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Busted Amp Showcases Gig-poster Artists

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Columbia College Chicago is celebrating the city's top screen poster artists in a show this summer—it's called Busted Amp. The exhibition will highlight the personal work these artists produce when they're not making rock posters. For Chicago Public Radio, Blair Chavis reports.

During the 1960s and ‘70s, psychedelic, swirled posters helped to visually define a generation of bands like the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones. In the ‘90s, artists revived the screen printing poster scene, a movement that's still thriving today. IANNACCONE: The screen print community here in Chicago has been getting a lot of attention lately and a lot of recognition and that they're doing some really great things.

That's show curator James Iannaccone with Anchor Graphics.

IANNACCONE: So we wanted to sort of use the same artists but to show the work that they're really doing sort of for themselves and it's stuff that they really want to do as sort of art prints, rather the stuff that they're getting commissioned to do or like, your know contracted to do for band, record labels, whatever.

Iannaccone says he wants the artists in this show to self-curate their work—by selecting both gig posters and artist's prints to show side by side.

He says there's a dialogue between both aspects of the work. Screen printer Diana Sudyka agrees.

SUDYKA: In terms of the way that I embark on my own work, whether it's gig posters or doing, you know, just personal work, I don't really see a sharp line between the two. I think they feed into each other all the time.

Ambi: Diana Sudyka shuffling with flat files in her home studio

Sudyka's searching through her flat files in her home-basement studio.

SUDYKA: I thought it would be nice to have one gig poster work in there so people can see that there is some relationship there for me. You know, doing this poster for The Decemberists, and then taking that image and then doing it in another medium as a fine art print.

Sudyka is showing a five-color screen print poster she did based on The Decemberists' song, “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then).”

Ambi: “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)” by The Decemberists

SUDYKA: You know I think what they do in their songs I often do in my art work in general. Their songs are very narrative, so there's a lot of material there to mine from.

The rock poster depicts a Civil War scene.

SUDYKA: There's a woman dressed in sort of a widow's dress. And she's standing in a field and almost being absorbed by the field, like sinking into the ground…And then off in the distance is a Civil War soldier who is about half-way down into the ground, so you only really see him from the torso up.
Sudyka says the soldier is presumably the widow's dead lover.

SUDYKA: And his mouth is open and coming out of his mouth is a stream of white doves that go from him and sort of through her back and out the front of her torso. So they're kind of running through her as if he's singing to her from the grave.

Sudyka later did a copper plate etching based on the poster—it isolated the woman figure in her dress of mourning in a field.

SUDYKA: And she has a single bird, like a raven, that is coming out of her mouth. And then there is a line of red that sort of encompasses the raven that's above her head that goes through her mouth and down into where her heart would be. And then where her heart would be is sort of this upside lily-like flower that's dripping blood (laughs).

Sudyka's posters and personal work have a literary feel—like drawings found in a book.

She says she admires the work of illustrators like Maurice Sendak, who created Where the Wild Things Are, and she's recently taken on jobs doing illustrations herself.

Sudyka's husband is Jay Ryan—the renowned screen printer who owns a Chicago print shop called The Bird Machine.

Ryan trained Sudyka because he needed an extra hand at the shop.

He learned from Steve Walters “godfather,” of gig posters—a common thread among most of the screen printing community in Chicago of late.

GRZECA: It's really funny how Steve, at Screwball, really he's like the nexus, he's sort of the, the lynch pin of why this all started.

That's artist Dan Grzeca, another of Walters' disciples; he now works out of Walters' studio, Screwball Press.

Grzeca started out as a painter and print maker.

GRZECA: The printmaking and the painting totally have influenced each other so much that now, the way I work is almost indistinguishable.

Grzeca says he likes using mythical beast-like images in his work, and then he adapts it to rock music.

In one rock poster Grzeca did for The Melvins. He uses a large goose.

GRZECA: It's essentially a large ship, and it's got this big goose, emperor goose with trees and things growing out of the ship.

Grzeca draws from what he calls, the same “visual vocabulary,” when he's conceptualizing his personal work.

In his piece, “Consumption Bird,” he uses a mythical animal, this time, to tell a larger story. 

GRZECA: Again it's one of these sort of large, nonexistent birds, that's filled up with a lot of suburban houses and old farm houses, and things like that, things that don't exist anymore, things that are kind of disappearing .

Grzeca says a lot of the people in the “Busted Amp” show are creating art they like and applying it to their rock poster work.

GRZECA: It's a pretty wide diverse pallet of things going on. And it's cool because on a psychological level everyone is supportive, and on an artistic level there is definitely, I think a pretty fierce independence.

Sudyka agrees there's something special about being a screen poster artist in Chicago.

SUDYKA: There really is, I think a Chicago aesthetic. There's a certain work ethic and then I think a lot of the people that I know that are doing this, are doing it by hand.

You can see some of that handiwork and more at Columbia College's A+D gallery.

Ambi: “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)” by The Decemberists

“Busted Amp” opens on June 26 and will run through July 23.
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