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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014

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Screwball Press founder Steve Walters.
Screwball Press founder Steve Walters.

Artist Steve Walters discusses rock posters as the "American Artifact"

OnMilwaukee.com hosts its first Art Riot this Saturday, Oct. 10, from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. along the 5900 block of West Vliet Street and at the Times Cinema. One of the highlights of the day-long event, which features more than 40 local and national artists, is the Milwaukee debut of "American Artifact: The Rise of American Rock Poster Art." The film screens at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Directed by Merle Becker, this 88-min. documentary collects interviews from the country's most prominent and interesting screenprinters and poster designers, including Chicago-based artist Steve Walters, founder of Screwball Press. He plans to attend the Art Riot on Saturday.

OnMilwaukee.com caught up with Walters to talk about his 20-year love affair with the medium and the point that Becker is trying to make with her engaging film.

OnMilwaukee.com: With no disrespect to your fellow Chicago artists, you've been called "the godfather of screenprinted rock and roll posters in Chicago," so you obviously have had an endless number of proteges and artists inspired by your work. Who would you call inspiration?

Steve Walters: I don't know if anyone is inspired by my artwork so much as the printing. I run the shop as a co-op and I teach people how to print, but I don't give design advice. Everyone's got their own voice.

As far as who inspires me, it's different things at different times. I keep changing styles. I don't have a real set style, (and) I don't know if that's good career-wise. You see a Jay Ryan print and you know it's Jay Ryan; you can identify it. Over the years I've liked everything from Tex Avery cartoons to the Dadaisms. Most of my favorite art is stuff that has a sense of humor and makes me laugh.

OMC: One of the descriptions for the "American Artifacts" film calls the art form "rebellious." Would you agree?

SW: A lot of times it is, but not necessarily always. I think it's the DIY attitude of people teaching themselves how to do this thing and making their own way and not going the corporate route. I think that's what (Becker) is talking about with the film.

OMC: What are your thoughts on the film?

SW: I think it's a good overview of a weird subculture. I think she did a very good job.

OMC: You've been a screenprinter for a long time now. Have rock posters peaked, or is the movement gaining momentum?

SW: Every time I think it's peaked and can't go any further, it keeps going. I started this as a kid in an art store, making posters for friends and bands and I can't believe how it's taken off. It's still a tiny subculture in the grand scheme of things, but the game keeps changing.

OMC: Has the digital revolution impacted things?

SW: I don't think so. I started doing this 20 years ago when computers were coming to the forefront. I still think that, as an ad, a poster on the street will grab your attention way more than anything on the Internet. I don't even see the ads on the Internet anymore, much less click on any. Also, posters have turned into merch for bands, like T-shirts, to sell at the shows, so that has kept things hanging on, as well.

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