Interview: Dark City Gallery

PrintE-mail Written by Paul Bullock

Once simply a means to promote a film, movie posters have become an artistic medium in their own right, analysed and snapped up with the kind of fervour usually reserved for the films themselves. It’s not just Hollywood that’s producing them though. The internet has helped budding and underground artists get their work noticed on a global scale, and new interpretations of classic movie posters have become hugely popular. Starburst spoke to Ross Beatty of Dark City Gallery, who exhibit, trade and create such work, about the popularity movie posters are currently experiencing and what the future may hold.

Starburst: First off, tell us a little about yourself. Who are you? What do you do? And how were you set up?

Dark City Gallery: Dark City Gallery is a family-run business specialising in artwork which is inspired by popular culture. Currently the main focus is movie-themed artwork and movie posters. The set up has been a natural progression from collecting, to obsessively collecting, to exhibiting the vast collection and trading, to becoming intrigued with the actual printing process and finally being directly involved in creating works of art as a gallery.

Posters seem to have such potent emotional meaning for a lot of film fans. What do they mean to you?

A lot! Posters are a constant reminder of a great film whether you saw it yesterday or 20 years ago. For me they are a passage into the film where you can become immersed without actually watching it. For many fans, the feelings evoked from the posters can be deep and meaningful, reminiscing over childhood heroes and the impact a certain film had on them when they were young.

Some of your posters are beautifully intricate. Can you tell us a little more about the process that goes into creating them?

Almost all of our posters and prints are handmade using a method called screen printing or silkscreen printing. This is a time-consuming and technical hands-on process. Each colour is laid down one step at a time and print runs of 100 pieces can often take three days to complete (depending on how many colours are used). We have worked on designs with two-colour screens, up to some as many as ten colours. Features such as spot ink varnish, metallic ink and even the use of glow in the dark ink create fantastic effects and are great to design with. Overall silkscreen printing can be considered an art form in its own right.

There's a huge amount of buzz around designers like Olly Moss and companies like Mondo and yourself at the moment. Why do you think poster collecting has taken off so much in recent years?

This could be due to a number of things. Perhaps it’s the somewhat uninspiring digital movie posters which appear in our cinemas today (often mass, mass produced!). Also, there seems to be a strong disposable culture and equally products are ‘just not made like they used to be’ (sorry granddad grumble). However, silkscreen artistic posters are timeless products which will be appreciated by future generations. This makes them more sought after and often wise investments.

Mainstream film posters have become pretty boring over the last decade. Is this simply a result of studios playing it a little too safe or is it more to do with the blander artistic tastes of the general public?

Are you insulting our general public! To be honest, I think it is a combination of both. Studios are playing it safe but maybe these simple photographic cinema posters do actually sell the film better than a very artistic image would due to the targeted audience. One of my favorite eras for advertising was the 1920s and 30s. Spectacular designs were created for products like a holiday or simply a perfume. They’re now considered masterpieces, but these posters would not necessarily work today. If you have a moment, check out the posters from Jean Dupas, Adolphe Mouron and Paul Colin.

Does Hollywood's reluctance to step outside the box with posters and produce more original, bold designs prove beneficial to a company like yours? Does it help you stand out from the mainstream a little more?

I guess it does help us but I haven’t really thought about it. I think a lot of the appeal of our posters is the fact that they are strictly limited editions and beautifully hand printed. So it is not only an original design but also a piece of art you would like to treasure.

Do you think we're ever likely to see a culture where another Drew Struzan or Saul Bass could thrive in a mainstream arena? What does the future hold for movie poster production?

I believe we may start to see independent art house movies really push the boundaries with their poster designs and I think this will work in their favour. There are already signs of this with Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur poster by Dan McCarthy.

As for mainstream cinema posters I think they are likely to stay as they are for some time to come, but in this digital age I wouldn’t be surprised if posters disappear completely and are just replaced with digital slideshows on flat panel screens; in fact that’s what’s happening at that tube station near you! Having said this, who knows!

Speaking of Bass and Struzan, both produced work that had a great handmade feel, and that's been replaced by digital design in the last decade. Has the rise of digital technology helped or hindered poster design?

I think many of the digital cinema posters of today do their job quite well, but would I want to frame one and put it on my wall? Probably not. So maybe they tick the box in regards to promoting a film but not for an artistic statement. Although let’s not forget digital technology is enhancing creative design but equally it can over simplify some poster production. As always art is subjective! It would be great to have other equivalents to Struzan and Bass’ original poster designs dominating the mainstream again.

You also sell concert posters. In terms of design is there a notable difference in the requirements for a movie poster and a concert poster?

Movies are constant rolling pictures, so there are more opportunities to use a particular stimulus from them as a guideline. Often an artist listens to the band and simply creates whatever inspires them. The imagery can be formed from varied elements of the band, the tour, the particular country or city, overall feeling of a song or even time of year. I’m a huge fan of concert/gig posters, there is always such an interesting marriage between the sound of the musician/band and the artist’s imagination. Generally, there is a higher level of freedom and artists are more open to interpretation.

Which films or genres seem to inspire the most posters and are there any that you'd like to see tackled that haven't been yet?

There’s no doubt that the horror and science-fiction themed prints create the most interest. Why is this? These movies impact our basic instincts such as fear… Or perhaps it’s because these films lend themselves to very imaginative and bold designs. I think this is one of the main reasons movie fans are so taken by these prints. I’d like to see some international art house film prints, especially from French and Spanish films.

Which artists should we look out for and are there any artists that you'd like to see matched with a particular movie?

Rich Kelly and Rodolfo Reyes are two exciting young artists we are proud to work with. I would love to see Rich take on a poster design for Brazil or Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas. We are already working with Rodolfo on some classic Fritz Lang movies, which suit his vintage/retro design approach perfectly.

What's your favourite movie poster of all time? And what's your favourite that you sell?

One of my favourite posters of all time has to be the original 1973 Polish poster for Cabaret/Kabaret. It was created by the legendary designer Wiktor Gorka. I’m also a huge fan of Film Noir posters from the 40s and 50s; I love the Belgian poster for Gilda and the French poster for Laura. How to choose the favourite poster we sell, well that is a tough one. There have been a few: ‘The Night He Came Home’, inspired by Halloween and created by Dan Mumford, and Tim Doyle’s ‘Stay off the Moors’, inspired by An American Werewolf in London, are both haunting pieces that receive a positive reaction when at exhibitions.

Another amazing poster is the opening of our current Dario Argento project with the fantastic artists Malleus. The eight-piece collection brings out the theatrical design of these Italian artists, which perfectly complements the Italian director. The first poster is The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Following this, one print will be released every 6-8 weeks. This project will climax on Halloween 2012 at the historical Phoenix Cinema in London… keep that day free!

Where can we find out more info about you?

Visit our website at where you can join our mailing list to keep you posted on exhibitions near you, new work and upcoming projects. If you are a Twitter user we're @darkcitygallery, or 'Dark City Gallery' on facebook.

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