Today I bring you a poster for a play, The Air Loom. Let’s talk about the theater.
Theater is interesting in that it’s an amalgamation of every other art form. A script is a frame work for a director to build their vision on. Actors, set designers, costume designers, and everyone else involved in a production brings their personality to the table to create a living, breathing theater beast.
I was inspired to create a poster for a play because designs for plays tend to be more conceptual than say, book covers or movie posters. I think this is partly because plays have so much room for creativity in their execution. Artists are free to draw on whatever themes they’d like. Look at how six different artists have interpreted Hamlet. (Topical, am I right?)
Each poster draws from a different moment in the play. My favorite is the one on the bottom right. Remember that time I talked a lot about Hamlet’s descent into madness? This artist finds a simple, clever way to show that in two simple shapes. I was also inspired by the polish theater poster tradition. Did you even know that was a thing?
I love the heavy textures and oppressive atmosphere of these posters. And the mood suits my chosen play, The Air Loom. A little about the play– I went to see it at MadLab Theater and I was blown away. It’s loosely based on the case of the first documented paranoid schizophrenic. It follows the story of this dude named Tilly who is in a government prison for assassinating the Prime Minister. He is telling his story to Dr. H, a psychologist who has to determine of Tilly is insane or not, and by extension viable to execute. He recounts how he met a strange gang on his way home from work. And uh, they’re all a little weird. There’s Sir Archie, a swaggering cross dresser who is all bravado and violent threats. Mag the School Mistress has a thesaurus constantly in hand and references an intricate set of rules that the Gang obey. Also in the ensemble– the Gloved Woman, an overly sexual widow who is at least 2/3rds Helena Bonham Carter and Bill the King, their leader (duh). Bill has that kind of easy going charisma that turns to cruelty at the drop of a dime. The Gang is constructing a machine, the air loom, to spread “influence,” akin to mind control, with the ultimate goal of starting a war. They’ve also kidnapped a girl name Charlotte from an anonymous land and treat her as a slave. Tilly is determined to rescue her and stop the gang from causing war. As he goes about trying to do so, every move he makes plays into their scheme. Out of desperation, Tilly decides the only way he can possibly prevent war is to shoot the Prime Minister. At the end it is revealed that the Prime Minister was actually going to make an arrangement for peace, Charlotte is not in fact an innocent victim, she’s the most wanted terrorist operative in the world, and Tilly has been implicated for being involved with her and is going to be executed. Oh, and there’s been a tiny air loom hidden in the psychologist’s room THE WHOLE TIME and the country is going to war. Damn
Throughout the whole play, it’s not clear if Tilly is insane or not. Bill and his Gang are constantly on stage, and talk to him even when they’re in Dr. H’s office. His memory of the story will change at her suggestion. Is he really under the influence of the air loom or is he just off his rocker? Is the country going to war because of the air loom’s influence or because, y’know, the prime minister was assassinated? WHAT’S REAL WHAT’S NOT? This play raises questions, people. I wanted to take on the blending of truth and fiction and the subjectivity of memory in my piece.
The show used interesting visual motifs in the production. Scattered across the stage are newspapers, plastic army men, and chess pieces. And rubiks cubes kept popping up. An air loom built off of Crazy James Tilly Matthews’ designs dominates the stage. Did you read that link?
That thing. Props to the costume designer, who decked out the characters in creative, thematically appropriate outfits. As Tilly assumed different roles, he would put on a costume piece from the stage, like armor when he decides to save Charlotte, and a crown of thorns when he resolves to assassinate the Prime Minister. I thought about including a few of these motifs, but ultimately I decided to create my own imagery for the play. Here’s my thought process via thumb nails:
Okay so this is Anxious Tilly looking up at a reflected air loom. When I was thinking of ways to represent Tilly’s unreliable memory I kept coming back to the image of water. By showing the air loom in water, I am abstracting and distorting it as Tilly does. I decided to do this piece with acrylic so I could really push the texture. Here’s the first version:
I tried to make it a lot more raw than the last painting I did. A lot of it is done with a palette knife. Then I applied image transfer from newspaper on top in reference to all the word play used. I liked how this looked but it still felt very safe. And the last thing anyone ever wants art to be is safe. Plus those polish posters were still way cooler. It was time to ruin this one. I had this flashback to my high school art teacher saying “Sometimes to create you have to destroy” so destroy I did. (Finally I get it!) After gluing on a ton of newspaper I spread mat medium mixed with paint over the whole things so the image was barely visible. I like how this also fit conceptually with the obscuring of reality the play deals with. After that i scribbled on top with some chalk and colored pencils, and badabing badaboom, finally I had a work with the raw energy and oppressive tone I wanted.
I’d like to thank Jim Azelvandre, who was generous enough to send me the script for reference. If you are in the Columbus area, I’d super recommend going to see a show at MadLab. I’ve been way impressed by everything I’ve seen there.
Thanks friends, I’ll see you at the theater.