Even if you haven’t heard the name “Mark Arminski,” you no doubt will recognize the eye-popping designs of his rock posters — the vibrant colors, striking images and bold lettering that mark his illustrations for everyone from the Ramones, Iggy Pop and the Cramps to Kid Rock, Liz Phair, the Smashing Pumpkins, the Black Crowes, Marilyn Manson and Aerosmith, to name just a few.
Arminski’s art has been shown on kiosks and in clubs across the United States and in Europe, and now, a retrospective of his work is hanging at Eastern Market’s Severance Gallery. The show kicked off last week with an event that was more party/circus sideshow than a typical art opening, luring an estimated 2,000 people for two nights of revelry. The festivities proved in keeping with the celebrated artist’s penchant for all things rock ’n’ roll and lascivious, and the highlights included a black-light room of 3-D Arminski posters, live performances by Margaret Doll Rod and the Lanternjack, topless servers, a tarot card reader and roving models sporting Arminski’s body paintings.
Severance is featuring the artist’s posters and silkscreen prints on the lower level, while his paintings, etchings and other artworks hang in the upper level — a large open area with windows overlooking Eastern Market. The gallery’s brick walls nicely complement the warmer tones in Arminski’s works.
In planning the opening, Severance owner Matt Martin and director Josefine turned the artistic reins over to the artist himself.
“It was like a good party, which is what I wanted,” Arminski says.
Arminski’s got a long history in the community. Born and raised in Detroit (he still has a studio not far from Eastern Market), he cut his artistic teeth at Oakland Community College, where he took figure-drawing classes. He studied at CCS, but eventually quit.
“I had a bad attitude,” Arminski says. He says at the time he resented being forced to choose between fine art and graphic design.
In the mid-’80s, Arminski started doing concert posters to help his local musician friends publicize their shows. Instead of the usual black-and-white bland flier fare, Arminksi made illustrative gems in brilliant colors. Word traveled fast and the artist soon found himself producing posters for bigger bands. The turning point came when he was hired to design work for the H.O.R.D.E. festival in 1996. Since then, he’s created posters for a seemingly interminable list of major acts.
But it’s not his famed posters that lie closest to Arminkski’s heart. Although he’s got total creative control over his poster work, “I still look at [the fine art pieces] as way different from the posters. They are strictly for the soul.”
Arminksi says he finds himself focusing more intently on fine art lately. A show of his work will be presented in New York in May.
Arminski is blatant in his resistance to the common artistic scourge of taking oneself way too seriously. Consider his artist’s statement posted on his Web site (www.arminski.com):
“While other artists speak of the existential qualities or inner turmoil of man’s inhumanity or depth of this and meaning of that … I simply found at a very early age that I could use art as a means to get women to take off their clothes.”
Judging by the number of nudes hanging on the Severance walls alone, he’s obviously made good use of his artistic license.
“I was always intimidated by figures and faces, so I took figure drawing [at OCC]. I liked it. … I like the shapes the female figure makes.”
His nudes on display include a number of torsos that revel in the round geometry of breasts and hips. There are also two small oil paintings of female genitalia (“I call them ‘Pussy Paintings’ but [my assistant] Molly thought ‘Clitoris’ was a better name.”) The works hang on opposite ends of a portrait of a scowling nun sporting an eye patch. It turns out the piece is not simply some cheeky swipe at Catholicism, but a portrait of real-life TV evangelist Sister Angelica, whom Arminski spotted while flipping through cable channels one day.
Other goodies include a sampling of black velvet paintings, including one of Larry Flynt set against a hilariously patriotic backdrop and another of Iggy Pop bordered by rhinestones. Not one to shy away from lowbrow or off-the-wall media, Arminski mastered the art of velvet painting when he was commissioned to do some work for a Mexican restaurant. The owners wanted some velvet paintings and Arminski took on the challenge with characteristic gusto, buying swaths of fabric and practicing till he’d perfected his own method.
Currently, the artist is working on a series of pieces involving sideshow freaks, several of which are already on display in the show. The inspiration struck him when he picked up a book about an albino aborigine man whose visage Arminski recognized from an old vintage concert poster.
“I was fascinated,” he says, explaining how the man had been recruited for sideshows, formally educated and eventually died wealthy and famous.
“I have an interest in those kinds of people.”
Although his subject matter might occasionally shock of offend, Arminski couldn’t be more modest or charming in conversation. He comes off as a downright likable guy who seems oblivious to the weight of his own accomplishments, except perhaps for the happy way they’ve affected his lifestyle.
“I’ve made my living through the arts for the last 20 years,” he says.
Severance Gallery (2714 Riopelle, Detroit) is open to the public on weekends and during the week by appointment only. For more information, call 313-832-3744 or visit severance.ath.cx.Christina Kallery is a freelance writer for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]