You may not know it, but you are surrounded by great art.
Any time you grab a bite at your local lunch joint or head for a walk downtown, there’s a good chance you’re sitting next to works of graphic design that rival any you may have seen.
Where are these hidden gems?
They are plastered to telephone poles and myriad bathroom walls, taped crooked to corners and then left forgotten to decay.
I’m speaking of gig posters, concert fliers, band rags or any other name you would care to apply to the colorful broadsheets that bands and venues use to promote their shows.
Sure, there are still the photocopied flyers with hasty scrawl and posters (some for reputable venues) that look 10 years too late. But in the last few years, the quality of these fliers, led by Bottletree Café and it’s team of recognized artists and designers, have reached another level of quality altogether.
Someone has finally taken notice. Beginning on June 4, the UAB Visual Arts Gallery will present “The Bottletree: A Five-Year Poster Retrospective,” showcasing hundreds of the best posters to ever hang in a smoky bar.
The exhibit is the brainchild of interim gallery director John Fields, who has made a real effort to reconnect the gallery with the Birmingham art scene.
“Over the last few years, this gallery became a little island, and people stopped coming or even knowing about what was going on,” Fields says. “For the most part [we exhibit] nationally and internationally recognized artists from all over, but I knew that I wanted to have at least one Birmingham show, to get Birmingham to kind of remember that we’re over here and we’re trying to do some really cool stuff. I was in Bottletree one day eating and talking to [Bottletree owner] Merrilee Challiss and she had been going through all the posters in her collection and had hung 20 or 30 of them up on the wall, and I thought, ‘Man, it would be really cool to see all of them,” so I immediately right then and there said, ‘Hey, let’s do a show,’ and that was that. Once I said it out loud it seemed so obvious.”
Once he had his hands on her collection (two gigantic boxes with over 500 posters in them), he started sorting. Challiss had added the artist names she could remember, but there was still the monumental task of finding the artist names for the 400 posters that remained.
“I made a short list of the artists I knew that kept coming up over and over and I contacted them and said, ‘Hey, we’re doing this show, if you know anyone else who designed a bunch of posters for Bottletree, here’s my email address.’” Fields says. “I put stuff on Facebook, all these social media sites, and I’ve had a huge response. I’m still getting emails. Now I’m having to tell people we’re at capacity. I’m installing the show now.”
In addition to filling the gallery with posters, Fields is also producing a special companion book to accompany the exhibit.
“Typically I do a book for every single exhibition,” he says. “They’re typically these small sort of things, but Bottletree is important to me in a lot of ways, and I wanted to see it get the royal treatment. We decided to make it, not just about the exhibition, but about Bottletree itself. So it’s literally going to be about the first five years of Bottletree. It’ll be a mix of the featured posters, archived band footage, photos from Jonathan Purvis and We Have Signal, and we’re also getting testimonials from all these big bands that love Bottletree, as well as some other writing.”
The opening reception for “The Bottletree: A Five-Year Poster Retrospective” will be held at the UAB Visual Arts Gallery, at 900 13th St. South, on June 8, 5-10 p.m. The exhibit will run until July 6. There will be live music provided by Urbandy and Omari Jazz, GT and The Hundred Years Whore. For information, call (205) 934-0815.
Sam George is a contributing writer at Weld for Birmingham and B-Metro magazine, and is the editor-in-chief of You Hear This, Birmingham’s online music magazine. For more music news, visit youhearthis.com.