From his keen eye for design to his striking and courageous use of color, Kyler Sharp is a man of light, angles, perspective and eye-catching weirdness. His work is best appreciated under a black light in a room full of pot smoke.
It’s the stuff we love about concert posters: the unusual colors, the odd and disturbing subject matter, underscoring the very best part of music — a live performance. And if you’re a collector, there’s little doubt you've crossed paths with Sharp’s designs. He’s created posters for some of music's biggest names, including Megadeth, Mastodon, Soundgarden, Ministry, The Melvins and, most recently, Black Sabbath.
Sharp's tremendous success is completely surprising when you learn he entered into music promotion on his own accord, and even more so because Sharp has been creating posters for only about three years.
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Sharp, a generous and gregarious soul, stands more than six feet tall with a halo of ringlets and a well of blue eyes. He speaks to you as if you’ve been his closest friend his entire life. There’s an undeniable warmth about this man, a humility and kindness, the kind of sensitivity that is the hallmark of any artist.
The tinny lilt in his Texan accent sings through the phone line like a steel guitar as he details his journey from growing up in East Texas to landing an art scholarship at Beaumont's Lamar University, and eventually making the big leap to Houston proper in 1990.
“I transferred to the Art Institute and decided to wait on finishing school," he says. "I told myself, one of these days I’ll go back to school, and never did.”
Earlier in his career, Sharp worked as an artist in a print shop for nine years.
“I started working for Carousel Productions; they had a huge art department," he says. "I learned the trade of printing and how to become a screen-print artist. We had big clients, MTV, Headbanger’s Ball.”
Those kinds of clients kept his interest for sure, but Sharp was still drawn to music — especially live performances.
“I love rock and roll," he says. "I’ve always been a fan and concertgoer. In fact, in the '90s I worked for PACE Concerts as security just so I could go to the shows. I worked the pit…I always wanted to be around the music, and of course I enjoyed the posters.”
But it wasn’t until recently that Sharp decided he could be creating the posters he admired.
“I saw common friends who were getting these huge gigs," he says. "I thought to myself, 'There’s no reason I can’t be doing this. I have the knowledge, so why not?'”
That kind of fearless reckoning pushed Sharp to seriously consider his skills as a concert poster artist.
“I went off and just did it," he laughs. "I did the numbers off what these other [artists] were doing, and that spurred me on.”
Inspired by Soundgarden's re-formation three years ago, Sharp tried his hand at designing a poster for the band, "without any connections to anybody." But that was only half the battle; getting his art into the right hands took some serious research, and also email-bombing.
“I searched for two weeks to find the right connections to give it the green light," Sharp recalls. "I sent out a mass email to everyone in the company, and one guy wrote back [laughs]. I even emailed Soundgarden’s payroll department, you know, just to get someone to talk to me.
"I finally found the right guy and he offered me the St. Louis [show], and I took it," he continues. "They ordered 225 posters and I had to find a print shop. Nobody [in the industry] knew who I was at the time; they were like, ‘Are you for real?’ [laughs] I just said, ‘Yes, yes, I’m for real.’”
While his initial success was praise-worthy, Sharp knew it was still too early to celebrate. He had to keep producing, and musicians are fickle folk. Designs and ideas get rejected frequently.
“So then, I had to keep it up. The next big-name band turned me down," he explains.
But Sharp persisted with his designs and found traction.
“It just grew from there," he says. "I would do posters for local bands, just to get those pieces done and get them in my portfolio.”
It's worked out pretty well. Today Sharp is a highly sought-after designer making posters for legendary bands.
“My name got passed around at Live Nation, and that’s how I got hooked up with Black Sabbath,” he says.
Yet working for Sabbath was no easy gig. Sharp learned there are a few unspoken rules that come with working for the beloved doom-metal founders.
“Sharon Osbourne literally checks off on everything for the group," he says. "I got the offer [to design the Black Sabbath poster], which was crazy. It took me about a week to do the design. The very next day, I sent one in.
"A week goes by, my guy from Live Nation emailed me and said, ‘Kyler, hate to tell you, man, but Sharon shot down both your designs,’" he continues. "They offered me a kill fee, or I could take another shot. Of course, I was like, ‘Let me take another shot. Just tell me what she didn’t like about the designs.’
"He wrote me back and said, ‘She thought the women were too sexualized.’ I said, ‘Got it.’"
Sharp laughs at the irony.
“I’m guilty of putting sexy women on my posters," he says. "I try to walk a fine line of not being misogynistic and still sexy…these were not sexy; they were like, grim reaper-ish, but fully developed. She was behind a headstone, like the Black Sabbath cross, and all that was too much for Sharon.”
Sharp elaborates on the redesign and trying to please Ozzy’s wife and manager.
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“I said, ‘Fine. The next one will be evil, evil, evil,’" he chuckles. "I went back to my original designs and fixed what she didn’t like and resubmitted them. A week goes by, and I finally got it approved.” Sharp sighs with relief. The result is incredible — like all of Sharp’s ideas.
Where does Sharp want to go from here? With no plans of slowing down, he’s excited to keep his calendar full and productive.
“Like most artists, as a kid I started drawing," he says. "[When] you get accolades from friends and family, it spurs you on to keep doing it. It’s probably part of my identity. I just keep going from here.”