Poster Art: Nels “Jagmo” Jacobson’s fortuitous relocation

“It was a move to Austin, Texas in 1978 that touched off my fascination with poster art,” says Nels Jacobson, better known as psychedelic-poster artist Jagmo. “That move changed my life.”

In Texas at Club Foot as a bar manager and promotions director, Jacobson was able to mingle with music legends such as B.B. King, James Brown, and Stevie Ray Vaughan and also artists that he commissioned for concert posters.

“I got to know many of the artists whose work I’d admired when I first got to town,” he says. “With their work as my inspiration, I started designing posters myself using the name Jagmo.” Using pen, ink, an X-acto knife, and the occasional photocopier, Jacobson launched his career as an artist.

The mid-1980s were a different setting media-wise for artists; silk screening was rare, and this was before the introduction of computer-based design programs. The majority of Jacobson’s work was produced using offset printing.

“Cost concerns led many designers — especially DIY artists — to photocopy their handbills,” he explains. “But I chose to have mine offset printed when possible.” This was around the time when Jacobson created Jagmo Studios, a freelance design business focused on producing posters and graphic work for Austin venues and bands.

“Sometimes I was hired to create posters for out-of-town venues as well, but in those pre-digital, pre-Internet days, doing posters for distant gigs wasn’t as common as it is today.”

Relocation — a frequent pattern — brought the Chicago native to Houston, Nashville, San Francisco, and now a house setup in Detroit, a town that he describes as having a rich poster tradition. And although the advances in technology have altered Jacobson’s design routine to eventually scanning in a “polished” layout generated with his constant pen and X-acto, his goal has always been the same: “to create designs that are striking and effective.”

“The ultimate style of a particular poster, or the imagery used, may echo the kind of music played by the band, the visual look of the group, or the era it’s most associated with,” Jacobson says. “Or it may take its cue from the type of venue that has booked the group or from the prevailing mood of the day.”

Since his start, Jacobson has co-founded American Poster Institute, acquired a law degree, and become the director of The Rock Poster Society as well as of the South by Southwest Continuing Legal Education program.

He says that he remains as captivated by the rock-poster field as he was 30 years ago and believes that art will remain a powerful cultural force. “And that’s good for everyone — bands, artists, and fans.”

– Liza Rush

Poster Art is a biweekly column about today’s independent poster art and the artists who create it.

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