Indie Rock Poster Boy 

Dan Stiles' Functional Design

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The simple shapes and colors that make up poster artist Dan Stiles' work are evocative of children's storybooks; faces and flowers and animal shapes are depicted in bright, striking rudiments. So it makes sense that Stiles has found success designing indie rock posters—at some point during the transition to adulthood, toys get exchanged for record albums; instead of a careworn stuffed bear, a pair of headphones lulls us to sleep. Images like Stiles' replace the picture books and visual totems of childhood with simple, striking posters for acts like Spoon, the New Pornographers, and Feist.

It's a style that's led the Portland-based Stiles to other graphic design work for Nike and the Gap. Those clients were basically searching for something that looked precisely like an indie rock poster, which Stiles' work has come to encapsulate. His method rarely involves pen and ink nowadays; instead he does a lot of sketching before bringing the work to the computer, which is then screenprinted in limited batches. Now a collection of Stiles' prints is on display at a rare show at lifestyle and design shop Tilde, displaying a cross-section of work done over the past couple years.

"I don't do a lot of gallery shows because I've found it has to be a very specific type of gallery," says Stiles. "Rock posters aren't totally underground—they're pretty popular now—but a lot of your average gallery people walk in and they're like, 'Huh, is this even art?' But I have found that with my stuff in particular, the sort of more designer-y audience tends to get it even if they aren't into rock posters in particular. They get the whole 'advertising as art' angle."

When I talked to Stiles, he was still determining which pieces to hang, but he wanted it to be largely Portland-centric, potentially including the Decemberists' poster for their Edgefield shows last summer and Built to Spill at the Wonder Ballroom. He's refraining from showing stuff that's nearly out of print, because he wants to keep prices at a realistic level. Stiles is also including a whimsical series of 12-by-12-inch prints created specifically for this show, depicting images of elephants and birds in simple shades of green, orange, and blue. "They're for people who aren't into rock posters, or when people are like, 'Well, I really like this art, but I don't like this band,'" he explains.

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