Women of Rock Art: 1965-2023


Running through April 14, “Women of Rock Art: 1965 - 2023” promises to be the largest exhibition of its kind devoted exclusively to rock and music posters designed by women. As this long-overdue survey of more than 200 posters, handbills, and flyers by some 50 artists will demonstrate, women have been active contributors to the rock-poster scene since the beginning, and they continue to be creative forces today.


For too many years, those of us who love rock posters have routinely lamented the lack of attention paid to female rock-poster artists, especially when we looked back at the 1960s, the decade during which the genre took root and blossomed. Back then, the rock-poster world was largely a boy’s club, an inequity that was institutionalized by the culture at large when it embraced a convenient but hierarchical nickname, “The Big Five,” to describe the era’s most successful male artists. To be clear, Alton Kelley, Wes Wilson, Stanley Mouse, Rick Griffin, and Victor Moscoso were the best of the best, but their canonization as “The Big Five” did a better job of limiting what we think of today as rock posters than it did to generate excitement for the genre as a whole.


Fortunately, it doesn’t take too much digging to learn that women played an important role in the development of rock posters as an artform. In 1965, Ami Magill silkscreened some of the first posters for the nascent Family Dog, while artists such as Bonnie MacLean, Mari Tepper, Ruth Garbell, Gina Papen, Donna Herrick, Samantha Sirdofsky, Helen Hersh, and Catherine Weinstein produced dozens of poster designs from 1966 to 1969. That these artists only produced dozens of rock posters rather than hundreds during the genre’s formative years is an indication of the limited opportunities they were given by promoters—the main customers for original rock-poster designs at the time—as well as the lack of attention that has since been paid to the accomplishments of female rock-poster artists.


In the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, a new generation of female artists produced an extraordinary range of rock and music posters, from the punk flyers of Helena Rogers to the often photo-driven compositions of Arlene Owseichik to the screen prints of Lynn Porterfield and Tara McPherson. Most recently, in the 21st century, bands rather than promoters have become the primary customers for the design services of rock-poster artists, and many of these bands are hiring more women artists than ever before. Additionally, the genre has gone international, with artists in Europe, Canada, Mexico, and Japan being called upon by bands to create commemorative posters for their shows. Some of these artists, including Subterranean Prints from Germany, Jj Farfante from Italy, and Dozergirl from Mexico are represented in “Women of Rock Art.”

Read about "Women of Rock Art" as featured in KQED.