How to Collect Music Posters: Q&A with Roger Crimlis

Vinyl records and music posters in a record shop, music posters

Roger Crimlis is an architect, cultural theorist and co-author of “Pin-Ups 1972-82 Ten Years of Classic Posters.” The book, which is considered to be the seminal text on rock posters, was re-published by Extradition Publishing in May 2018. Invaluable recently sat down with Crimlis to talk poster collecting and how to incorporate music posters in interior design.

You recently re-published your book, “Pin-Ups,” which was co-authored by Alwyn W. Turner. How does the book address the evolution of music posters?

The book “Pin-Ups” looks at events and technological developments that, although not directly related to music, affected the way music looked and was packaged. For example, the book discusses how colour television was instrumental in the development of Glam Rock, how access to photocopiers was a key factor in the look of punk rock, and how even town planning policy could influence the aesthetic of musical genre styles. We also discuss the importance of British art school education and its role in the creative education of many of rock music’s most creative individuals.

Cover art for “Pin-Ups 1972-82 Ten Years of Classic Posters,” by Roger Crimlis and Alwyn W. Turner.

Tell us about your background. How did architecture and pop culture influence your work?

I grew up in Hull, in the North of England. I developed a love of rock music and graphic design as a young teenager, and would ask local record shops to give me the promotional poster displays for records when they were taken down.

After leaving school, I spent a number of years indulging my interest in music and art; collecting records and posters, playing guitar, and making art. I moved to London and worked in various jobs before moving into architecture. I realised my main aesthetic interest was architecture and enrolled in a degree course as a mature student. Around this time I also began playing guitar in the Britpop touring band called My Life Story.

The lengthy architectural education meant I was able to move between architecture and music relatively informally. After qualifying as an architect, my main focus became architecture and I worked on numerous landmark projects including the BBC Broadcasting house redevelopment. I now have my own practice called arc60 which, in addition to architecture, transcends many other disciplines and media.

Roger Crimlis

Roger Crimlis. Photo courtesy Roger Crimlis.

You work as both an architect and as a cultural commentator. How do these two seemingly disparate professions influence each other?

In my view everything can influence everything else. All mediums and genres should be raided for ideas. Architects who look solely at architecture for ideas, arguably, have a narrow vision, as do musicians who don’t draw on genres of music outside their own. The best artists bring things in from outside. I subscribe to this view and try to find ideas from wherever I can. I find that working in this way adds enjoyment and fulfillment to the creative process.

I also enjoy seeing cultural references in a work after its completion. I like to share the references with clients and show them how something can be designed using a left-field visual source.

In your work as a designer, you use posters frequently. What principles do you apply when incorporating posters in interior design?

The size and the colour of a poster within its space is fundamental. Following this [principle], the poster has to be representative of the client, their personality, and their tastes. It would be very easy to choose something that worked visually within a space, but it would be superficial if it didn’t say something about the client.

I wouldn’t suggest using a rock music poster to a client who has little interest in music. In this situation I would suggest a poster that says something about the [personality of the] client. If their interest was food and entertaining I might suggest a vintage poster promoting a drink. There are some very stylish French vintage advertisements.

Interior featuring the poster for the film “Strip-Tease,” Lambor Films, 1963, starring Krista Nico (later of the Velvet Underground) and Serge Gainsbourg. Photo courtesy Roger Crimlis.

When making a selection with a client I’ll discuss their likes and dislikes and show them various images in order to generate discussion. Finding the right piece can take a long time. The final selection is always the client’s. I currently have a project where the client is a rock music promoter and, although they have very clear ideas about what they like and don’t like, designing the architecture of the project was far easier than selecting the right poster to terminate the view at the end of a long hallway… discussions are still ongoing.

The headquarters office for Paul Smith has an eclectic selection of posters in the reception which produce a mood board. This works well.

A few years ago, an Italian furniture company had a large and aged poster for the 1955 film “The Man With The Golden Arm” as a backdrop in the photo shoots of its minimal contemporary furniture. The juxtaposition of uncomfortable yet stylish graphics with comfortable and stylish furniture showed a continuity of decades of good taste and an attitude of visual adventurousness.

You’re a collector of music posters yourself. How has your collection evolved with your changing interests?

An obsession with pop music and design as a teenager generated my interest in posters. I had found where I grew up to be very culturally restrained. Pop and rock music were an escape from that restraint, and through the visuals of the genres, as much as the music, I could create my own world. I covered every inch of my bedroom walls with posters and created a totally immersive space. I would adapt and update the walls as fashions and my interests changed.

As the end of the 20th century approached, it became more apparent that pop and rock music had become one of the century’s most important cultural forms. I realised that much that [previously] had been considered ephemeral or trivial was in fact serious art, and should be celebrated as such.

What types of posters do you have in your personal collection?

My collection is mostly music posters but if I see a poster that is not music related, but it looks good or is culturally important I will be interested in it. I have travel posters, anti-Vietnam War posters, art exhibition posters, political posters, and more.

What, in your opinion, makes for a highly collectible music poster? 

Memorable or iconic images are usually highly collectible. Usually it is the importance of the artist combined with the rarity of the poster. Of course, if the poster looks great it will be even more desirable. For example, Primal Scream’s “Screamadelica” not only looks great but captures the zeitgeist of the “second summer of love.” 

What can affect the value of music posters?

I’ve always collected posters I like regardless of their monetary value. Because my interest is in the look of a poster, the stories surrounding it, and its place within culture, I’m not particularly interested in buying it as an investment. I have, however, been quite lucky in that what I have thought looks good and is important has turned out to be collectable and subsequently of value.

Some say that mass-production techniques have spoiled posters, making them less worthy of saving. Have you found this to be true?

My book, “Pin-Ups,” looks very deliberately at the mass-produced posters of the 1970s. It’s interesting to note that most of the screen-printed posters of 1960s psychedelic era that were done in limited runs have survived because they were immediately considered to be collectible. Many of the posters in “Pin-Ups” were mass-produced and thus considered to be of little value, so they were not preserved. Subsequently, many of the mass-produced posters are now rarer than the limited print run screenprint posters.

I should add that the cultural importance of a period might not be realised until decades after it has past. Hindsight and distance can alter the cultural standing of a period or of an artist and their work.

Are there any eras of posters that stand out to you as particularly collectible?

Auction houses tend to package periods into eras and yes, there are some that are more collectible than others: punk, for example. Personally, I don’t like to package eras as I think that there are great works from all periods throughout music history.

What’s on your own wish list? Is there anything you’d like to have in your personal collection, but don’t currently?

My wish list is constantly changing. Last month, on the top of my list was the poster from the 1971 Weeley Festival where T-Rex were headlining. This month’s list-topper is the large format poster I saw on a London Underground station last week, promoting the re-issue of an album by the 1970s funk singer Betty Davis. 

What advice would you give to someone setting out to start a collection of music posters?

Buy what you like and what you would be happy to see on your own wall. Buy originals, not reproductions. Originals have creases and tears that show the life the poster. A tatty poster behind glass and in a crisp frame can look stunning. Originals retain their value; reproductions don’t.

Limited edition Jimi Hendrix poster by Frank Kozik, hand signed & numbered 134/150, 1992. Sold for £65 via Ewbank’s (May 2018).

Where do you see music posters heading? What might become a classic in the future?

In recent years, live events have grown in importance and because of this I think concert posters are currently more relevant than posters that advertise recordings. We’ve also seen a renewed interest in screen printing, which I think is part of the resurgence in craft activities as a reaction to the growth of digital media. Because of this, if I was starting a collection now it would be of screen-printed concert posters. There are some very good poster artists working in this field, such as Frank Kozik.

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