With some of the greatest musical acts, the appeal doesn't only come from what you hear, but also from what you see. Some of the most successful bands are, in fact, successful brands — brands that have established visual identities by finding the perfect graphic artist to translate their sounds into record sleeves, gig fliers, T-shirts, and more.
Highlighting those invisible extra band members (as it were) is the idea behind GIG: The Art of Michigan Music, an exhibition opening at the Ann Arbor Art Center. The show was curated by Chuck Marshall, a photographer and Life in Michigan blogger who has had his fair share of experience in the music scene. In another life, Marshall played guitar in Battalion, a thrash-metal band that was active in the early '90s. In recent years, Marshall has contributed concert photography and writing for National Rock Review, a music blog.
Marshall originally conceived of a show of eight photographers, but it soon became something more broadly focused on the art behind Michigan music. He invited Jeremy Wheeler, a popular poster illustrator, who spread word to other artists, and the roster of interested participants grew from there. "It was kind of like that 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon' thing," Marshall says, a testament to southeast Michigan's tight-knit creative community. "You know somebody who knows somebody, somebody else knows somebody."
Marshall says rounding up all of the artists who would be part of GIG took him back to his rock 'n' roll days. "That whole sort of promotion, advertising your gig, putting out your fliers, that sort of stuff — it kind of brought all that back," he says. "I had no idea how many people are out here doing great work. While southeastern Michigan is a big place, it's also kind of small. There's a very vibrant community of people who support the music industry."
The final lineup includes 20 artists. The gamut ranges considerably, spanning both mediums and era — from Robert "Nix" Nixon's B movie-inspired graphic design for bands like Crud (full disclosure: a former Metro Times art director) to Carl Lundgren's iconic psychedelic posters from the '60s to the custom guitars from Luke Jackson from Huron Guitars in Ypsilanti.
"It's about these people supporting the music scene and supporting the artists that they like or are inspired by," Marshall says. And Marshall admits the 20 featured artists are just scratching the surface of the talent in Michigan. "There's all sorts of people who are just doing incredible things," he says. "There were people who kept saying, 'You need to have so and so,' and I was just like, 'I can't even manage this anymore!'" If the show is successful, Marshall says he would consider curating a follow-up.
Most of the featured artists will have works on sale at the Ann Arbor Art Center. In keeping with the spirit of the show, Nixon created his own limited edition "gig" posters for the show, which will be available for purchase while supplies last. Wheeler, known for his "Bang!" DJ nights, will spin tunes, and to complete the Michigan theme, Dark Horse Brewing Co. will provide beer for the opening reception.
But Marshall says he wants the focus to be on calling attention to the artists. "When you listen to music, or you look at the poster, you think, 'Wow, that's really cool,'" he says. "But you don't really know who put together that album art that you love. So I think that's one of the fun things about this — to meet those people who did this."
GIG: The Art of Michigan Music opens from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 15 at the Ann Arbor Art Center, 117 W. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-994-8004; annarborartcenter.org; runs until Jan. 30; free.