POSTER CLUB: BRIAN BOJO

Words by
Spafford, September 2017.

I’m lying on the floor of an empty corner office, high above midtown Manhattan. It’s not just for the lack of furniture. It is the only way I can settle my nerves, stop my limbs from twitching. This abandoned space on the 18th floor is mine for now, renovations are moving from floor to floor, I should be able to come here for a while yet. Looking down at the city I am my 9 year old self, assessing and assembling my legos, “this one will fit well … right here”. Tiny pieces, and colors and shapes….some alive and moving. I love this room. It feels special and I need a special room. Each time I pick up the phone in this room it will be to call someone whose work I admire, whose work is special.

I hit call, place the phone down on speaker, “try not to sound so nervous”, I tell myself. Then Brian Bojo answers. I hear birds singing, it even sounds warm. Brian tells me he’s decided to take a walk for our call because it’s so nice outside in South Carolina. Although we’re just now introducing ourselves his voice is familiar, I feel like I’m talking to an old friend. My own voice starts to even out and I find my questions.

An Interview with Brian Bojo

Tour Stories: When did you realize you had an artistic or creative side? Was art class your favorite subject as a kid? Brian: Yea so, I am actually an art teacher. … As a kid I loved art and I bounced between 3 career choices. I wanted to be an artist, a teacher or a pastor. And it’s funny because they’re all kind of–you know… if I would have become a pastor, there’s a creative side to that. And it’s also education based, too. As a pastor, you’re teaching. And as a teacher, obviously, I’m teaching. And there’s creativity in that. Even if I wasn’t teaching art, there’s creativity in presentation when teaching. And of course as an artist I get to be creative all the time. … But I couldn’t decide what I wanted to become. I went to school to be a special ed. teacher and graduated in 4 years with a double major. This didn’t leave any time for art at all. In high school, I was totally the art track all the way. Any free class periods I had, I filled them with sculpture, ceramics, jewelry making, whatever I could. But by the time I got to college, it’s so focused, and if you want to get out in 4 years you can’t mess around. So I was able to get out in 4 years with the double major in special ed. and elementary education. I didn’t do any art for most of that time. In fact, I tried. I entered an art show while I was in college and failed miserably.

He is laughing as he tells me this. Tour Stories: There’s no way!

Brian: Oh yea! The people wouldn’t even put it in the show. And it was like the campus art show, and they were like, “no, sorry … “… I don’t remember even what I submitted. So I kind of got really discouraged [after that]. … And it did hit hard. I didn’t pursue art any further for the most part — even in my free time I took up music, started playing guitar, and put the pencil and sketchbook down. But years later, I became a teacher, got married, had kids. And in the year 2000 I quit teaching to start an art business with my wife… Noah’s Art. And it was an art business where we did enrichment for children. Almost like signing up for dance, or karate, or music lessons, but it was just art [projects]. And we did that for 15 years, and did it really successfully. And you’d think at that point I might pick up the sketch book again, but I didn’t… But [by the end of of] 2013, I started to become interested in creating again. I said to myself, “here I am, this art teacher, we have this business that’s doing really well, and I can’t even create a thing. You know, or I just haven’t. It’s been so long, it had become stale. So for 2014, I set a New Year’s resolution. And it was to create one art piece each week over 52 weeks.

Tour Stories: The Phifty-two Weeks Project? (I say it like a question even though I already know).

Brian: Oh you saw that! So at the time, and still, my number one music passion was through Phish. That’s why the Phifty-Two is spelled with a “p-h”. Each of the 52 projects that I did that year was Phish themed. And they each had a story. I labeled each one, you know “week — of 52”, titled the project, and blogged it. I included links to the song if it was inspired by a certain Phish song. Or if it was about a certain Phish memory, I’d tell the history of that memory. So that really got me back into it. And that’s where I discovered screen printing, through that process.

Tour Stories: Were you interested in screen printing prior?

Brian: As a kid, I had a summer job; I worked in a screen printing factory. But I was at like the tail end of the process. I was like the bag boy. I’d get all the shirts and stuff, done, and put them on this machine, push a button and they would bag up.

Lucy Had A Lumpy Head, 2014. Part of the Phifty-Two Weeks Project. Week 3 of 52. Acrylic on Glass. Inspiration: “Carini” by Phish

Tour Stories: So not getting to do too much with actual screen printing there.

Brian: [Yea] It wasn’t really… until the Phifty-Two Weeks Project. [I] fell in love with that as my medium and focal point for the art. From there, I started doing screen printing for Phish shows and would sell all my stuff in the parking lots before the show and it kind of helped me get around and pay for my travels and get to see my favorite band. Then built a ton of relationships through that– all Phish fans, other artists and collectors, and eventually it evolved into what it is now. But it all started in 2014 with that New Year’s Resolution.

Tour Stories: So in terms of your creative process—do you hear an album or a song and then BOOM this imagery pops in your head? Or do you sometimes have an idea for a piece or even something that you’ve already completed and marry it to a band or song when they ask?

Brian: The answer is [both], really. My creative process generally starts—if a band contracts me to do a gig poster, if I’m familiar with the band, which most of the time it’s been that I am, I kind of have a feel for their vibe as far as the music goes. And if it’s Americana, a lot of woodsy animals, and that kind of thing. If it’s more of a jamband, it’ll be more trippy looking. So I usually have that feel for it already. But a lot of times I’ll get stumped and what I’ll do is research the town and where they’re playing. For example, I know you were a fan of the Avett [Brothers] poster I did for Kettering, with the girl on the paper airplane. I didn’t know what to do for the Avetts. And I was STOKED because the Avetts are, they’re my in between band for Phish. You know, Phish is my number one– But Avetts [are] my other number one. I can’t really put them at number two even. So when they asked me to do an official poster for them I was beside myself. … And I was stumped. So I looked up Kettering and it’s in Ohio, and that’s where the Wright brothers are originally from. North Carolina [gets the credit], but they’re from Ohio [originally]. So I decided I’ll do something with flight. And then it went from there. So yea, sometimes I’ll do art based on the city. Another one, I did not too long ago, for Spafford

Tour Stories: The Love print (I slap my hand over my mouth but it’s too late, I can’t help it. Revealing myself again as a nerd with questionable stalker status)

Brian: Yea, that one for Philly. And I grew up in the area skateboarding. And also watching—I mean we didn’t have YouTube, but we had video cassettes that were VHS Skate tapes we’d get in the mail, and they were constantly skating at that LOVE Park. So that Spafford one, yea, was inspired by that. … So probably more often than not, it’s based on the location. But the art evolves, too. When I get started it, I have some ideas and do thumbnail sketches. And usually—like with the Avetts, I had three other concepts I emailed to the management and said “ok, these are the three concepts I came up with, they’re not refined yet but they’re 75% done. What do you like best?” My favorite was not even that one that they chose. But they ended up choosing the girl on the airplane. But, finished, it’s become one of my favorite posters I’ve done and certainly very meaningful to me.

And as I print, I generally listen to—like if I’m printing the Avett’s Brothers poster I’m probably listening to the Avetts at least 50% of the time that I’m printing. And the other times I have my go-to playlists for whatever kind of mood I’m in.

The Avett Brothers, August 2018.
The Avett Brothers, August 2018.

Tour Stories: What’s on those playlists?

Brian: What’s always on there … The National, The Avett Brothers, Phish , Spafford … and it’s funny because a lot of these bands I’ve ended up printing for … Last night I finished up a poster I did for Twiddle, I love Twiddle. But while I was finishing that, I started listening to Sturgill Simpson—who is totally country, have you heard Sturgill?

Tour Stories: I keep hearing that name but would be lying if I said I was familiar with his work.

Brian: Yea it’s funny, because I don’t really like country [music]. But I went to see Willie Nelson, he did this tour last summer, [The Outlaw Festival], and Sturgill Simpson, was one of the headliners when they came through Charlotte. And I was like, “eh, he’s country, but I’ll give him a shot. And MAN, those guys totally jammed and went like trippy even at certain points. But then he’ll do something super twang-y, but they lyrics if you listen to them are more along the lines of a jamband. It’s interesting.

Tour Stories: Are there any other bands specifically that you want to work with? Do you have a wish-list?

Brian: Yea. I’m a big goal setter… after I finished that 52 Weeks goal, in 2015 I set a goal of a band that I target and say “I want to do a poster for these guys, their official gig poster’. In 2015 it was a band from my high school days, Helmet. … Then in 2016 my goal was Umphrey’s McGee and I got that. In 2017 my goal was to get Twiddle. And I missed it. But I ended up doing a poster for Gubbulidis. [They’re] two of the four Twiddle members. So I kind of half way got to that goal. Last year, my goal was to do the Avett Brothers and I obviously got that, too. This coming year, I haven’t really set one? My goal has kind of been to slow down. (There is some hesitation in his voice as he tells me this, a question more than a statement? For selfish reasons, I hope so!)

I just built a brand new studio in my house. [Or] it’s almost finished. Last night I finished up a Twiddle poster, and that was my first poster in the new studio.

Twiddle, March 2019. Screen Print
Twiddle, March 2019. Screen Print

Tour Stories: That’s special.

Brian: Yea it is really cool. But my goal is to slow down, I did a lot of posters, a lot of art last year, between posters, t shirts, and even digital—you know, I’ll do a lot of digital art for tour announcements and stuff that doesn’t get printed, it’s just Facebook and social media. And it just, its time consuming. And it’s exciting and fun, but at the same time I still have a young family and a separate career. The funny thing is, the art is more or less, my hobby. But it’s become a full time hobby.

Tour Stories: I feel like that happens a lot in the jamband community. Fans are influenced by the music or experiences and start their own projects– posters, pins, clothes, make their own music. Or maybe even start writing about it! And the community is so supportive.

Brian: Yea definitely! It’s really neat, it’s funny because back when I was selling in the parking lot I had some friends that would help me out. And they would get this attitude sometimes, like, “oh my god, that guy totally just sold a poster when I was headed to that customer!” and I’m telling him, “No, it’s not like that”. I’m the kind of guy, if I see a friend selling a poster, I’ll grab one of his and say “let me carry yours next to mine, the fans are gonna want what they want, and there’s enough to go around.

Tour Stories: Will we see an official Phish print from you in the future?

Brian: If they ask! That would be a bucket list item for me, for sure. That would be the top of the bucket, actually, as far as art [goals] for me.

Tour Stories: Do you have a favorite artist, fan art or official, whose work you follow or chase down?

Brian: Yes, definitely! There’s several! I love Jim Mazza, Drew Millward, Justin Helton. And there’s several guys that have become friends of mine too, I’ve gotten to know Jim Pollock and David Welker a little bit– Those guys are superstars, and I always would collect their work. But even kids—or not kids, but artists, who have risen up and grew and are still doing things through the Phish lot scene—like… Caleb Williamson, Jon Rose

Tour Stories: We love Jon! Just talked to him last week.

Brian: Jon is incredible! He’s one of my favorites. In fact, he’s one of those guys that I would walk around when I would go sell Phish prints in the parking lot, I’d grab a stack of his and walk with his stuff and have mine side by side.

Tour Stories: Hell yea.

Brian: Yea our styles are totally different, so if I were to approach you with both of them, you would choose whichever one you like.

Tour Stories: I mean, knowing me I would probably buy both.

Brian: Good! [Yea, so] there’s a lot of people that are from that Phish scene that I really admire … or collect their work. And there’s so many more, I could go on and on. As soon as we hang up, I’ll probably remember more and wish I had said them.

Tour Stories: I think a lot of people listen to the music and have an idea but maybe don’t have the time, energy or skills to physically put it on paper or put a pin into production the right way. What advice would you give to someone like that?

Brian: I would say, if you’ve got an idea, even if you don’t have the ability, contact somebody who does. Go in as a collaboration with them. I’ve been approached several times, like “hey, I’ve got this great idea, would you be interested in collaborating, or could I hire you to do the art for it?” So there’s a number of ways you could get it done. But I would definitely say, if you’ve got an idea or feel inspired, don’t discount that. Because it could be something that inspires someone else, or something that someone falls in love with and has to have in their life. Don’t give up. There’s many ways, if they’re not able to do it, to get that out and available for people.

Tour Stories: I always want to know about the first show, what band, venue, who went with you?

Brian: When I was a kid, I went to my first show I went with my youth group from Church, it was like a field trip sort of thing. But really the first show that I went to and really wanted to go to was Stone Temple Pilots. That was the first one I picked. And the funny thing about that show, I was on a date with a girl. Oh man, how old was I? I was old enough to drive, so maybe sixteen. I think the year I got my license, I was [lived] in Wisconsin and we had this thing called Summer Fest. So I brought this girl, and it was our first date and we were in the pit area and she decided she wanted to crowd surf. And so they picked her up and started passing her around but the thing was they passed her forwards instead of backwards. So as she’s going forwards, people can’t see that she’s coming.

Tour Stories: Yikes!

Brian: And they passed her and all of a sudden she’s like 8 feet up in the air and the people in front of her didn’t see her coming and they dropped her. And so mid concert this happened and I had to leave with her and take her to the emergency room. I think she ended up with, I can’t remember exactly, but a fracture of some kind. I think it was her elbow maybe. I don’t remember. But that was my first major concert experience.

Tour Stories: Was there a second date?

Brian: NO! (laughing) That was it.

Tour Stories: Tell me a bit about your family. Do you and your wife go to shows together? Do you take your kids?

Brian: [My wife and I] go to Avett Brother’s shows together, it’s more her speed, and she loves the music. And she knows all the songs. My boys are 15 and 13, and so they’re into like Post Malone and all those guys and stuff. And I try to get into it a little with them, like as far as rap goes I really like Logic. But, I’m not really, I’m not hip.

(We respectfully disagree!)

… My boys, their passion is really sports, we’re season ticket holders for the Charlotte Hornets. So my thing with the boys is sports. And it’s funny because I never was a sports guy, like it’s one of those things that I grew to love because the boys love it. And it’s their thing and it’s something we can do together. It’s special for us.

Tour Stories: That’s beautiful. I’ll let you get back to your night with your family now. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us. It has been inspiring.

We look forward to seeing what beautiful work comes out of the new studio next!

You can find out more about Brian and his work here:

THE ART OF BRIAN BOJO

Phifty Two Weeks: A Year of Art Inspired by Phish

More Stories