By Sunny Montgomery
It is no secret. I am Holler Poet’s Series’ biggest fan. In fact, if Holler handed out superlatives today, I would likely win “Most School Spirit.” The monthly series, which is held at Al’s Bar, includes an open mic, live music, and featured readings by local literary heavyweights such as Frank X Walker, Ed McClanahan, and Maurice Manning.
Over the years, Holler has also provided a truly grassroots opportunity to experience not just great writing, but also great artwork. Since its beginning in May 2008, Holler has relied upon the work of local artists John Lackey and Melissa Carter to help promote the literary gathering. The posters, distributed around town and offered at Holler for a nominal price, relate the time, location, gathering number, and featured presenters (two poets and a musician, normally). Beyond that, though, anything’s possible.
“When I was asked to put together a poetry event at Al’s, I knew I wanted iconic artwork to accompany the series,” Holler Poet’s founder, Eric Sutherland, said.
Sutherland found what he was looking for in Lackey, the local painter, sculptor, and proprietor of Homegrown Press who has provided the bulk of the artwork for the series. For years Lackey has been creating posters and artwork for alternative rock band Wilco that showcase his recognizable artistic style, which Sutherland describes as “organic-psychedelic.”
“I love poetry and writing, and it sounded like a cool idea,” Lackey says. “Then I got carried away.”
In the last five years, Lackey has created over 50 Holler posters in just about any medium imaginable—block printing, painting, drawing, photography. Each and every one, he has done gratis, which, he says, allows him room to experiment.
“There is no expectation,” said Lackey. “Each time out is a fresh roll of the dice.”
One of my personal favorites is the poster Lackey created for Holler 42. It is painted in shades of purple, green, gold, and blue. The top of the image is lined with earth-tone colored squares. Beneath that are lilac-flushed hills bearing tree trunks of similar color but streaked with white. I love it because of its softness. (And perhaps because my name appears on it.)
“If you had to describe your process for creating Holler posters, how would you?” I asked Lackey. His response was simple: “Luckily, I don’t have to.”
Lackey may be one of the nicest guys around, but he is also one of the busiest. That Lackey has the time at all to create Holler’s monthly posters is fairly impressive. He is a full-time Lexington artist and stays busy creating event posters for various local happenings; designing t-shirts for local bands; creating sculpture art for Lexington Art League; block prints for Story Magazine; and even cover art for the late Kentucky author James Still’s posthumously published novel Chinaberry. Not to mention his epic nature-inspired paintings that portray intricate and swirling scenery, which are on display at his Homegrown Press studio.
Last summer, however, Lackey did decide to take a step back from Holler art, which allowed UK art student and Al’s Bar bartendress Melissa Carter to step forward. “I learned that John was relinquishing his position on the Holler throne; naturally, I jumped at the chance to offer an artistic contribution to an event that I hold in high regard,” Carter told me.
Carter’s style is quite different than Lackey’s, but inspired nonetheless. She takes more of a digital approach or, as Carter describes it, “experimental, typographic, and every now and then geometric or historically driven.”
One of the first posters she created, for Holler 52, portrays a psychedelic electric blue font against a pale sea foam background. The bulk of the poster is covered with layered photo-shopped images of deceased Kentucky literary figures such as Jesse Stuart, Hunter S. Thompson, and Harriette Simpson Arnow. The poster’s focal image, sitting atop the others, is a red-hued Abraham Lincoln.
Carter says this poster is one of her favorites, and I have to agree. Not only because I appreciate its modern yet retro pop art feel but also because I appreciate its appropriateness: Eric Sutherland in profile bears an uncanny resemblance to Lincoln.
Currently, Carter is finishing her undergraduate work with plans to pursue a Masters of Fine Arts, which will likely take her out of state. Still, she says, she hopes to return to Lexington. “I’ve had a perpetual love affair with the north side of this town since I moved and began working here over a year ago,” she says. “Lexington is a great home base.”
I couldn’t agree more. In part, it is due to the creative communities established by a long-running series such as Holler. Thanks to great writers, musicians, and artists (did I mention that Lackey frequents the open mic to read his own work?), Holler has transcended a typical poetry reading to become iconic, indeed.
So come and let’s get spirited! I’m sure Carter behind the bar can help.
Holler celebrated its five-year anniversary on May 29. Holler 61 is June 26; Holler 62 is July 24. Open mic begins at 8pm at Al’s Bar. Posters can be purchased for $5. You can find Lackey’s studio, Homegrown Press, a doughnut’s throw away at 569 North Limestone.