Ultimate pop art - Why gig posters are a sound investment

Posters have always been sentimental souvenirs of a concert. But now they are being seen as art, and an investment.

The beautiful psychedelic gig posters that helped define the 1960s San Francisco rock scene are no longer a lost, joss-stick-scented tradition. Musicians from Arcade Fire and PJ Harvey to Bob Dylan and Liza Minnelli are using limited-edition posters to accompany shows, as an often strikingly original counterpoint to their music. Just as in the old days, the artists silk-screen print by hand in batches of a few hundred.

The revival began with the artists who rose alongside the late 1980s US indie boom, culminating with Nirvana. Each subsequent generation has become bigger, with refugees from the skateboard, graffiti, hot-rod, tattoo and comics art scenes referencing pop culture. "A lot of the artists we deal with are still playing in bands and connected with music in quite an earthy way," says Chris Marksberry, owner of the Flood Gallery, London's first specialist dealer in this burgeoning field. Gig posters hold two aces in the wider art scene: their rock subjects' enduring potency, and affordability. "Affordability's something the artists are very conscious of," says Marksberry. "They're trying to fill a place in the lives of people who aren't trying to get into the art world as such, but want something special. It's meant to be street-level, accessible art. Some of the more popular artists do evolve into other areas and exhibit in high-end places, ultimately. But the gig poster scene will always stay affordable. The top people sell in the US for $75 a piece, and the less established ones for $20-30. The most expensive we've sold is a £350 White Stripes poster by Rob Jones. Its usually the artist that makes it collectible."

"I'm an art enthusiast," says Ron Vinion, a 60-year-old from Chicago with a 2,000-strong collection. "You get the satisfaction of a good painting, but you can afford a more frequent fix."

Gig posters' unusually democratic nature as collectible art does take a battering once it enters US collectors' hands. California's D. King Gallery's most expensive current item is a $5,000 poster from a 1973 Rolling Stones gig. Current, collectable US artists such as Emek ($850 for a 2003 Neil Young print, $300 for PJ Harvey) and Jones's White Stripes work (up to $500) also leap out from the gallery's $25-35 norm. Marksberry watched a piece the Flood Gallery commissioned from popular San Francisco artist Chuck Sperry balloon in value. "It was an edition of 50 that we sold at £90 per print, and sold out within half an hour online. The next day they were available via trading sites or eBay for $400, and I've seen one for $1,000."

"A lot of these printers [a term for the artists] really dislike the people who 'flip' the posters onto eBay before they even have them in their hands," Vinion admits. "I can't see any point getting ticked off, because it's a commodity. The most I've paid is $1,000 for a Willie Nelson poster by Geoff Peveto that was printed on steel, with bullet-holes put through it like a country road-sign. Jim Pollock travelled with [hard-touring US 'jam band'] Phish and did posters in the parking lot for each show, and some of them are going for I'd say $5,000. But typically, good stuff direct from the artist is $10 up to $100."

Though artists sometimes hold back a few prints for a slightly higher, later price, or use variants in the colour and paper of prints to fuel their collectability, these are by-products of the scene's purpose. "Art and art collecting are unfortunately very elite pursuits, culturally and economically," says Dan MacAdam of Chicago trade organisation the American Poster Institute. "The gig poster's an antidote to this. Music is essential to the identities of a great many people who wouldn't otherwise think themselves consumers of art. The posters let people of modest means put something on their wall that represents a part of themselves."

The posters also offer a return to the tangible fantasy world fans have always built around bands, resisting the retreat to music as a digital, invisible experience. "Bands don't have a 12-inch gatefold sleeve now," says the Flood Gallery's manager Tom Warner, "they have a 600 x 600 pixel picture on iTunes. Posters give them an outlet."

"Music's always been about eye as well as ear, hasn't it?" Marksberry suggests. "When I got into Led Zeppelin at 15, the image of the band was really important – the art of albums, the posters of Jimmy Page. You buy into a band for more than just the music, because of some connection with your lifestyle. I couldn't have learned to love my favourite bands in the same way without seeing how they looked, and how they move and their art. That iconography is visual. You could sensibly connect the poster scene and the rise of vinyl, which are both going through the roof in America. A lot of the artists have commented to us that the poster scene has been a way of bringing something beautiful back to a digital world."

Denver's John Vogl, at 25 part of the scene's cutting-edge, agrees. "Digital is slick and condensed, as everything seems to be going, but there's always that demand for something tactile," he tells me from his Denver studio. "Posters are large. They fill your wall. When you can see the charm of the printing, it's completely opposite from an MP3 player."

The work on display at the Flood Gallery when I visit often strengthens its subjects' iconic stature, such as Rhys Cooper's poster of Neil Young in front of a favourite vintage car in a wheat-field, and his wild-eyed young Dylan, harmonica sparkling. Vogl applies his trademark woodcut-style, natural imagery to Robert Plant, while Arcade Fire's Hyde Park show last year is illustrated by anarchist-style tattered flags. "Some of the posters don't appear to have any significant connection to the band," Marksberry says. "They're almost a vehicle for these artists' best visual ideas."

"I always start with the music," Vogl counters. "I look at lyrics, song titles, and just listen. It's a gut reaction to the music, as far as what image comes up."

One aspect is non-negotiable. "The scene talks as one about the importance of it being limited-edition," says Marksberry. "No one's trying to create a poster that'll sell a million, the Take That moment. It's a counterpoint to the mass market, as well as digital." For Vogl, self-printing is vital. "When I'm mixing colours by hand, and laying it down on a special type of paper, it changes into something new," he says. This has inevitably reduced gig posters' use in actually promoting gigs. "There's less and less tacking the silk-screen posters on telegraph poles," Vogl admits. "Bands purchase the rights to reproduce the artwork on cheaper paper, and sell actual posters at the show."

"Some artists – Queens Of The Stone Age, Arcade Fire – are very interested in their posters, and get involved in commissioning," adds Marksberry. "Most famously, the ones Rob Jones produced for a White Stripes tour were incredibly iconic, and had a strong affect on the band's artwork. That relationship added a dimension to how the band are perceived." Vogl's experience hasn't been so satisfying. "I did do a poster for St. Vincent and I got to meet her after the show. She said, 'Thank you for not drawing me with huge knockers.' I didn't really know how to respond."

There have been two big recent changes: a parallel boom in original film posters, and the scene's globalisation, leading to British artists banding together in London's UK Poster Association, Brighton's BRAG Collective and Liverpool's Screenadelica. "When I started in 2003, I was about the only UK person doing it," Manchester's Nick Rhodes believes. "There's about 20 of us here now, which is great. People make careers out of it in America. In this country you've got no real chance. Band managers are a brick wall I've hit many times. They'd rather use a photo. But touring bands who go to the States are twigging on there's a really big market. Mogwai, Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly! and Gallows are really into the poster scene."

Ron Vinion ponders where the scene which consumes all his spare time and money may end. "My wife, who's a nurse in a mental hospital, thinks I'm crazy for doing this," he laughs. "I tell her it's too soon to know if I'm insane or a genius."

The Flood Gallery, 8 Greenwich Market, SE10 (thefloodgallery.com), and exhibits at the Greenwich Summer Festival, Greenwich Park from 4 July

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee