2014 London Artists' Studio Tour (www.londonstudiotour.ca), May 2-4.


Graphic Underground: London 1977 – 90 sure to be cultural event of the season

I recently came across the poster shown here for a Demics’ concert at the Cedar Lounge circa 1979 in a box in my basement after trying to find it for the past few years. It’s the one piece of local poster-art I own from that era.

Not sure of the circumstances of its acquisition. Mint condition. No tape marks or rips so it obviously wasn’t torn off a street pole downtown. No thumb-tack holes in the corners so I didn’t get it courtesy of a record store.

No matter. The image has always stayed with me. I’m not sure who the artist was but I liked the way ‘Demics’ and other words were painted in that dripping-blood style popular with the lay-out artists at ‘Famous Monsters of Filmland’ magazine. The band itself was a heart-on-their-sleeves and bleeding bunch so it fit. Like many of their peers, they may not have been the best musicians in the world, but they played like they believed that they were.

So imagine my surprise to learn that this very poster is likely to be framed and hanging on a wall as part of an exhibition in a real art gallery. Curated by Brian Lambert, Graphic Underground: London 1977-90 from McIntosh Gallery of the University of Western Ontario – is on display at Forest City Gallery from October 26 to December 15. Maybe I’ll even be able to learn the identity of the artist responsible for my own piece of art.

A poster designed just for this exhibit (shown here) gives a good idea of the wide range of styles and influences – Pop, punk and pulp culture. References range from Junk-TV, film and music icons and MAD magazine.

Interestingly enough, my Demics’ piece is possibly the least representative of the gig poster-art, fanzine covers and record sleeves in the show. But it does have one thing in common with the rest of those posters – an evocative and vibrant quality – meant to capture the eye of anyone who glanced at it taped to a telephone booth, streetlight pole or window of an empty storefront while walking downtown. As such, much of this work was never intended for posterity. Time-sensitive because of the best-before date and exposed to the weather and vandals, gig posters were the ultimate in disposable art – ripped down or taped over the day after the show.

It also has something in common with the music this art celebrated and promoted. A Do-It-Yourself attitude when it came to promoting our local ‘punk’ music scene. It was labour of love stuff often done by young ‘serious’ artists as a way to help out their friends in the local music scene. And like many songs by those bands, dashed off quickly.

I remember interviewing one of those artists at the time about a one-man show he then had at Forest City Gallery and asked about his work on gig posters and such. He downplayed it. “Well, if you don’t mind, don’t make a big deal about that stuff in the article. Maybe just mention that I did a lot of free work for friends who were in bands.”

Although many of these works were often unsigned and anonymous, the fact is that this particular artist and many of the others went on to careers in the art world and other directions. Artists in Graphic Underground include Lyndon Andrews (probably best known for his work on the Demics’ Talks’s Cheap EP,) Dan Rudball, Chaz Vincent, Dave Clarke, Darren Merinuk and many others. All of these cats are on a first-name basis with Art.

In addition to the gig posters, the show includes album art as well as cover art for zines such as London’s own WhatWave.

In honour of the exhibit, WhatWave’s Dave and Rena O’Halloran have compiled a special 104-page new issue with an extensive history of that period accompanied by a 90-minute cassette featuring 27 bands of the many profiled in this issue.

In celebration, on Saturday, October 27th, the night following the opening, a live music event featuring a few of the original bands is booked for Call the Office. It is being billed as a one-time only reunion for such local bands as The Zellots, Uranus, N.F.G. and the Enemas. 

Without a doubt, it will be the cultural event of the season. 

Robert Pegg is a published author, currently working on his autobiography, “Living in the Past.” Visit sonnydrysdalepresents.blogspot.com for more of his musings.