‘Paper Trail’ exhibit brings graphic design to Martin Museum

Baylor student observing Martin Museums new art exhibition. Olivia Havre | Photographer

By Matt Kyle | Assistant News Editor

“Paper Trail: Letterpress and Screen Printed Posters,” one of the two exhibits currently on display at the Martin Museum of Art, brings a style of artwork to the museum that is not typically displayed at museums.

The collection consists of posters made by Texas artist Dirk Fowler, a graphic designer and associate professor of art at Texas Tech University. Each of the posters is a commission Fowler received, most of which is used to advertise for concerts and is a fraction of Fowler’s overall body of work.

At Martin, visitors can see posters advertising concerts for acts like Tame Impala, Willie Nelson and Paul Simon. Most of the pieces utilize only a few distinct colors, and mix type and color to create attention-grabbing, bold posters. The Simon poster, for example, is made of white, black and blue; it contains a superimposed image of the Brooklyn Bridge, which also serves as the ‘M’ in Simon’s name, owing to the artist’s New York roots.

Fowler spoke at the museum Thursday evening and gave a presentation on his artistic origins, showing a multitude of posters he created for artists like Childish Gambino, Gwen Stefani’s band No Doubt and Loretta Lynn.

Fowler was jovial, joking around with the crowd throughout his presentation and drawing many laughs as he recalled stories about some of his favorite pieces. Gwen Stefani loved his work so much, she ordered 23 different posters from Fowler to advertise shows for No Doubt. Loretta Lynn similarly loved Fowler’s poster he created for her, which Fowler said was a turning point for him.

“Loretta has my poster hanging in her museum,” Fowler said. “For me as a designer, it was a really big moment of, I can actually make things that are this really simple conceptual thing. And there’s a group of people that will like it, and maybe I’ll even get paid to do it.”

Elisa Crowder, education coordinator at the Martin Museum, said graphic design professors were integral in bringing Fowler’s work to the museum. Clayton Thompson, a lecturer of graphic design at Baylor, was a student of Fowler’s at Texas Tech and said Fowler has been hugely impactful and inspirational to him.

“He’s the type of professor that marks you,” Thompson said. “He made me think of graphic design differently. It wasn’t just logos and letterheads; we’re storytellers who visually create an immersive experience.”

Thompson said he wanted to bring Fowler’s work to the museum not only out of respect for the artist, but because he wanted to bring a style of art not always represented in art museums. He also said many graphic design students don’t have much exposure to professional and celebrated designers like Fowler.

“When you go to an art museum, you see fine art,” Thompson said. “To bring some graphic design into the museum is a unique opportunity that benefits students.”

Thompson said he has respect for Fowler’s printing style, which is all done manually using printing presses rather than a digital printer.

Thompson also said Fowler’s posters are able to transcend just being a piece of advertising.

“Band posters are not promoting the concert,” Thompson said. “They’re a keepsake of the concert. They lean into a combination of type and image to create a poster someone would want to keep. It reinforces the brand of the band and is also something visually compelling you can hang at your house.”

Crowder said Fowler’s art style lends itself to interpretation, combining shapes to create multiple images, such as in Fowler’s poster for the 1993 film “Tombstone,” which uses the silhouettes of cowboys, a cactus and the sun to create the image of a skull.

“What’s really cool is you can see how he builds themes within themes,” Crowder said. “When you look at Tombstone, there’s more than one image. He’s very creative at being able to give you multiple images that will catch your attention”

Fowler said he has a supreme love for art and plans to keep taking commissions for concert posters.

“I haven’t made the perfect one yet,” Fowler said. “You don’t retire from being creative. That’s a part of you.”

“Paper Trail: Letterpress and Screen Printed Posters” will be on display until November 6.