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When people hear the term Rock & Roll, some of the first things that come to their minds are the music, the artists, and the partying, but the genre that changed an entire generation certainly has more depth than that.
Over the years, graphic design artists have helped tell the Rock & Roll story with every album cover, concert poster and logo creation.
Gary Grimshaw is one such artist who has done all of those things and so many more. Yet surprisingly, as a young adult, a career as a poster art designer wasn’t Grimshaw’s first choice.
“I actually wanted to design cars because that’s what my grandfather had done at the Oldsmobile division of General Motors,” Grimshaw told us.
But all that changed when he was offered a job by famed Detroit club concert promoter and club owner Russ Gibb. The job: design a poster for The MC5. Not bad for a first job.
“It was my first job, and to get the poster in my hand was amazing,” Grimshaw recalls.
At the time, he was only 18 years old and had no idea how his career would soon take off.
For two years, Grimshaw worked for the Grande Ballroom in Detroit, where he maintained his position as poster and light show artist and continued to create designs for The MC5 and posters spotlighting many Rock & Roll’s legendary acts that performed at the concert venue. The list includes the likes of The Who, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, The Doors, Iggy Pop and so many more.
You can see much of Grimshaw’s works in a documentary film about the Grande Ballroom called Louder Than Love: The Grande Ballroom Story, written by Tony D’Annunzio.
Grimshaw enjoyed that time in his career, though he simply described that era as “an experience.” While he has an amazing portfolio of work, he had no problem choosing the work he was most proud of.
“My favorite was probably when Jimi Hendrix came to town. I actually did two posters, one for Masonic Temple and the other for the CNE Coliseum in Toronto,” Grimshaw remembers.
After doing a great deal of work for the Grande Ballroom, Gary and his wife, Laura, moved to California, where he would work as the art director for the poster company Art Rock, which had relocated from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Grimshaw spent two years working for Art Rock before becoming a freelance designer, which he tells us he prefers, explaining, “I can make my own decisions. I can decide what work I want to do.”
In 2003, after 14 years in California, Grimshaw came back to Michigan and continued to freelance. During that time, he also reunited with the Detroit Artists Workshop for their 30th anniversary. The DAW provided artists a place to display their work. “It was basically my same job as art director but it was a lot less formalized”, Grimshaw said. “They were my main clients.”
Grimshaw’s work has been highlighted and praised by many over the years, notably from the Detroit Institute of Art, the Toledo Art Museum and Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
His work can also be seen in the movies and even at an amusement park. While his poster design, named “The Seagull,” was featured in the 2012 Tim Burton film Dark Shadows, one of his greatest showcases is a collage of his Aerosmith poster designs on display at Disney World for guest’s viewing pleasure while they wait in line to ride the Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster Starring Aerosmith.
Recently, Grimshaw, along with Leni Sinclair, published a book in 2012 entitled “Detroit Rocks! A Pictorial History of Motor City Rock and Roll” and created the presentation certificate for the first cohort of the Wayne State University Detroit Revitalization Fellows Program.
Grimshaw’s career encompasses so many things and has allowed him to work with a number of great musicians, but his favorite thing about his job is genuinely creating art and being able to have a finished product in his hand.
“The bands themselves could play like crazy but most of what they do is lost,” Grimshaw explains. “Whereas everything I do is saved and that’s probably what I like the most.”
Today, Grimshaw continues to work and is currently preparing for an event at Detroit's Scarab Club in January 2014. Prior to that, he will head to the Brooklyn Bowl in Brooklyn, NY for an appearance on September 29. More on that event can be found here.
For more information on Gary Grimshaw and to check out some of his work, visit his official website.
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