The Marvelous Mr. Byrd
By Victoria Banegas
RAFFMA is a museum snuggly tucked away in the Visual Arts building at Cal-State San Bernardino. Although hidden, it is the only accredited art museum in the city, consistently securing its accreditation with the American Alliance of Museums year after year. I visited the space while the University was on winter break; no one was present but the gallery assistant, who sat quietly behind his desk, and myself. This gave me time to genuinely absorb the art and ponder in complete and utter silence.
Walking in to the gallery, I am almost immediately met by the gorgeous work of David Edward Byrd. A few steps in the door, a quick left turn and there it is, a hall of brilliantly designed images reminiscent of the 1960s. Byrd’s work is indeed from the ‘60s, in which time he worked creating posters to promote concerts for legends like Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and Lou Reed. Other images Byrd added to his repertoire were iconic posters for theatrical hits like Follies and Little Shop of Horrors. Not only did Byrd draft out the posters by hand, he expertly constructed the finished product using various forms of media such as pastels and airbrushing. Still a working artist today, Byrd uses digital tools to render his beloved posters, even deriving inspiration from the past to create posters for artists like Prince.
As I enter this world of Art Nouveau and psychedelics, a large poster, titled The Byrd Show, greets me. This poster embodies the essence of Byrd’s work with the artist himself as the star, in a world of whimsy inviting one to relish in his creative wonder. More elaborate, a Jimi Hendrix poster placed at the end of the hallway, burning purple and orange, incorporates a hint of optical art to the series, showcasing Byrd’s many stylistic abilities as well as lending itself to the powerful and uplifting sounds Hendrix.
Like most poster art of the time, Byrd’s work is highly influenced by Alphonse Mucha and Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, who were highly influential pioneers in the art of the 1800s.
Much like artists of the past, Byrd’s posters not only served as commissioned posters for advertisement, they are extremely suggestive, whether it is a hand gesture, facial expression or spiritual symbolism. These images revolutionized advertisement strategies, encouraging profound imagery and underlying narratives. As I looked at Byrd’s posters, my eyes moved fluidly through the images as various details emerge, one right after the other, enhancing the poster’s purpose and sometimes creating humorous undertones. In his Jesus Christ Superstar poster, Byrd depicts a holy image of Jesus Christ with a microphone placed in front of him. With a closer look, one realizes how Jesus’s hand is held up as if tapping the microphone, or offering a blessing.
Clever and innovative, Byrd’s work helped shape the flower child image of the famous Fillmore East, forever signifying a time when rock n’ roll and spirituality came hand in hand. Various posters feature rock stars as divine beings, Jimi Hendrix with the all-seeing third eye embellished on his forehead and the members of Jefferson Airplane depicted as Ancient Egyptian royalty. Not only did the posters heighten the viewer’s awareness of the musicians, it showed the world how the artists himself held these people with the utmost regard, Byrd already knew that these people would become legends, celebrated for decades to come.
One could not fathom what the world was like during the time that these posters were produced, only dream of it, when love was the only answer and musicians took their audiences on a musical journey of transcendence. Byrd’s work is just a link in a series of events that will forever connect us to this era, which was just as elaborate and colorful as the artwork created to accompany it.
It is artwork like this that one must cherish, the closest we’ll ever get to a time machine—a blast from the past—allowing us to connect to a moment in time that revolutionized music and opened doors for innovation and self expression. The 1960s will always live on through its music and powerful forms of art, powerfully expressive and visually captivating like the works of marvelous Edward Byrd.
“Music to My Eyes, David Edward Byrd: Posters and Music-related Designs 1968-Now,” at Cal State San Bernardino, Robert and Frances Fullerton Museum of Art, 5500 University Pkwy., San Bernardino, (909) 537-7373; www.raffma.csusb.edu. On view through March 15.