by Art Chantry (email@example.com)
This little poster is from the mid 1970′s, back when i was a student still attending western washington state college (later ‘university) in bellingham, washington. that’s a town about 60 miles from the canadian border in the very northwest corner of the united states. basically, it’s one of those end of the world places where you can run no further and still be in the united states.
bellingham is a town full of weirdoes pretending to live like normal folks. eccentrics and oddballs kinda pile up there like an eight ball rolling toward the corner pocket. then they begin to fester. the result is a steady stream of interesting subculture dribbling forth like a oozing sore.
actually, i make it sound horrible, but in fact, it’s just the opposite. until the microyuppies turned that small town into an unliveably expensive retirement community, bellingham was one of those ‘center of the nknown universe’ cities that spawned an enormous amount of popular american pop cultire – and nobody knew. kerouac wrote about it. people like cointry joe macdonald or joan baez might pop into a local tavern and sing a few songs for free beer. patty hearst lived there for a spell while she was on the lam with the SLA. robert deniro could walk down the street and be ignored. many famous session musicians had farms in the regional and would regularly play on the open mike nights. it made for the best garage bands ever.
everything that seattle became famous for in the 1990′s actually came from the surrounding cities like bellingham, tacoma, olympia, aberdeen, etc. etc. it’s actually been that way for most for the last 50 years – very little really cool stuff comes FROM seattle. it comes form the northwest and launches itself through the ‘local big city’ – seattle. that’s the dynamic of the northwest. in the much older ‘olden days’, seattle talent and culture had to launch itself through the next closest ‘big city’ – san francisco or los angeles. at least that’s finally changed.
anyway, this little cheapo poster advertising an art show at the small college ‘student gallery’ (the place i had my very first solo exhibit almost 35 years ago) in the student center (the ‘viking union’). fairhaven was a small semi-independent satellite college within the larger state college framework that originally was designed as an experimental school back in the 60′s. it was an unstructured learning environment – a ‘hippie college’. you could literally give YOURSELF a masters degree in underwater basket weaving if you so desired. no grades necessary. no supervision, either. crazy to think about today, eh?
the result was a nest of weirdo underground culture that produced an awful lot of innovation mixed with utter dross. hilarious and wonderful at the same time. by the time i encountered the separate and beautiful ‘micro campus’ of fairhaven college, it had been re-absorbed into the mainstream academic world, but was still treated as a special ‘alternative’ case. nowadays, it’s simply another dormatory.
so, this ‘fairhaven workshop’ exhibit advertised on this little poster still meant innovation and outsider talent when it happened. and it literally was full of hippie shit – and also of amazing twisted thinking as well. several of the people in the exhibit went on to peculiar and important careers – including one fella who found an old animation stand in the school basement and taught himself animation. by the time he showed at this exhibit, he had gotten a hold of a very early primitive computer and was literally creating very early versions of computer generated animation. this was in 1975! he later went on to work for george lucas on star wars and became part of industrial light and magic empire. a total geeky hippie genius.
i grabbed this little poster because i thought (and still think) it’s totally wonderful. it’s printed on the same crappy army surplus a.b. dick 360 printing press that all of my earliest posters were printed on. it was in the student print shop and was run by fairhaven hippie students trying to teach themselves how to print things. the quality is crappy and craftsy all in one tidy bundle, as only total amateur craftsmen can create. it’s deliciously bad printing.
i used to know the woman who drew this kitty illustration. but, i’ve completely forgotten her name. i never encountered her again after school days, so i have no idea what happened to her. but, her wonderful naive/moderne arty image of a cat stuck with me for years. i thought his “i can’t draw” drawing style (she could draw beautifully, by the way)was brilliant unlike anything i’d ever seen before. it was completely alien, totally new. it was the sort of drawing that the academic world – particularly back then – frowned upon and even openly and loudly criticized. this was a daring image for the period.
this was at the very beginning of punk in the northwest. i’d just seen my first punk style posters hanging on walls. when this popped up and realized it
from the same turf, but a more art oriented interpretation. people tend to forget that in the earliest days of punk, it was largely created by “art’ students and not lunkheaded know-nothing buffoons. punk was delicate and humorous and utterly snide back then. it actually still had ‘charm’. so, this little kitty captivated me.
after i left bellingham and moved to the local ‘big city market’ (seattle) for my design “career”, i began to encounter many more folks working in this naive punky ‘any skill level is perfectly acceptable’ style of imagery. i saw gary panter’s work and lynda barry’s drawings and the stuff coming out of the olympia and “op magazine” scene. in fact, i actually thought all of these images being created by the woman who had drawn that kitty. i couldn’t quite get my mind around the idea that all of this weird and visually shocking (for then) artwork wasn’t the output of one solo artist.
strange to remember, but when a new innovative and challenging style (like this) first erupts, we tend to want to (in our limited minds) credit everything new we see to a single person as the creator. it somehow allows us to accept what we’re looking at a little easier. we’re not so ‘afraid’ of it – it’s just a single crackpot at work. and, yes, this style being introduced back then was first seen as a threat. it literally scared people. total strangers would attack these posters and images and tear them up in horror. no joke. i saw it happen many times.
later, when we finally figure out that it’s not a single “great man” creating this new wave, but the work of a more generalized but outsider subculture that we finally begin to understand what’s happening. then we begin to try it, too. we begin to participate. eventually it becomes old school. it’s how this stuff works.