September 15, 2019

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Poster child

Winnipegger turned his artistic side into a side business for promotions

This article was published 9/12/2017 (645 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In December 2016, Stu Reid was killing time on social media, when he came across a rant that caught his attention.

The person behind the outburst was complaining that, because of ongoing construction on River Avenue, a public notice board in Osborne Village had been barricaded on all sides for months, meaning the concert bills and posters affixed to it were not only torn and tattered, but severely outdated, to boot.

“Because he seemed so upset the board had become such an eyesore, I took it upon myself to head down there the week before Christmas, and clean things up a bit,” says Stu Reid, the founder of Stu Art, a one-person graphic-design biz that has been churning out inventive entertainment posters for close to four decades.

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This article was published 9/12/2017 (645 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In December 2016, Stu Reid was killing time on social media, when he came across a rant that caught his attention.

The person behind the outburst was complaining that, because of ongoing construction on River Avenue, a public notice board in Osborne Village had been barricaded on all sides for months, meaning the concert bills and posters affixed to it were not only torn and tattered, but severely outdated, to boot.

COLIN CORNEAU / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Stu Reid looks over some of the hundreds of posters he has designed over the past 30-plus years.</p>

COLIN CORNEAU / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Stu Reid looks over some of the hundreds of posters he has designed over the past 30-plus years.

"Because he seemed so upset the board had become such an eyesore, I took it upon myself to head down there the week before Christmas, and clean things up a bit," says Stu Reid, the founder of Stu Art, a one-person graphic-design biz that has been churning out inventive entertainment posters for close to four decades.

After gaining access to the board, which is situated in Fort Rouge Park, Reid and his daughter Brittany stripped off three garbage bags of old, weathered placards. Next, they redressed the panel with dozens of playbills Reid originally crafted for internationally famous artists such as Bob Dylan and Sarah McLachlan, as well as for lesser-known acts such as Scruffy the Cat and the Dictators.

The "exhibition" created a bit of a buzz on Facebook, says Reid, who is also the music department manager at McNally Robinson Booksellers and longtime host of the CKUW radio program Twang Trust; at least it did until, one by one, the posters began to disappear, presumably snagged by fans of the Tragically Hip, the Lunachicks or Uzi Suzi, who couldn’t believe their good fortune.

For as long as he can remember, Reid, 55, wanted to be an artist. Because he was "a big comic book guy" growing up, he initially thought that line of work might be something he’d pursue. Any dreams of depicting the adventures of Spider-Man evaporated, however, when he entered Kelly’s Stereo Mart on Portage Avenue in September 1978, and walked out with copies of the Ramones’ Road to Ruin, Patti Smith Group’s Easter and Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town tucked under his arm.

"I’m not a religious person, but I surely know what it means to be born again," Reid says, of the shopping trip that turned him into a "music fanatic."

Colin Corneau / Winnipeg Free PressRock of Pages
Colin Corneau / Winnipeg Free Press
Colin Corneau / Winnipeg Free Press
Colin Corneau / Winnipeg Free Press
Colin Corneau / Winnipeg Free Press
Colin Corneau / Winnipeg Free Press
Colin Corneau / Winnipeg Free Press
Colin Corneau / Winnipeg Free Press
Colin Corneau / Winnipeg Free Press
Colin Corneau / Winnipeg Free Press

Practically overnight, Reid began spending the majority of his Saturday afternoons bouncing from one downtown record store to another. One of his favourite haunts was Records on Wheels, where the manager, Mike Lambert, doubled as a music promoter. After learning Reid was a talented artist (to his knowledge, Reid was the only student in his graduating class to receive 100 per cent as his final mark in art class, at Grant Park High School), Lambert enlisted his services to design a poster for a double-bill featuring British band Alien Sex Fiend and Hungarian-born BB Gabor, who had a minor hit in 1980 with the catchy single Nyet Nyet Soviet (Soviet Jewellery).

"That (poster) was the first thing I ever did and though I can’t remember if I got paid or not, it was an absolute thrill just to be asked," Reid says. "In the ‘60s, rock posters were serious art, especially ones associated with the music scene in San Francisco. But in the early ‘80s, nobody in Winnipeg was doing anything even remotely artistic, because if you were good enough to do that sort of thing, you more than likely had an advertising job that paid 10 times as much. But after I started approaching bands and subsequently, spotting my work on telephone poles all over town, to me, that was the greatest art gallery in the world."

Stu Reid has been designing rock show posters for the Winnipeg music scene for over 30 years, from small local bands all the way up to big acts like Metallica and James Brown. (Colin Corneau / Winnipeg Free Press)

Stu Reid has been designing rock show posters for the Winnipeg music scene for over 30 years, from small local bands all the way up to big acts like Metallica and James Brown. (Colin Corneau / Winnipeg Free Press)

Reid’s big break occurred in 1988, shortly after Nite Out Entertainment, a promotion company owned by Sam Katz and the late Bruce Rathbone, announced it was bringing Steve Earle and the Dukes to Winnipeg, in support of the group’s third release, Copperhead Road.

"I didn’t know anybody (at Nite Out), but I talked my way into a meeting with (True North Sports & Entertainment senior vice-president) Kevin Donnelly, who was working there at the time. I showed him a portfolio of my work and said I’d be happy to do a poster for the Earle show, in exchange for two front-row seats. Kevin jumped at the offer and after that, I worked for Nite Out as their graphic-design guy pretty much exclusively, till they called it quits."

Since the get-go, Reid’s work has been as distinguishable for its creative touches (Exhibit A: a poster for Edmonton popmeisters The Pursuit of Happiness, upon which he assigned KISS make-up to each member of the band) as its comedic elements — not that everybody was laughing.

In 1989, Donnelly commissioned Reid to design a poster for a New Year’s Eve performance by Streetheart’s Kenny Shields. Reid says he didn’t have much to work with, as the photo of Shields he was given had "half his head lopped off." To solve that problem, Reid drew a party hat — the sort kids wear when they’re blowing out birthday candles — on Shields’ noggin. Then, as a nod to the occasion-at-hand, he pencilled a noisemaker between the rocker’s lips.

"After seeing the poster, a music reporter from the Sun listed it in his weekly, picks-and-pans column, writing ‘The photograph of Kenny Shields taken for his concert poster has been atrociously altered,’" Reid says, reading from a yellowed newspaper article. "‘The high contrast picture of the normally dignified singer now includes a silly conehead and a crudely etched noisemaker, obscenely jammed in his mouth.’

“I always look at other people’s posters and while sometimes they’re not as good as mine, other times they are better. On those occasions I might be like, ‘Oh, grrr’ ”

"Kenny read that in the paper, before he’d even seen the poster," Reid continues. "Apparently he called Kevin, asking him why he was being made to look like an idiot, but it turned out he was just BS-ing, cause I heard later they both had a good laugh about it."

A year later, Reid got an earful from Metallica fans thanks to a poster for that band’s And Justice For All tour, for which he included a large-scale drawing of Billy Duffy, lead guitarist of the Cult, the show’s opening act. "Metallica fans were pissed off the guy from the Cult was featured so prominently, but I’m guessing the guys in Metallica didn’t mind too much, because when a Metallica coffee table book came out a while back, a picture of that poster was in it."

These days, the majority of Reid’s assignments are for the West End Cultural Centre. While a single poster once took him days, sometimes weeks, to get just right, he’s reached the point where he can "whip one off in no time," he says, noting his early work was 100 per cent hand-drawn but after investing in a computer some 25 years ago, he has "never looked back."

"Just the other day my contact at the West End emailed me at 10 a.m., and by noon I had the poster they wanted all wrapped up. Granted, a lot of it these days is monkey-work, where I’m given a photo the band wants me to use and an image of the record they’re playing in support of. So before I even start thinking of anything else, I have to make sure I get those types of things in there."

Reid got an earful from Metallica fans thanks to this poster for the band’s And Justice For All tour. It features a large-scale drawing of Billy Duffy, lead guitarist of the Cult, the show’s opening act.

COLIN CORNEAU / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Reid got an earful from Metallica fans thanks to this poster for the band’s And Justice For All tour. It features a large-scale drawing of Billy Duffy, lead guitarist of the Cult, the show’s opening act.

Reid, who keeps copies of the majority of his posters, particularly those that have been signed by their subjects ("What a great poster, my thanks," wrote ‘50s rockabilly artist Jack Scott, just above his signature), still gets a little lost for words, whenever he’s introduced to a band or singer as "the guy who did your poster."

"I’ve always been a bit starstruck, especially when I get a chance to meet someone whose music I really enjoy, like Fred Eaglesmith or Jonathan Richman. But I’ve never played favourites by spending more time on one poster than another because, at the end of the day, it’s a practical thing, and has to accomplish what it’s there for — selling tickets to somebody’s show."

And while Reid is proud of his body of work, and says publishing a collection of his posters in book form is something he’s long considered, his competitive juices keep him on his toes at all times, he admits.

"I always look at other people’s posters and while sometimes they’re not as good as mine, other times they are better. On those occasions I might be like, ‘Oh, grrr’ but at the same time, I’ve remained enough of a music fan that if I spot a poster for a show I didn’t do, I’m still thrilled to find a nice copy of it I can take down, and bring home with me."

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.

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