Ex–Catheter and Tall Bird Turns to a Rock-Poster Icon for Career Reinvention

Brian Standeford is green, sometimes clumsy, and full of promise.

Brian Standeford designed his first great rock poster last April. It was for a show his recently disassembled band, Tall Birds, were playing at the Crocodile. The poster was a stark, black-and-white, cut-and-paste job. A man's head poked in from the upper left-hand corner of the poster, his mouth agape and showering the rest of the page in a puke-spray of band names. It was funny, clever, and eye-catching—exactly what you'd want when promoting a band.

Over the past few months, Standeford has been banging out some great-looking posters. He's still very green and sometimes a little clumsy. But he already possesses several elements that could point to a newfound career in the field; chief among them is his fully formed style, a handmade combination of '60s pop imagery with '70s punk collages.

"I just really like old, crappy punk flyers," Standeford says modestly, while standing in the living room of his Eastlake home flipping through a book on '70s zines. Above his desk, he has tacked up his own posters alongside those of local icons Jeff Kleinsmith and Nat Damm. Looking at Standeford's small body of work, one can see a theme: His designs are like a cross between pop artist Roy Lichtenstein and punk collagist Linder Sterling. More important, Standeford is actually concerned with clearly conveying information.

Of course, not every youngster has the good fortune to be able to turn to Kleinsmith for advice. Standeford first met the Sub Pop art director when Standeford's old band, the Catheters, was signed to the label in the early 2000s. "He secretly wanted to do the art for the last Catheters record, but I think he was too shy to step forward," says Kleinsmith. "Through a series of events, he was encouraged to bring in his collages. I didn't even know he did artwork at the time. When I saw them, I just thought it was really solid cover material."

"I kept taking my ideas in to [Kleinsmith]," says Standeford, who currently is not playing in any band. "I think he could see that I really wanted to do design work, so he said, 'You know what? I'm gonna make you do this all by yourself.'"

The Catheters broke up shortly after the release of that record, but when Sub Pop signed his next band, Tall Birds, to record a one-off 7-inch, Standeford got another crack at designing under Kleinsmith's tutelage. The cover he did for the single "Internalize" had all of Standeford's signature elements on display. A sultry '60s woman clad in a nightgown is resting her hand on a framed photo of a primate skull, which is being projected by rays coming from a moth's mouth. In the background, trees made out of newspaper twist up and around the image, the words "Tall Birds" and "Internalize" spelled out in squiggly psychedelic lettering between the branches.

The art is alluring, creepy, and befitting of the music inside, which is pure new-Nuggets garage rock. Later, Standeford was commissioned by Tall Birds manager Michelle "Mamma Casserole" Smith to do flyers for shows she booked at the Comet, and his work kept getting better. In fact, he progressed so rapidly that it shocked even Kleinsmith. Not only were Standeford's images eye-catching, his placement of type was unique (for a New Fangs poster, he chose to write all venue and price information on the label of a blank cassette being held by a demonic-looking businessman).

Knowing that Kleinsmith helped him out might cause some aspiring designers to gripe a bit. But Standeford's abilities are purely innate: He's never taken a design class, nor does he know what he's doing on the computer. Rather, he's learned everything with an X-Acto knife and glue, which is part of what makes his work so exciting.

"I was talking with [Kleinsmith] one day," says Standeford. "And he goes, 'If I was teaching a design class, I wouldn't let anyone touch a computer for two years."

"I see a lot of youngsters who took years of design in college whose work, to the average eye, seems 'better' because it's polished," says Kleinsmith. "[Standeford] has the natural ability, but lacks the formal skills. I'd take [someone like Standeford over the polished design grad] any day of the week. One you are born with and need to hone; the other is taught."

bbarr@seattleweekly.com

View examples of Brian Standeford's work at www.myspace.com/standeforddesign.

 
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