Biafrah Winfrey: What do you do all day?
Billy Perkins: Ha, my ex-wife used to ask me that same question. Well, how about you just WORRY ABOUT YOUR OWN DAMN JOB AND…oh, wait, sorry about that! I freelance full-time, so basically I sit around in my underwear and try to see what I can put off til later. When I realize I have to get to work to keep the utilities on, I do ads for local radio stations, poster art, CD covers & all kinds of other crap.
BW: Can you talk a little about the “gig posters” genre and what you’re involvement is?
BP: I spent a lot of my teen years reading comics, drawing KISS and various band logos on my school notebooks (and later on my dorm walls). I have always wanted to design posters for bands. They’re like splashy panels from a superhero comic book. I’ve been designing rock posters sporadically since the early 90’s, but around 1999 or so, I decided to jump in with both feet and make rock posters the main body of my work.
After the popularity of rock poster art in the late 60’s & early 70’s tapered off, there was kind of a lull in activity. You won’t find a lot of band posters from the 80’s (I blame it on Kaja-Googoo). Then along came Frank Kozik & Art Chantry (Austin & Seattle, respectively), who helped kickstart the genre back to life . I was lucky enough to be living in Austin when Frank started his marathon, an overwhelming amount of steady work. It was everywhere, you couldn’t help but notice it. A renaissance- or should I call it a revolution- was taking place. And this was one that I could actually jump in and be a part of.
Austin already had a rich history of great poster art. Local greats like Guy Juke and Micael Priest had already influenced me to want to design posters. Kozik simply hijacked a slow-moving train and commandeered it down uncharted tracks at breakneck speed. Even though I had been doing posters occasionally, I had to run to get on board, because others were quickly filling the seats. I began pumping out as much art as I could, and still do the other jobs that were necessary to pay the bills. That’s really the only way for an artist to get noticed, especially these days. Put out not only your best work, but a lot of it.
The genre of poster art has obviously exploded into international cult status. I’ve watched poster artists like Emek and Malleus get treated like rock stars themselves, with long lines of people waiting to buy posters & meet them- some even spending the night in line just to be the first to do so. Large events like Flatstock happen at music events a few times a year in the USA and Europe, with even more in the works. Through those events, the poster community has become a very tight group of friends who support each other and continue to be fans of each others’ work. The current scene has produced not only some incredible art, but some legendary behind-the-scenes stories worthy of rock music history as well. The images we create are chronicling a visual history of the music of this era. It’s very hip to be a rock poster designer. I still think so and I’m proud to be a part of the action.
BW: You have some massive artist names in your gig poster portfolio — what is some of the work you’re proudest of?
BP: I’m usually a fan of 2 things: A clever concept, and/or a killer illustration. I’m also stoked when a poster I’m doing for a band that I’m a huge fan of comes out great. I feel a lot of pressure in those situations, like I literally sweat because it has to be good. For illustrations, I still like my X and High on Fire posters. I draw in a few different styles, but I particularly enjoy using black ink on bristol, then adding dimension with a black Prismacolor. It’s very time-consuming though, so I don’t do it as often as I’d like. I like my Bowie poster for the overall composition & negative space. And lastly, I’m having a ton of fun doing posters for my band Butcherwhite.
Conceptually, I’m proud of a few. My Alice in Chains poster features a lesbian kiss between Medusa and her lover, who’s wearing a blindfold so she won’t turn to stone. It’s sexy and dark, and one of my favorite concepts.
My Built to Spill poster came together spontaneously at the last minute. I was originally going to draw a normal car- but when I realized I couldn’t draw the bottom of a car worth a shit, I was forced to improvise.
This Honky poster was for a halftime performance at a Roller Derby match.
I’m doing a lot of art prints these days as well, hoping to parlay the band work into more pure art that doesn’t advertise anything. I was commissioned by a local photographer, 666 Photography, to create an art print based on one of her photos. She gave me some artistic license, so I used it to make the image tell a story. In the original photo, the model was holding an AK-47. I substituted a sawed-off shotgun to make it a little trashier, added the streaming makeup and smeared lipstick, and pulled her shoulder strap off her shoulders & tore it a bit. No words are necessary. I love this piece.
BW: What album artwork are you working on / have worked on recently?
One of my faves is this one for Grady, who recently signed with Alternative Tentacles:
Mike Farris eventually chose a different, less posterized version of this design for his CD “Salvation in Lights”, but I always liked the colors and style of this one:
Another fave is this one for Butcherwhite.
And my most recent:
BW: What is your favorite myth?
BP: That Jamie Lee Curtis was born with both male & female sex organs.
BW: Being an Austinite, do you see a surge in work load around SXSW time?
BP: Yes, for a couple of reasons. I design ads for some of the local radio stations as part of my freelance gig, and they do a lot more promotions during SXSW. In addition, since I always have a booth at the Flatstock poster art show during SXSW, I have a ton of last minute work that I try to squeeze in to promote my studio and sell at my booth. I’m also away from my studio for a few days manning my booth, so I have to take care of all my freelance clients early.
BW: What is your studio like?
BP: Let’s see… It’s normally the master bedroom of my house, but I’m using it as my studio because I can fit all my shit into it. It also has a wall of windows unlike the other bedrooms, and natural light is essential. I have an old Mac G4, an L-shaped computer desk/workstation, a large drafting table that I draw on, a custom-made light table, and 2 huge flat files full of prints. I have speakers mounted on the wall and a subwoofer on the floor, kicking out 6,185 songs from my iTunes library. The Black Angels are playing as I type this. On my wall are posters from Jeral Tidwell, Rob Jones, Methane Studios, Art Chantry, and Michael Michael Motorcycle. Also on the wall are various awards, my college degree, and some cool shit: an original KISS Destroyer poster from ’76, an autographed pic of Gene Simmons spitting blood from ’75, another of Sammy Hagar from ’80, and signed LP covers by Patti Smith and Cheap Trick. As I type this, I’m looking up at a huge autographed Ramones poster from a show in Germany. A friend gave it to me years ago after he traded his neighbor a couple of joints for it. There’s a tiny frame next to the light switch containing a Ramones ticket stub from 1980, and Dee Dee’s bass pick that I somehow ended up with at the show. There’s a shitload of weird clutter all over the room, including some custom vampire teeth made by a friend in a dental lab, a Spider-man knife from the Franklin mint, a tin prisoners’ cup from Alcatraz, a Captain America lunchbox, and a container full of ticket stubs from every concert I’ve been to since I was 16. A box full of silver age Marvel comics sits on the floor under my drafting table. My Gibson Flying V is on the floor, and my one-of-a-kind custom guitar painted like Capt. America’s shield hangs on its stand, begging to be played. Hmmm. Not a bad idea. Gotta go now!