Rock Poster God Jim Evans Teams Up With RISK for ‘Unconventional Forces’
Two Cali OGs mind meld for an exhibition at Buckshot Gallery
All images courtesy of Buckshot Gallery In studio photos by Birdman
Name it and Jim Evans has done it. Reliably. Consistently. The artist and master printmaker’s creative evolution has led him from being a musician, to the underground comic book scene, to the visual forefronts of surf and skate cultures, to successfully conquering the rock music scene—one iconic album cover and tour poster at a time. Plus, there’s his successful navigation of movie promotion too. For four decades, Evans, aka TAZ, has been of the go-to visionaries that wraps and presents pop culture in memorable, impactful images. Beastie Boy’s Ill Communication album cover? Yep. Tour posters for Nirvana, the Ramones, L7, Rage Against The Machine, Wu-Tang Clan, Pearl Jam, Metallica, and Nine Inch Nails? Uh huh. On board to guide the design of movie websites for Men in Black, The Big Lebowski, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and The Angry Birds Movie? All that too.
Need a nap? This dude is still going.
TAZ’s latest dragon to slay is a new exhibition with kindred Cali-spirt RISK. The two OGs have have melded visions to create a series of collaborative posters, originals, and other printed ephemera. Unconventional Forces showcases the artist and writer at their most dexterous: mining the wake of pop culture, and merging art with entertainment.
We jumped on a call with Evans a few days back to talk the upcoming show and more.
Mass Appeal: How did this creative collision with RISK come to be?
Jim Evans/TAZ: It didn’t really start as a collaboration. It started as a Jim Evans/TAZ show. Once I met RISK, we got along really well. We had a lot in common for some odd reason. I think we talked about doing a collaboration for the show and then it grew into all collaboration. We realized that the synergies between our two styles really fit together. He brought something to it for me and I brought something to it for him. I come from a drawing background. Most of my stuff is more literal. I sit down and draw with pencils, pens, and stuff. Whereas RISK works really huge, almost like action painting. He interprets things, letter styles and things like that. He doesn’t really like sit down and draw a character. I mean a character might end up somewhere in there. For a while now, he’s been moving away from doing straight graffiti and lettering. He’s been working on these paintings. But, my work brought more of a singular type image to what he was doing. I felt that I could add something to his paintings.
When he came over the first time, he saw this skull I did that would actually end up being on the shows’ invitation. Originally, I had it with all guns and drugs and money and sorts of things. I had it really as sort of a mean, more aggressive thing. RISK looked at it and said: “Why don’t you put paintbrushes and pencils behind it?” And I said, “That would be kind of weird, wouldn’t it?” I was trying to get away from like the cartoony style and be more serious. When he mentioned it, I thought, “Well…maybe? I’ll try it. And that’s what you see there. So, he kind of forced me into that corner. I otherwise might not have gone into that corner at all.
It’s a breath of new creative oxygen then?
Yes, in a certain sense. You have to remember, as an artist, I was drawing skulls and hotrods in like the sixth grade and well into high school. I was sort of that guy. And after a while, you get a little more sophisticated and you leave those things behind. Then someone comes along and says, “We’re having an art show. Why don’t you do the dumb stuff you did as a kid? But, do it real sophisticated.” I thought, “Hmmmm…maybe?” I respected RISK’s viewpoint. Maybe he was seeing something that I wasn’t.
We’d have these like giant art conversations. We get along in the sense that we both like to talk about art, artists, and the whole scene, and what we’ve done and how we’ve gotten to where we are. And then we do art on top of that. Previous collaborations I did tended to be one-sided. This is the only collaboration that I’ve done that there is an equal amount of art and ideas.
You’ve been at your craft for decades now, moving through different mediums and yet, you still find pockets of discovery.
I’m kind of chameleon-like. Generally, in terms of my life and work, I’ve always felt like I’ve been waiting for something. If the universe comes walking up, I generally saddle it and ride versus looking it in the mouth. In this case, I was pretty wide open. I was pretty much willing to try anything. I didn’t even know what the end technique would be. I was basically jumping off a cliff and hoping I could fly.
So keeping the mind frame of a student is key?
I would say practice is the only way you can do it and stay vital. Otherwise, I would just be the end result of 40 years of me. Which is probably what I fear the most. That would be worse than anything. I guess the best example would be Picasso, right? He became more of a child as an old man. He did all these doodles and walked around in his shorts and he was trying to be like six-years-old again. Even though he was probably the most sophisticated artist of the 20th Century. Every artist does it, to try to re-create your best moments, but you eventually you become static. There’s no way around that. You just absorb so much and you become really precise and sort of like a pro or an expert. And that’s not helpful because you can’t really grow from that.
You’re often at the groundswell of new opportunities in culture—be it skate and surf culture or new burgeoning technologies. To what do you credit the trajectory of your career thus far? Was it because you didn’t have a plan at the outset?
That’s interesting to say. There certainly wasn’t a plan. I mean the only plan was to be successful. I chose more commercial art than fine art because I could get in front of more people. When you’re a kid, everyone does art right? Once you get older, nobody does art. If you stay with it, by the time your 19, you’re the only one drawing anymore. So then you realize, you have this talent, but where are you going to go with it? So, I went to art school. But I went the commercial road because I had always been fascinated with advertising. Cartoons on TV, comic books, titles of movies. Anything that had graphic impact. A Coca Cola sign. I’d look at that and wonder who did that; that’s a beautiful lettering style. Custom cars too. I was in that culture. So everything I did played at that. As I got a little better, I realized I could translate pop culture into other things. I started doing album covers and rock posters and things like that. The plan coalesced pretty quickly to be make Jim successful so that he could just do more of this. Each time I took a job, I tried to make it iconic. My goal was to always make it memorable.
When working on album covers, it’s the music that directly inspires the work. But from where did you draw inspiration for the rock posters that you created?
It would depend on the period. In the ’70s, I had to do posters that pretty much the record company wanted. The labels were powerful then and drove the imagery. If I created an album cover, I would create a poster based on it. The ’90s stuff, that became a whole different thing. I had sort of put rock behind me and hadn’t done it in a while. I never really got into punk posters, but for some reason, I was really digging these new bands. But, in at the start of the ’90s, with like Smashing Pumpkins and bands that were coming out of Seattle, they created a whole new movement. The women of L7 had come to one of my art shows in Beverly Hills. When we were all drunk afterwards, they said, “You should get back into the rock stuff that you did.” I looked at the scene and saw that there weren’t really creative posters around, so I came into that kind of late, but fully blown. It was like going back to high school, but knowing everything I learned throughout my live and taking advantage of it. I knew exactly what I was doing and did whatever I wanted to do. That whole period was like almost like a pop culture art experiment. At that time, I created the TAZ collaborative too. With the TAZ posters, there was no hierarchy. We did hundreds of them. I didn’t feel constrained in any way. I could pull mad scientists, or cartoon Mexican wrestlers, or some anime and juxtapose it with the name of the band and give it some crazy colors—and bang, that’s what they wanted.
But some of the posters you created go beyond just the promoting or selling of a band. I remember being really young and seeing one that you created for the Rock for Choice show with Pearl Jam and L7 on the one-year anniversary of the murder of Dr. David Gunn in Pensacola, Florida. It still stands out in my mind as like a personal road sign. I can point to it as a marker in my own evolution, musically and politically.
I appreciate you saying that. That was a pretty meaningful poster. When I did it. I tried to wrap what I thought was an incredibly important political message into a pop culture art image that anyone could collect and put on their wall. At the same time, when they read it, the politics of it was straight ahead. It didn’t say anything other than what it meant. If you were buying into this, you were buying into something really important.
How did you balance the utilitarian aspects of conveying info on that poster with the art aspects?
I always worked on design first. Info is what it is. The information doesn’t get mediated by the messenger in this particular case. The [Rock for Choice] poster is a bit cartoony and bright-colored. I’m not even sure that people actually read it. I’m sure there were like red-necks that put it up on their wall and were totally oblivious to what it stood for.
Subversively getting in there…
[Laughs] Like they hung it up and don’t even notice. I wanted it so that everyone could enjoy it. But it’s much more different than when you put Che Guevara on a poster.
Like so many of your Rage Against the Machine posters.
Exactly. Totally different. Those are obvious. You put those up and you are saying what you’re saying, right? A commercial artist is a propagandist by trade. I can’t deny that. But, the way I manipulate the message and deliver the message is kind of up to me.
Unconventional Forces is on view May 14 through June 4 at Buckshot Gallery (3129 Pico Blvd.) in Santa Monica, California.