Interview with JP Boneyard of The National Poster Retrospecticus
Jan. 13, 2016
There are people who work hard everyday, but I don't know many more that hustle harder than our good friend John Boilard (JP Boneyard). You have most likely heard of, or even attended, his traveling art show called The National Poster Retrospecticus. It exists to celebrate the handmade aesthetic through screen printed posters. John spends most of his life celebrating the talents of others, so we wanted to take a moment and showcase the amazing talent the makes that all happen in our recent interview with him. Putting on amazing shows isn't new to him, as he tells us everything from about his time setting up shows for bands in his mom's backyard growing up, to traveling the world with his poster show.
You have been putting on shows for a long time now, and not just for posters.
That's right. There wasn't a whole lot going on in Palmer, Massachusetts when I was in high school. We grew up in a run down mill town in what felt like the middle of nowhere. If I wasn't playing music or riding my bike with friends I was probably causing trouble. And I mean actual trouble with cops and explosions and a lot of practical jokes. What they say about idle hands is definitely true in Western Mass. Fortunately friends and myself got into setting up DIY shows. We'd host all of the local, regional, and national bands we could get to say "yes" to playing Palmer. Some of our own bands would play too. It was incredible and the community ruled. By chance we'd helped put together shows with folks like Converge, Fugazi, and Thurston Moore. This started around 1998 — I think that makes me 14 or 15 at the time. Our first real venue was a vacant drug store that we called The Old Store. Our second and longest running venue was The Shed. This was a for real shed in my mother's backyard. It wasn't very big but we could fit 80 kids and a band in there on occasion. We'd hosted hundreds of bands from all over the world and put on 100 shows in total at The Shed. In 2005 we decided to give my mother and the neighbors a break from the noise. I was also getting ready to move to Boston for round two of college. Collectively we've put together over 300 music and art events all over Massachusetts and New England! It's kind of nuts to think about!
How did the NPR come about?
The NPR was born out of The Western Massachusetts Flyer Retrospecticus. My friend Eric Hnatow had suggested doing an art show with all of my flyers and screen printed posters. Being from the sticks I didn't know much about art shows. I didn't feel comfortable with the idea of a solo show either. My friend Michael Swiatlowski and I produced all of these events together — it wouldn't be a show with out him (plus his posters were always way better then mine). From there Mike and I agreed it'd be much cooler to celebrate all of the shows in Western Mass, not just the one's we'd put on. A few months later Mike, Eric, and myself compiled over 1,600 flyers and posters. The show was up on Main Street in Northampton and documented two decades worth of shows in Western Mass. I've hung a lot of shows since and I still don't know how we did it. Every inch of the space was covered — there were even prints on the windows and the ceiling! It ruled though!
A few years later the opportunity came up to do a poster show at a friends gallery in Boston. We built off of the concept of the WMFR and made the show about American posters. The main difference is that they were all printed by hand (screen print, letterpress, and stenciled). Some how 50 artists said "yes" and we had just over 100 posters on the walls. The posi vibes and the feedback at the show were super encouraging! So much work went into that show for one big night. It felt like we could potentially carry that momentum forward and bring the show on tour. We knew we couldn't do the same show in Boston. But if we brought the show to a new city it'd be totally fresh for whoever came out. A few weeks later The NPR tour was born! That first year we did 9 shows all over the US and it was a total blast! We also grew the show to feature over 200 posters made by more than 100 artists. We've been on tour ever since!
Could you share a bit about what the NPR show is doing now? Are there any challenges you've faced in recent years?
The NPR is touring more than ever. We bring 100-400 hand printed gig posters and art prints to each city for one night only or several weeks at a time. It all really depends on the venue but we're pretty flexible. The show is hung in tight grid with unframed prints running from floor to ceiling. We've been making a consistent effort to incorporate live printing, an artist talk or live music as bonus content too.
We used to drive everywhere which was great because I love road trips. The distance we could travel was usually limited to how ever much time I could get off from work though. Since that was our most viable option in 2013 / 2014 we could only get as far west as St. Louis. Now that our hosts are able to cover most of our costs we're able to fly to far off places like Toronto or SF for a long weekend! That meant less time off from work and traveling further for even more shows each year! Having a job only started to feel like a paint point in the last year though. Just like the DIY shows in Palmer, the NPR was only about doing something fun and community-minded in my spare time. It didn't matter if it paid but I needed a full time job to sustain the efforts. I've loved all of my jobs after school and until recently always considered them my main focus. It's a weird thing to confront when the passion project needs even more bandwidth than your full time job.
What is it about screen printed posters that you enjoy showcasing so much?
The show seems like it's equal parts overwhelming and inspiring to people. The craft, the talent, and the wild visuals are a lot to take in. Anyone who's an illustrator, designer, printer or music fan usually digs the show and leaves inspired. That's one of the biggest things I enjoy about the show. Most people notice the difference when everything is actual ink on paper, put there by a human, too! That's a big part of what I enjoy about this. I've been designing and developing websites and mobile apps for years. I love that world but I also love that the poster show is 100% handmade! I also love that the gig posters celebrate music events too — that's certainly something that's near and dear to me.
Your shows seem to keep a very high standard when it comes to quality of work, and talent-level of your artists. How have you created such a talented roster of artists?
The simple answer is just to ask your favorite artists and hope they say yes. There's a bit of strategy when it comes to who you ask and when but it's just about asking. Don't fear rejection, be honest about what you can bring to the table and make it awesome! That was the blueprint for every DIY music event we'd set up back in Massachusetts. We'd always keep the shows all ages too. Any band was welcome to play if / when we had room too. The same goes for the poster show. I don't like the idea of being exclusive. Bandwidth and wall space are really the only blockers to having every slinger of ink in the show.
In your opinion, what are some of the elements of a successful poster design?
Ha! That feels like asking "what makes a hit song?". This is tough... It may be chance. Or the thousands of hours of work into one's craft. Maybe a little more chance. It could be a rad color palette and sometimes a print that can fit into a standard frame size (sometimes a custom frame costs more than the print!). Some poster artists get clever, some simplify, some get technical, some borrow and make something new. Anything goes. That's really the beauty of poster design. You can make a poster with type that no one can read and someone will still want to hang it on their wall — especially if it captures the essence of an event they attended or an aesthetic they relate to. That's just a really thoughtful way of saying "I don't know", isn't it... Ask any prominent poster artist though. Sometimes what feels like a hit receives a lukewarm reception. A successful poster design sometimes defies intuition or what's worked in the past. The important thing is to keep swinging!
How have all these poster shows influenced your own work?
The poster show has influenced so many aspects of my life and my work is a big part of it. Learning how to remain flexible came from months on the road with the show. No level of planning can prepare you for everything on the road. Unexpected things come up all of the time. Staying rigid usually makes things worse in my experience. Knowing when to compromise and when to offer a little pushback is crucial. As a result I've become a better diplomat after working with hundreds of artists, agents, and venue owners. Problem solving on the spot has influenced my work on web and mobile projects too. It's also helps me stay sharp in management or art direction roles. In return so much of what I've learned at my full time design jobs has informed how I run the poster show. It's been an amazing experience that I'm really thankful for!
You have recently quit your full-time job to pursue the NPR full-time. So first off, congrats! What are your plans for the show now?
Thank you! I feel like I was doing the work of three people at my full time job and then the work of three other people for The NPR. It was tough to manage at times but it definitely made me better at prioritizing, delegating (when possible) and finding a balance with it all. I'm beyond stoked to start this new adventure. I mean, full time dream job!? I'm not sure how it's possible but I'm going to give it everything I've got!
We've been doing more shows at universities, festivals, and places like Facebook, Adobe, and Lego. Currently we have 20 shows all over the US booked or just about wrapped up for 2016. We're also making a bigger move towards releasing prints through the show. We did a few last year that came out great. What we're up to next is a bigger series that could see a tour of it's own in 2017! We'll be working with over 50 artists who'll be creating all new posters! This kicks off in a few weeks — it's going to be some heavy lifting! On the back burner is an interview website that's coded and ready to go. The idea is to document poster artists' studios when we visit and share via the interview website. First things first though!
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