Interview with Lindsey Kuhn

Random Questions with Lindsey Kuhn, world class screen printer, rock ’n roll poster aficionado, punk rock skater, and the designer of this year’s SLC Tattoo Convention poster…

M: Last year was the first year you’d had a booth at the convention in awhile. What brings you back?

LK: Salt Lake’s always been good. I think Salt Lake’s the right time of year. Christmas bills are paid off, it’s February and everyone’s thinking about spring, and ready to buy shit. I couldn’t do it when they moved it to March. I started doing posters in Austin, so every South By I go back, and it’s usually every Mid-March. But they moved it back to February, and I’m stoked about that. It’s usually cold, and people aren’t hiking and getting out yet, so it packs them in. It’s just something fun to do that weekend. It’s kind of a good show to gauge what’s going to happen this year. 

M: How so?

LK: It’s my first show of the year. It’s always been pretty good, cause there’s so many people who go to it. But sometimes it gauges the year. Like if it’s a really good show, the rest of the shows that year can be good. The first day I’m there, nobody buys shit, they’re all getting thir tattoos. Once they have their tattoo and have paid for it is when they start looking around. If you’re gonna put art on your skin, an extra forty bucks to put art on your wall is nothing.

M: You’re well known for having some legendary skate ramp in Mississippi, right?

LK: We did vert ramps. I started skating in ’76. I got my first shitty skateboard and we started building little ramps, and by ’77, we were building thirteen-foot tall, eight-foot wide halfpipes. And then I kept building ramps through the 80s, got co-sponsored by Zorlac, skated in contests and junk in high school, travelled and shit. That’s when the pros were coming—Jeff Philips, the Texas guys like Craig Johnson and John GibsonMonty Nolder from Florida—we had a pretty small but cool scene back then.

M: And that’ into flyers and zines?

LK: Zines were like our facebook. You’d make a zine about your zine, and you’d see in Thrasher about other zines, and you’d trade. You’d get their zine, and they’d get yours, and that’s how you’d started knowing other places to skate around the country. Then you’d make flyers, or have a show…

When you lived in Mississippi, there was nothing. You couldn’t get a Misfits t-shirt. I hate to say it, but one of the reasons I started screen printing was so I could make my own t-shirts. The first ones I made were a Misfits shirt and an Independent trucks shirt, cause I ordered one and never got the shirt I wanted, so I just made it. And then just punk rock stuff. That’s kind of what punk rock is, D.I.Y.

The Swamp was the ramp was because it’s Mississippi, and when I started making shirts for bands and stuff, everyone called them Swamp shirts. So that’s kind of where it all came from. 

I didn’t do posters until I moved to Austin and hooked up with Frank Kozek. That’s when we started making rock posters in 1990. Then it just took off after that.

M: Talk to me about developing your own style…

LK: Every artist has their own style, though tattoos can be different now, just like poster art. For a long time, you could recognize different artists, but there are so many artists now. It’s the same thing with poster art. In the 90s, there were a dozen of us, and every artist was from a different city with different styles. You could look at a poster and go, “That’s Mark Arminski from Detroit, and that’s Derek Hess from Cleveland, and that’s Ron Donovan from San Francisco, Chaz in L.A., Coop…”

I had a normal job of printing Coop and Kozek and Rat Fink for Ed Roth, and I got to see the differences in different styles. I’d see how they told me to print it.   

Frank had his style and I didn’t want to copy it. I was trying to figure out ways to do it. I used the brighter colors. I’m a 70s kid, punk rock and all that shit. Not everything I do is dayglow, but I like that, especially for rock posters. I’ve always said that if there’s a wall of flyers, and you’re walking up to it from a hundred feet away, and you see a wall of posters, the first one you’re going to see is the dayglo one. When we started doing that, people started freaking out. It was awesome.

M: When you come up with a poster for a band, do you come up with the image first, or do you design it around the band itself?

LK: I’ve personally always tried to do it around the band itself. Most of the bands I’ve done posters for I already knew, but if I didn’t, I’d go buy the record and check it out first. There are bands I’ve turned down over the years, and they were pissed at me, but I was like, “Hey man, sorry, I’m too busy.” When you’re busy and you don’t like it, then why do it? 

A lot of poster artists make their art and put band’s shows on top of it. That’s one of those things, where you see a poster of a kitty playing with a ball and it has nothing to do with the Melvins. I’ve always tried to make it represent the band.

M: How do tattoos relate to punk and shit?

LK: I always thought of tattoos as it’s own art form, and it’s always been there, just like poster art. Different variations come and go, the same as tattooing. The history of both are awesome, just like any other art. In the 90s, poster art exploded. In the 2000s, tattoos exploded and became mainstream. The same with skateboarding. Everything that was fringe and you used to get fucked with in the beginning of it became mainstream. And I think with tattoos… rock n roll and tattoos have always gone together, and I think skateboarding ties it together. All three of those things went together. Tattoos and surfing never really went together… I guess because if you get a tattoo, you can’t go surfing for a couple weeks. For skateboarders and rockers, it was always kind of there, it was a rebellious thing. I don’t know if it’s rebellious anymore.

M: Have you ever seen someone with any of your art on them?

LK: Yeah, yeah…

M: Is that weird?

LK: No, it’s cool. I get stoked. I’m like, “Whoa, that’s awesome, thank you.” It’s kind of…  “I really liked this character on this poster, hope you don’t…” [laughs]… Yeah, cool, you put it on your skin, that’s rad! That’s fucking awesome. You’re gonna remember that character and my name for the rest of your life, that’s cool. It’s humbling.

Usually they come right up and show me. And hopefully it’s a decent job of it. I’ve seen them where they look better, and I’m like, “Shit, I wish I could draw it that good.” [laughs] If you take a three color poster and make a full color tattoo out of the character, it’s gonna look better. Yeah, it’s cool when people do that, for sure. 

M: Any advice for aspiring artists?

LK: You’ve got to treat people well, you don’t want a big head. The business part is the hardest thing, because business sucks. 

When you make art, everyone has their own style. Graffiti guys, tattoo guys—if they’re drawing, they all have their own style. Art comes naturally if you’re into it. For longevity, learn the business end of stuff. Cause that’s the hard part. You can make some money doing something, but you have to remember the business end of stuff, especially if you have employees, that’s the part you have to be super disciplined at. The running of the business. If I could just make art, that would be great, but you’ve gotta sell that shit too.