Long before neon signs and gaping LED pylons, a simple poster would serve as an event’s calling card. Eccentric handmade pamphlets and handbills advertised the random traveling sideshow or wandering performance troupe, and the circus poster stood at the vanguard of the medium. Designed to hold your attention and tease your imagination, the poster had to convey creatively the what, when and where—all within the confines of a modest page. For a quick schooling on the scope of its influence, start with the psychedelic concert posters of Haight-Ashbury and end with Raymond Pettibon’s Black Flag flyers.
Anyone lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the superb examples designed for this year’s Neon Reverb festival will testify that the rock poster remains alive and well. But what of the circus poster? In the spirit of resurrecting this forgotten art form, Cirque du Soleil and Trifecta Gallery bring us Safewalls. This traveling exhibition features a selection of original posters designed by some of the most gifted lowbrow artists of the last two decades.
- Through September 30
- Trifecta Gallery, 366-7001
Often produced in multiples using woodcuts and (later) the printing press, circus leaflets were usually the creation of a local artist. Safewalls takes its cue from this tradition. Beginning in London early this year, Cirque commissioned three U.K. “street” artists to produce original posters for the local production of the company’s Totem. A small handcrafted run of six- and seven-color lithographs accompanied the originals. The whole production then moved on to Madrid and New York, eventually snowballing into Las Vegas. The result is 13 mind-blowing original posters and a collection of artisan prints.
The artists are celebrities themselves. Anyone vaguely familiar with magazines like Juxtapoz or High Fructose will be thrilled to see any or all of the following names: Shag, Tara McPherson, Ron English and Miss Van. Frank Kozik is a concert poster god.
The thing about lowbrow and street art is that the illustrative core of the genre often overshadows the awe-inducing mastery of the best artist’s chosen media. Jason Limon’s “Ovo,” for example, combines flawless technique with the iconography of the classical still life. And Travis Louie’s haunting graphite and acrylic “Zarkana” looks for all the world like a mini Jean-Pierre Jeunet film contained within a 24-by-36-inch page. Safewalls is all about this kind of wow factor.
The accompanying handcrafted litho and giclée prints have a timeless quality given the medium, beautifully showcasing the graphic skills of these artists. The London Totem posters by Sweet Toof, Glenn Anderson and Jon Burgerman are stunning.
So many young Las Vegas artists embrace the street art sensibilities celebrated in Safewalls. Run kids, don’t walk, to Trifecta and see how it’s really done.