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 American Artifact: The Rise of American Rock Poster Art (documentary)


American Artifact: The Rise of American Rock Poster Art (documentary)

Reviewed by Tom Murphy
(March 2010)

Directed by: Merle Becker

Music posters are hand made to promote a music gig, usually given away, pasted to a wall or stapled to telephone poles. From the moment that posters are, well, posted, they become collectable art, iconic reminders of the music and good times.

Merle Becker

Director Merle Becker (shown at left) narrates her documentary with the zeal of a true music fan. She strikes up friendly interviews with poster artists who are obviously comfortable with Becker in their space.

The studio doors open to a DIY world of silkscreen, vintage press printers, paper, inks, paints and handmade fonts. Not all studios are totally retro (there are computers around), but the emphasis is on handcrafted artistry and imagination. There's plenty of both on display in the briskly edited "American Artifact."

“American Artifact” starts with a look back to the idyllic ‘60s in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, birthplace of the modern psychedelic rock poster. There’s a tribute to Rick Griffin, featuring his beautiful font work that made him a legend, a status he shares with his comrades Stanley Mouse and Victor Moscoso.

Then it's on to punk and grunge, inside the studios of rock poster luminaries like Frank Kozik, Winston Smith, Art Chantry, Tara McPherson and a lot of talented folks whose works you’ve seen but whose names you probably don’t know.

Fun is the predominant tone of the film, with plenty of posters and colorful sequences with rock music from the Butthole Surfers, The Avengers, The Slackers and Andrew Bird.

   Poster by Stanley Mouse

Frank Kozik shows his popular Soundgarden / Pearl Jam poster

The artists’ enthusiasm is contagious when they tell us why they make posters. A few of my favorite quotes:

 “It only exists if you, yourself create it.”

“You were just doing what you had to do, and you were happy.”

“… a rebirth of American illustration.”


In a way, it’s like I’ve been looking for this film and it finally arrived. My book shelf already holds several large volumes of rock music history, not far from my collection of vinyl LPs. So, when I want to visit that magic place of psychedelic visions and music, “American Artifact” is my new friend - and yours, too, if your idea of fun is to see great posters and spend quality time with a bunch of subversives (intentional or otherwise) who happen to be talented artists. 

Visit American Artifact at

If you’re more than curious about the sub-cult world of rock music posters, visit Flatstock, the annual festival of gig poster art , at

Visit the online marketplace for music posters at

Title graphic by Dennis Loren, Director photo by Nuby DeLeon; photos courtesy Freak Films

Currently rated 5.0 by 5 people
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