fascinating," he remembered of lower Westheimer. "All this just stuff, you know, hookers walking up and down the street, gay people everywhere, cars — it was like, wow. This is awesome, all this color."

Hardwick was hooked on the grit and graffiti of Montrose. For the next few years, he'd sneak out of his house at night and catch the bus there. Hardwick would stroll the streets alone or with friends, befriending transvestites and absorbing local art.

Inspired and rebellious, Hardwick and three friends at Episcopal High School in Bellaire started a band. They called themselves Dresden 45 after the firebombing detailed in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. Hardwick, the bassist, called himself "Uncle Charlie," since he'd been an uncle from age nine. The private school punks were every bit as devastatingly hardcore as their name. "The very first show we played was at River Oaks Elementary for a carnival," Hardwick said, laughing. "Then we played Episcopal High School's dog show." But Dresden 45 rose fast to local thrash fame. Soon, they were playing clubs consistently.

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22 comments
Stacey
Stacey

@marla .........my classmate's mom makes $79/hr on the internet. She has been without a job for 8 months but last month her paycheck was $7695 just working on the internet for a few hours. Here's the site to read more LazyCash4. com

TerranceH
TerranceH

@Grant I'm liking his artwork a lot...You shouldn’t believe, my co-worker's step-aunt makes $80/hr on the computer. She has been without work for 9 months but last month her income was USD9023 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more on this site... http://qikr.co/hq26b

Flufftv
Flufftv

Ok, about the thing about Levi's getting sued for $30,000 when they only paid $700 for the artwork... What if they only paid $50 for it, then had Tshirt's mass produced in Asia and sold at the gap, does that mean Levi's should only be liable for $50? No, they were getting sued for $30,000 for a reason (mass producing and profiting off of someones artwork without proper permission). Unfortunately for Olivia, the lawyers dropped the case when they found out it wasn't completely open and shut, and blew off Levi's offer to settle for a few thousand bucks because there wasn't anything in it for them, and would not return Olivia's calls (that is what you get when you have lawyer's working on contingency). What would have been best for Olivia and Levi's is if they kept making the shirts and gave her proper credit and compensation instead of pulling them out of the stores and destroying them, but the lawyers were after a payday, not after what was best for her.

Grant
Grant

I'm liking his artwork a lot! I'm thinking a print might be an awesome Christmas present for my dad! Awesome article too!

plungstuffing
plungstuffing

There was a back part of the shirt that explained that the image was mass produced by Levis without permission from any of the bands who participated in the show,,,but when I made that, I had no idea how the image had gotten into their hands..

plungstuffing
plungstuffing

Not sure why you keep bringing up Domokos, other than he is in Rusted Shut and they are one of the bands that played...Maybe he was trying to pursue something on his own..no idea....Don Walsh of Rusted Shut is our down-the-street neighbor.... Members of Murder of Crows helped me find lawyer..Members of Japanic were pretty concerned also..the best I could do is give as many peeps as I could my bootlegged version of the shirt.

Charlie
Charlie

Hey I'm easy.. I don't have any ill feelings at all toward you or Domokos or whoever..I love Rusted Shut.. Their song "fucking" simply rules.. But look.. I made a mistake, I apologized and was willing to pay up.. The money belongs to you..

Charlie

plungstuffing
plungstuffing

The owner of Mary Jane's at that time was Toby. I would have to hunt him down and ask him. He did not make the flyer. I did (Olivia)...for the event which I helped organize. I was not mentally stable at the time that the whole thing was brought to light. I was completely dysfunctional and pretty much put of my mind back then. The lawyer eventually dumped the case and vanished. I was supposed to follow up on stuff but dropped the ball because I was a complete basket case...(not over that, just in general)...I didn't talk to anyone because I couldn't really functionally talk to anyone very well, and my business partner was at that time, just getting the hang of how dysfunctional I can be. The timeline has this incident taking place during the first year of SHFL..2003...when I bootlegged my own t-shirt (before I knew that it was you who took it and put your name on it) I had moved out of SHFL and was back at my rooming house. I met with lawyers once. The lawyers were found by members of one of the bands that played that show. At the time, I thought I was suing Levi's...and then the lawyer took me to the Galleria where we were able to purchase a copy of the t-shirt with the Uncle Charlie hang tag....and then I was informed that this was not the fault of Levi's, and you were the one who was indemnified to me/the bands/whomever.......I did receive the hand written apology..still have it somewhere...some of it sorta rubbed me the wrong way and seemed rather somewhat passive aggressive. I was upset about the thing but I did not feel like confronting you because I was not doing very well mentally and was conflicted about taking money from an artist rather than a multi-million dollar company. This article says that you have used clip art. I used clip art. I didn't think that "fair use" implied that you could take another persons flyer unaltered and slap your own name on it. The lawyers examined my flyer and said that it was passable because I used little chopped up images..all cut and pasted and not a whole part of any one image..I have NO IDEA where the $30,000 figure came from. Maybe that was the lawyer's idea. I was dealing with a bunch of bands who were upset that their names were on a Levi's shirt without their permission...under some financial pressure from my partner because we were stuggling back then and I was "not pulling my weight" monetarily..... It still tends to upset me because I never quite had closure on the issue. I am not sure what would have caused closure, At the time I was too messy-headed to handle some kind of confrontation...but I guess this is closure enough. I don't want to "do lunch" I don't want to take money from a blind artist. I don't understand why you thought it was ok to put your name on somebody else's work...i don't wanna go around in circles on the thing. I would like to not get riled up over this thing because it is not very comfortable for me. I just chalk it down to a petty dumb little chapter in my life where a "famous artist" ripped off my cruddy little flyer so I have this thing that I cut and pasted together that was mass produced in Korea with someone else's name on it....water under bridge...sorry I brought it up. Your name strikes that nerve in me...and I go into a bit of a mental loop over it...but that is my problem.

Olivia Dvorakco-founder SHFLformer singer of Rosebud(ancient defunct band from the 90's...you made our poster)

I have no idea why you thought that Domokos posted the previous bit...and I did apologize for the muck raking...and suggested that HP delete it...

Guest
Guest

whoops forgot to sign the previous post... Charlie Hardwickcharlie@charliehardwick.com

Guest
Guest

Here we go again. This is either Domokos or Olivia, whoever you are why be anonymous? Permission was given for use of said design whtunately unreliable and uncredible source at the time unbeknownst to me. That person was the venue owner at the time.

When the error was made evident to me by way of the original artist's attorney I immediately submitted a hand written letter of apology along with an offer of financial compensation in the amount what I was paid by Levis. After my letter and offer were submitted to the Olivia’s attorney I NEVER HEARD ANOTHER WORD. I went out of my way to correct the situation and to give them the money they deserved and they didn't accept. I tried to make direct contact with Olivia so I could make arrangements to write her a check, she wouldn't take my calls. It was odd and didn't make any sense and I could not understand why they would not take compensation, I was more than happy to pay. As it turned out Levis told me they were being sued for $30,000.. OUCH.. I was paid $700. I assume they were hoping for a $30,000 payment from Levis which was completely out of bounds. Levis was only liable for what they paid me, which was $700.. At the time Olivia worked at Superhappyfunland. I called her there only to be told that everything must go through her attorney. I told the person on the phone that I wanted to give her the money I got from Levis and I was hung up on. So.. I wrote the letter to her attorney stating that I wanted to write her a check.. I got no reply. She could have called me or emailed me, she had to know I was trying to get in touch with her as the person at Superhappyfunland was having a hissy fit..

The whole thing was a mistake and a misunderstanding from the beginning as I was misled in believing that the art was fair game as it had images from monster magazines and other non original elements on it. Not to mention the venue owner claimed ownership. I had no intention to cheat or "rip off" anybody. Quite the contrary as I bent over backwards to right the wrong as soon as I was made aware. So here we are severel years later with the same people giving me shit about a stupid mistake.. Hey Olivia lets do lunch.. I have some money for you.

plungstuffing
plungstuffing

Sorry for sounding mean and petty...my issues with him always get too stirred up when brought to mind..feel free to delete my previous comment as well as this one...it was all stuff that happened a long time ago, and i should be over it by now. Am not sure why I am not. I don't mean to slander a poor blind artist over stiff that happened years ago.

plungstuffing
plungstuffing

wow! this is the first I have ever heard about Uncle Charlie being blind! I have negative issues with him because he stole a piece of my artwork (not copied, but outright stole) a flyer that I made and sold it to Levi's so there were shirts mass-produced with my flyer and a hang tag that read "artwork by Uncle Charlie" on them. Years ago, he also sold my old band a poster art that he basically recycled from a poster from a Cure concert at Numbers. We thought we were paying for original art but he basically took an old poster and slapped our name across the top..We found out after people started recognizing the image on our band's poster as being the same as the Cure poster....I have always had negative thoughts whenever I have thought of Uncle Charlie...regardless of his talents...to the extent that I bristle whenever I see his art or hear him mentioned, but I feel badly for him that he is going blind. I would not wish that upon anyone.

Katy
Katy

You can find "Uncle" Charlie's prints and paintings at Heights Ashbury Coffeehouse, 242 W. 19th St., Houston, TX 77008, 713-862-7018.

Jason McElweenie
Jason McElweenie

Great story on a great guy! Charlie's cant stop won't stop attitude makes me want to kick my own ass sometimes

Nevlec
Nevlec

Thanks for doing this story! I'm a big fan of Uncle Charlie's work and did not know his story. Knowing this make me appreciate his art and him even more. I will be sharing this story with my friends and family because it is a huge inspiration. Life - live it baby!

Rockmus
Rockmus

Charlie's work is TITS! All props to the master of disaster!

\

Pedantic Douchebag
Pedantic Douchebag

I knew Charlie when I was a kid. My sister dated the lead singer of Dresden 45. Charlie always let me sip his beer. Glad he's overcome all this bullshit the universe threw at him.

Jay
Jay

Go Charlie!

Charlz
Charlz

Awesome article! And I agree his art has gotten better. Ican only wish he can still keep doing what he does forever!

Charlie
Charlie

Yep Michael knows cause I sent him one..

thanks Charlie

 
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