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Coffee with ... Jack Barfield

Punk rock poster artist draws his own fan base

Joe Gross
jgross@statesman.com

Sitting at the Little City coffeehouse on Congress Avenue, Jack Barfield sips his tea and almost denies he's a professional artist.

"There's nothing about what I do that is actually a business," the 35-year old Corpus Christi native says. "I don't have a Web site; I still operate out of my house." He pauses. "There's a lot I intend to do on that end, but it's very, very hard to make the time."

Yet, he might be the best active music-poster artist in Austin, a city known for them.

Austin has a rich history of rock posters, from the psychedelic era through Frank Kozik's grunge-era posters for bands such as the Cherubs and Butthole Surfers to now, when seemingly every gig bigger than a house show has a decent poster made for it by a local artist.

Historically, hardcore punk has eschewed more ornate, colorful posters for its visual vibe in favor of photocopied fliers.

But though Barfield started out Xeroxing fliers, he moved on to poster-making pretty quickly. These days, his work sometimes seems synonymous with Austin's crustiest hardcore shows, blending often well-known icons with bold lettering and sharp, clever designs.

There's Charles Manson (with fleur de lis in place of his forehead swastika) for the Louisiana sludge-metal act Eyehategod's spring show.

There's the "lone biker of the apocalypse" from "Raising Arizona" advertising the Inepsy show.

There's the skinhead with Rick Perry's face, a poster made for a show during this year's Chaos in Tejas, Austin's internationally known hardcore fest. ("I had to do that one very, very fast," Barfield told me back in May, shaking his head. "I am not very happy with the way that face looks.")

Barfield grew up in Houston and Corpus Christi, a hard rock and metal fan before he was a punk fan.

"I had an older stepbrother who was into Van Halen and ZZ Top," Barfield said.

By 1989, he was going to the occasional metal or "crossover" show. ("Crossover" was what folks called bands who fused punk's speed and metal's chops — Corrosion of Conformity, Cryptic Slaughter and DRI are all examples — before '90s designations like "metalcore" were commonplace.)

"There was never all that much going on in Corpus, so punks went to metal shows and vice-versa," Barfield said.

He started making fliers out of a desire to contribute to the scene. "I didn't want to be the guy who was friends with the bands but did nothing," he said.

At this point a rock-solid fan of hardcore punk, Barfield took graphic design courses and got into screen-printing in college. "I think there was one Apple in our classroom," he said. "I was really in the last group of kids who did not have a computer-based graphic design background. It was very much doing things by hand."

He graduated and moved to Austin in 1999. "Nice posters seemed to be more of an indie rock and grunge thing," Barfield said. "You didn't see that bright neon, Frank Kozik-style stuff for hardcore shows." His first poster was for a band called Hail Mary, a hardcore punk outfit from New York. No, you can't see the poster.

"I didn't really do that many at first," Barfield says. "In fact, I did a handful and kind of stopped." It wasn't until he threw his back out in 2001 that he had something of an epiphany about his art.

"You're lying there and you're just thinking about all the things you'd rather be doing," Barfield said. For him, it was screen printing.

He decided on a strategy of sorts. "I didn't tell anybody I was doing them," Barfield said. "I decided if I liked the band that was playing, I would just design a poster, print up a bunch and bring them to the show."

Most bands loved them. Barfield would keep a handful for himself, give them to the bands, or sell them to the bands, who would then sell them at their merchandise tables at whatever markup they chose.

This, Barfield thinks, is a key reason posters have made a comeback — what with the Internet and file-sharing services, nobody ever needs to pay for records anymore, so bands need to find other ways to make money on physical products.

"It's just one more thing a band can offer," Barfield says. "Do-it-yourself bands need to make money on the road, so they might press a single with a special cover or colored vinyl or have something you can only get at the show. A silk-screened poster is not a bad souvenir of a show."

These days, promoters contact him well in advance to make posters for shows. Austin punk promoter Timmy Hefner's Chaos in Tejas has featured a Barfield poster for nearly every gig. And some locals have collections of Barfield's work.

"I think there are more kids who are putting them up in their rooms instead of, you know, another random poster of 'Starry Night' or whatever," Barfield says. "But when someone tells you they have a lot of your posters and you go to their house and you see 10 of them in frames on the wall, that's still a little weird."

But it's still a good feeling. "It is cool to think your art had an impact on someone and you didn't even realize it," Barfield says, draining the last of his tea. "That's pretty great."

jgross@statesman.com; 912-5926