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The Artists of Flatstock: Brian Ewing

The Artists of Flatstock: Brian Ewing (photo)

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Walking through the convention center or the streets of Austin this week, it’s hard to ignore the tape-spackled, staple-ridden posters, sounding their visual siren calls, trying to reel you in amidst the crowds and visual noise. As the world goes digital it’s interesting to note how much tangible objects stand out. You can’t hand someone a JPEG. You can’t fold it up and put it in your pocket. And while much physical guerilla marketing has been supplanted by Facebook invites and Twitter hashtags, there is, as of yet, no Facebook invite that stays at the top of your inbox long enough to remind you how much you danced at a TV On The Radio show. You don’t print out emailed fliers and hang them on your walls of your apartment to silently call up an experience, or a lyric, or a defining period in your life. When you pluck an image from an artist’s online gallery to use it as your desktop background, it’s somehow not as satisfying as pulling something off a telephone pole or the wall of a rock show. Which is probably why, even as we discard our old CDs once and for all, enough professional poster artists are making thoughtful, handmade artifacts to fill the hall of the 29th annual Flatstock convention, which launched yesterday afternoon in the southernmost wing of the Austin Convention Center.

Flatstock is an official SXSW-sanctioned event, and plays host to a collection of the most prolific and imaginative designers, illustrators and screenprinters in the rock and roll universe. Walk through the halls and you’ll find stacks of French white paper festooned with hot girls, hot rods, unicorns, detailed animal etchings, gorgeous landscapes, finely rendered, hand-drawn fonts, and perfectly executed portraits of famous and semi-famous people. You’ll find humor. And irony. And sensitivity. And sadness. And you’ll sense the influence of the music behind it all.

Over the next few days, we will troll the Flatstock halls, highlighting some of the artists who have made this form of music promotion a true artform. First up, Brian Ewing, a New York native and an impeccable illustrator with a knack for fan-based portraiture, pop art color palettes, and skulls.

How long have you been making rock posters?
For about 10 years. I started making them in ’98 — just black and white fliers for friends’ bands. I started taking poster-making seriously when I moved to LA, and hooked up with the Troubador. I was the resident poster artist there, and kind of cut my teeth doing posters that way.

Is there a certain genre or type of band you like to work for?
It can pretty much be any band – I’ll work for whoever wants to hire me. But we all have dream projects we want to do. If I had a choice, the artists I would represent would be all over the map. Not just rock posters or punk posters. I would make a poster for Justin Timberlake or Kanye West, because they don’t have posters, and it would kind of be cool to see posters done for them. And you know, Metallica. Stuff that appealed to me when I was 13 that is still around.

How would you define your artistic style for someone who isn’t familiar with your work?
It’s clean with an American comic book style, and has subject matter that appeals to 13 year-old kids, and 28-year old women. I just draw what I want to, and I’m lucky that my taste in art is similar to my taste in music, and that I can put a little but of myself into what I make for these bands.

So your thirteen year-old self really likes skulls and naked ladies?

Yup. It’s juvenile.

What’s your favorite new music find?
Theophilius London. Imagine a little bit of Kid Cudi, Jay-Z, and some really good production. And The Last Shadow Puppets. Imagine British pop, like Oasis or Blur, mixed with 60’s Motown production, kind of like Phil Spector, or in modern day, Ric Okasek or Brian Wilson. It’s a lot of fun. I also really like the Off’ album – it’s Keith Morris of the Circle Jerks and a couple other guys doing what they do best. Punk rock music. It’s just a lot of guys who really know how to play their instruments.

What are you looking forward to seeing most at SXSW?
I haven’t really looked to be honest. I just got to see J. Mascis play. I have done posters for him in the past, but I’ve never gotten to see him play, so I was glad I got to fulfill that. I really would like to see the Bad Brains again. And knowing that I missed Radiohead and Jack White, really bums me out. But instead of finding the most popular band, I’m just going gamble and see what I can get into. I just don’t want to be nose-to-butt in the club.

How has your experience with Flatstock been?
People have been making posters to promote music events for quite a long time, but it wasn’t until a couple years ago that someone actually made an event out of it. It’s like a comic book convention, but with posters and artists. People collect posters, and it’s nice to get to meet collectors for the first time, and for them to get to meet us. It’s also a great way to legitimize us as artists. It’s great that it’s a SXSW event. It’s an opportunity for us to get more work, and to meet our clients (the musicians) and for them to put a face to our names.

When you are conceptualizing a poster for a band, where does the inspiration come from?

It’s pretty much 90 percent from the lyrics in the music, and the interpretation I get. When I’m working for a band I think about their fans more than I think about the band. The fans know more about the band than the band itself. If you’ve won over the fans, you’ve done your job.

There are fliers and posters all over South By Southwest. Do you print pieces for posting, or are your limited edition pieces used only as merchandise?
No matter what, limited edition or no, I always post my work. You allocate a small part of the edition for advertising, you give the band their copies, the venue their copies, and you make your money with the remainder. When I did work for the Troubador, I would take it upon myself to go hang the posters up at record stores. Whether it was an offset print, or a screenprint, I would hang it up. And within a couple hours, inevitably fans would tear them all down to keep them. Once I give a poster to the band or the venue or the promoter, it’s out of my hands. I may not even be in the same city they’re in the night of the show. Bands want posters for advertising, but they also want them just to have it as a way to remember the night.

What differentiates people who just make ads DIY for themselves from the poster makers who are displaying here at the convention?
Some of those people are in bands. It’s not because DIY is the next cool thing, it’s that you don’t have a choice. You just want the stuff made, so you make it yourself. Or you’re so enamored with the whole concept of poster art, that you go for it. My posters are usually made by hand. The majority of poster artists print themselves, or they hire a real expert to do the printing for them. It’s an intensive process and there is a lot to learn. I am completely self-taught, and it’s taken me many years to hone my craft. Screenprinting has been around for thousands of years, but thanks to Warhol, it’s been validated as an artform in itself. The funny thing about rock posters is that they haven’t changed over the years. Even though album covers have gone from 12 inches to 7 inches to JPEGS, the format of posters and the technology used to make them hasn’t changed at all.

What differentiates you from the other poster artists in this room?

We’re all different. We all have different styles. If we were all hired to make a poster for the same band, we would all come up with different things. And that’s what makes every one of us unique, not just me.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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