“All Of Downtown Houston Is My Gallery.” — Concert-Poster Rockstar Shelby Hohl
Shelby Hohl is one of Houston’s most prolific and celebrated concert-poster artists, doing hundreds, perhaps thousands of pieces of art for bands national and local over the course of his career. Weezer has used his talents for the grotesque and surreal, as has St. Vincent, and many more.
He’s been drawing for as long as he can remember. His earliest recollections are of trying hard to recreate the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or various skateboard graphics with a pen and pencil. Art was all he ever really wanted to do, even dropping out of high school to pursue his passion full time.
“My mom was actually really cool about it,” says Hohl. “She told me I could leave school as long as I got a job doing what I wanted to leave school to do. At the time I thought that meant being a tattoo artist. There are just not that many other opportunities to do widespread subversive art in Houston outside tattooing.”
His aims of getting in at a studio fizzled, though, and Hohl eventually found himself working in a signage shop doing old fashioned corporate graphic design. You’d think for such a free spirit it would have been a crushing blow, but Hohl used his time wisely.
“I consider my stint there to be my college, you know?” he says. “I learned the programs that I was going to need to do my real work while also making a living."
Ironically, he owes much of his career to his time there. In 2003 he had a coworker in a band with a car that Hohl would take rides to work with, and this coworker also happened to be friends with Omar Afra, who would shortly be starting Free Press Houston. On a visit, Afra noticed Hohl’s talent and immediately offered him a job as graphic designer for the rookie paper. He’s been employed there ever since, starting with a poster for Blood Brothers, and steadily using his freedom there to spread his increasingly mature and bizarre images.
“I love the creative freedom,” says Hohl. “I don’t do gallery shows and things like that. All of downtown Houston is my gallery. I can take a band and give you the perfect image of what the music looks like. I used to buy albums solely based on the art work. That synergy between flyers and sound… without it I wouldn’t know about anything at all.”
In addition to his prolific flyer and poster work, Hohl is moving into animation. He’s worked with several bands to produce animated music videos, groups like Black Moth Super Rainbow, Buxton, Together Pangea, and DJ Treasure Fingers. Bringing his otherworldly creations into motion comes with a unique set of challenges.
“In a static picture there are no rules,” he says. “But in animation, you have to make someone believe on some level that what they’re seeing is real and possible. It’s takes a lot more discipline to bring something crazy to that kind of life.”