The Poster Master, Mike King

by Sean Hill
Screen-Shot-2020-05-08-at-7.49.18-AM-225x300 The Poster Master, Mike King

© Mike King

One of the loveliest, simplest pieces of art I hung in my daughter’s room: Mike King’s 2005 gig poster for the Arcade Fire. Its depiction of childhood is itself childlike in its wonder, and there’s far more to the image than what it depicts. It’s what it suggests that elevates it.

The show, which was for the Neon Bible tour, was one of the most energetic performances I’d ever seen. Memorable, clearly—its spirit hovers around me. Its defining moment (and I’ve described this countless times) was when the band, after performing one of their last songs, “Learning to Drive,” vamped on the last vocal melody and, one by one, walked off the stage, shuffled down the aisle that divided the Crystal Ballroom (drinking and non-drinking sections) and went down several flights of stairs to the street with the audience, perplexed, following them, where they gathered in the middle of four-lane Burnside Avenue and performed their encore, totally unplugged: David Bowie’s “Queen Bitch.” I mean, my God.

It was the poster for this show, along with a collection of his work in Paul Grushkin and Dennis King’s book, Art of Modern Rock: The Poster Explosion, that introduced me to the poster art of Mike King and his outfit, Crash America. The art is as thoughtful and emotive as it is careful and considered; the image of the sleeping child is, more than anything, true. The image is a sleeping child, the half-smile so evocative that it alone gave me a reason to hang it in my daughter’s room (before she was born, it hung over my own bed).

And note the bottle, which calls to mind something one gets from a medicine show, an old Western huckster cure-all. Is it a sleeping potion? Does it inspire dreams? The wisps, all backed by a paisley design, make many suggestions. I dearly love this poster, and I learned that Mike King, too, has a copy hung in his house.

The Art of Concert Poster Art

JanesAddiction-126x300 The Poster Master, Mike King

© Mike King

And now consider something very different: King’s 2001 poster for Jane’s Addiction, one of the great bands of our time.

One has to have some fairly esoteric knowledge to even approach this image. What we’re looking at is literally a map, denoted in the Hebrew that is essential to it: it is the bodily diagram of the kabbalistic “tree of life,” a potent spiritual symbol whose origins are nearly three thousand years old, dating back to the Assyrians. What’s amazing is that, if one knows Jane’s Addiction, who carries a mystic edge to their music, the image fits. 

It’s a heavy image, suggesting by the red arrow and kabbala both the idea of human ascension. But then consider this long out-of-print poster for Widespread Panic, whose characters are not so esoteric.

widespreadpanic1-157x300 The Poster Master, Mike King

© Mike King

This 1999 poster—hand-pulled at Gary Houston’s studio, Voodoo Catbox, another poster-maker of repute—wears its sense of humor on its sleeve. It is a clever, if not twisted imagination that would drop Snap, Crackle, and Pop, stars of the Kellogg’s cereal box for Rice Krispies, into The Blair Witch Project, a hilarious play on the band’s name. The single bit of dialogue, “Oh Crap,” is worth the price alone.

Which Posters are Left?!

byrneposterfinal-226x300 The Poster Master, Mike King

© Mike King

There are newer posters as well, many featured on King’s website, Some are still available! The David Byrne poster, for example, from 2018 is rather sophisticated, intricate, and offers the eye a panoply to feast on. Cultural figures and symbols all compete for your attention, much as culture is wont to do, and here each flash of a moment is rendered in the same tones of blue as if projected like little televisions. The poster covers both Seattle and Portland shows and is priced at $35.

There are a lot of posters on Mike King’s site, and though many are sold out, many more are available. I am of the opinion that Mike King’s work—and we’re talking more than 20 years worth of work—represents the vanguard of posters.



GoCollect’s concert poster price guide is launching soon, stay tuned!

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