HERE'S ANOTHER MOVIE about rock poster art, a peculiar side channel to popular music that never quite intersects with its host, although the music and art do inform and reflect each other from time to time. We recently visited this terrain with Eileen Yaghoobian's Died Young, Stayed Pretty, a navel-gazing documentary that indulged a bunch of poster artists—who are almost uniformly weird, isolated, fascinating people—to ramble on about whatever they wanted. Director Merle Becker takes a different tack with American Artifact, a generally successful if two-dimensional historical overview of the trajectory of rock posters as an art form.
Through interviews with the artists—and plenty of screen time for the posters themselves—we see posters evolve from the hippie-fied swirls and tracers of psychedelic artists like Stanley Mouse in the 1960s to the crude, hand-copied flyers of the 1980s, to artists like Tacoma's Art Chantry and Austin's Frank Kozik ushering in the '90s revival of the poster as an art form. We also see brief glimpses of Portland silkscreeners like Justin Hampton, EMEK, and Andrew Stern of Diesel Fuel Prints.
For the most part, Becker stays out of the way of her own movie—although at one point her voiceover says of Xeroxed punk handbills, "I guess you could say that in this pre-internet era the flyers were, for lack of a better comparison, the MySpace of the '80s." (Which, unless you are an unspeaking fetus from the year 2004, is idiotic.) But as capable as the movie is of providing an overview of poster art, it still feels largely inessential. If you're serious about poster art, I'd instead recommend going to the Goodfoot (2845 SE Stark) and checking out the actual, real posters on display at their Art of Musical Maintenance exhibit before it closes on Monday, January 25.