Artist Profile – John Harris @ Beyond The Pale

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A bit of an unusual one this month, folks, but one that I think will appeal greatly to most of our fair City’s residents and the SKN readership.

I was wandering around happily lost in St Kilda recently, and came across a store that I’d been meaning to visit for some time – “Beyond The Pale” at 25 Carlisle St. The windows and interior walls are full of rock band tour posters, and contain a generous concentration of some of the most appealing artwork (to my taste) that I’ve seen in some time.

So I mosey on in and have a chat with the nice chap behind the counter, a Mr John Harris. I tell him that I’ve admired the store for some time and ask, perhaps rather impolitely, how a niche store selling band’s tour posters has managed to survive in the current climate of high commercial rents and low discretionary spending. Is it a strong, loyal customer base? Is it clever marketing through social media? Please, please, please, tell me how a cool store like this can survive so I can share the intel with others and prevent St Kilda turning into a shopping centre… (I’m on a bit of a crusade about this, see my other article this month…)

He smiles, wryly, and says while selling a few framed posters here and there is a good thing, it’s not what pays the rent. All of the posters in the shop, says John, are signed, number prints of posters that he has actually commissioned on behalf of band promoters the world over.

I pick my jaw up off the floor and have a look at some of the names; The Rolling Stones, Queens of the Stone Age, Rage Against The Machine, The Kings of Leon, The Foo Fighters, Neil Young, Pearl Jam, Oasis, Nine Inch Nails, Crowded House, Jane’s Addiction, NOFX, The Beastie Boys, and so on and so on… It’s like the line-up of the greatest music festival the world has ever seen (of acts that are still alive… mostly.).

Says John: “Poster art went into decline in the 1980s, but there was something of a renaissance towards the end of that decade, when Texas artist Frank Kozik (www.fkozik.com) started producing posters for underground bands The Backyard Babies, and early Nirvana. This blazed a trail for other would-be poster artists to contact their local music promoter and offer to do posters. Frequently these were done for free by these artists, giving the band and the promoter free posters and on-selling a few to fans later to offset their costs. Most often these posters were hand-made silkscreens made in a basement of shed. With silkscreens you can print 10 or 100 posters, and it’s hand-down the most beautiful form of printing.”

“A glorious new art scene was born. More rock posters have been made in the last ten years than in the history of Rock’n’Roll. This explosion has to do with how today’s teenagers access music, i.e. without seeing great LP art, and, increasingly, without walking into a music store. With MP3 and iTunes looming large, the art that always defined your relationship to the music is disappearing. Bands, promoters and publishers are reacting to this and finding new ways to associate graphic art with their music, namely through creating amazing promotional posters.”

So, while not strictly drawing or painting the posters himself, John has been facilitating the creation of fantastic work, in huge volumes, and providing income to artists the world over, since opening the store in 1996. I reckon that deserves, along with some very humble (thanks John!) exposure in this paper, a bloody big pat on the back from the arts community.

Oh, and if you’re a graphic artist with a portfolio, have a chat to John to see if you could be the next Frank Kozic or Ken Taylor.

Beyond The Pale, 25 Carlisle St, St Kilda. 03 9593 8900, johnh@beyondthepale.com.au, www.beyondthepale.com.au -Don’t bug him before 11am!

by Aaron Webb

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