Hot Pressed Poster Fest
On view through Sept. 15
Redux Contemporary Art Center
136 St Philip St., 722-0697

It’s a sweltering Saturday afternoon at Redux, where art spills out of the gallery’s door and into the parking lot, stacked in boxes or piled on tables. Colleen Terrell, a graphic designer, printmaker, and project coordinator of the Art Center’s Hot Pressed Poster Fest, cheerfully hogs the only available shade, cast by a small awning, as she watches over a vendor sale. Fellow artist Pete McDonough doesn’t complain. He soaks up the sun, explaining that he “doesn’t get out much.”

That could be why McDonough’s posters are wildly imaginative, evoking pulp magazine covers with their vivid colors and sci-fi themes. He’s one of the successful entrants in the national-call Poster Fest, alongside kindred artists like Sara Thomas, Allan Inman, and John Pundt.

The Fest does exactly what it set out to do: show a wide variety of art styles and concepts that exist in the genrefied limbo between commercial illustration and fine art. Many of the posters on display at Redux are advertising something, but they do it with disarming élan and a personal touch that you won’t find in a mass-run ad. These posters are often hand-cranked and limited in availability; some of them are the last, precious examples of a run.

All of the artists demonstrate a willingness to experiment within their own work that reflects the show’s overall variety. Thomas tends to use simple, brooding color schemes (a poster for Ted Leo and the Pharmacists sinks a black whale into a red sea), but a ’60s-style plug for Bluegrass at El Burrito tries something different, in blue and brownish grey.

Inman’s contributions are neck-deep in ideas, especially “Perpetual Propaganda,” with its complex concepts crowding round a simple TV set. Stephanie Nace uses glossy stock to give her bare-bones shapes more solidity, and Pundt skillfully toys with borders, fonts, and recurring images, merging late 19th-century advertising techniques and gangsta chic in a poster for Night Vizzion Promotions.

There’s a touch of 100-year-old carny culture in Standard Deluxe’s offerings as well, claiming that “the audience is part of the event.” Throw in a couple of strong men and revival tents and you’ve got yourself a circus billboard, but ads for Drive-By Truckers, down-home subjects like rusty water towers, and a penchant for military browns, greens, and muted yellows betray their contemporary origins.

Deluxe is one of three producers of graphic art invited to show work at the Fest and complement the competitive element. The Waverly, Ala.-based group touts the hand-pressed form with evangelical zeal.

Sean Star Wars’ zeal is mostly fueled by Mountain Dew, but it stems from a passion for printmaking. His grotesque yet playful images, inspired by ’40s and ’50s magazines, include grinning ice cream cones boozily melting, chain-smoking puppies, and sausage-fucking pigs. The Oxford, Miss., artist also makes clever use of text; an ape drinks from a bottle marked “evolve,” and clings to a second bottle that has part of its label obscured so it reads “love.”

The show’s third guest artist is the finest of the lot. Blake Basharian, from St. Louis, contributes the large-scale, meticulous “Gaze,” a collagraph print with gouache pen and gesso, which includes a broad sky, fine-lined whispers of clouds, and a half-covered corpse. His work helps to put across the broad scope of the print medium, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s an artist who refuses to be pigeonholed. “Oriental Rug” is a delicately contoured pattern on cast latex, while “Half Million Marks” is a perfectly segmented collagraph.

The Fest builds on an encouraging “prints as precious art” ethos recently encouraged by Ella Walton Richardson Fine Art Gallery (touting graphic work by masters such as Joan Miro).

“This show ties in with what we actually physically produce here,” says Redux Executive Director Seth Curcio, referring to the Art Center’s print studios and workshops. As such, this colorful exhibition is as much about participating as looking, using its inky images to urge visitors to find out more and get their own hands dirty.

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