North Carolina rocker and artist shows off his graphic design chops in eye-popping anthology.
BY FRED MILLS
George Hage, who hails from the BLURT home base of Raleigh, NC, is perhaps best known as guitarist/vocalist for hi-nrg, cinematic, Americana-tinged rockers Jack the Radio, whose 2015 album, Badlands, notched across-the-board kudos from fans and critics alike. (Read our review of the album HERE, and also check out a track from it that we premiered HERE, one of numerous JtR tunes and videos that have been featured at BLURT.)
Yet it’s also Hage’s outsized talent as an artist that’s steadily elevated his profile. His work as graphic designer——from posters to album covers to apparel—is what his new book Daydreaming showcases, with ample examples of what makes the boy’s brain buzz when he’s not scribbling down lyrics and strumming chords. It’s a visual feast from start to finish.
The first section of the book, “Illustrations,” commences with his poster art for the Raleigh-based Carolina Hurricanes professional hockey team, and although the ‘canes have not been having a good couple of years, it’s certainly not due to Hage dropping the ball, er, puck, drawing-wise. One standout is a hockey-suited and space helmet-clad cartoon bear zipping around in the cosmos like some latterday Flash Gordon, his hockey stick smacking a glowing energy puck in lieu of a raygun pointed at Ming the Merciless; Hage also includes his preliminary sketches here, something he does on much of the book’s offerings, which allow you to see exactly how he developed his visual idea. Art books tend to just publish the final product, not the in-progress part, yet this strategy seems the perfect way to pull the veil back a bit more if you really want to learn what makes an artist tick. Another Hurricanes poster made me laugh out loud, a brilliant R. Crumb “Heroes of the Blues”-style homage depicting the bear in iconic Robert Johnson mode (suit/fedora/guitar); I suspect more than a few sports fans didn’t get the reference, and merely thought that the poster’s “Say Goodbye to the Blues” text was just a thumbs-up message of hope and good will to the beleaguered hometown hockey heroes.
Similarly, there are posters Hage created for Nashville-based Rayland Baxter (depicted as a one-eyed giant stomping through the wilderness) and Raleigh bluegrass/Americana outfit New Reveille (fiddle, banjo, upright bass and dobro chilling out beneath a tree and under the moonlight)—not to mention an intricate detail of his progression of proposed Nudie jacket designs for another Raleigh Americana outfit, American Aquarium, whose frontman BJ Barham also contributed guest vocals for Jack the Radio’s Badlands. Those nudie jackets would eventually wind up on the sleeve of American Aquarium’s Live at Terminal West; you can watch a video of Hage creating it at YouTube.
Next, Hage struts his chops with a portfolio of his posters for festivals, most notably the Hopscotch Music Festival, the celebrated annual Raleigh music conference that has been shaping up to be something akin to the East Coast version of SXSW, and a Dali-esque Residents-centric image for this year’s Artsplosure art festival in Raleigh.
Musical acts remain the book’s dominant theme, with everything from a Zap comix-style comic strip for Charlotte rockers Banditos, to a remarkably subtle rendering for a Bill Frisell concert, to (of course) Jack the Radio gig posters with a recurring jambox-headed-human theme. Comic books and comic book culture also crop up several times, such as a poster for Charlotte, NC, comic store Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find, and posters for regional comics conventions.
Later in the book comes the “Digital + Vector Art” section, with one particular standout being an intricate yet impressionistic set of vintage modular synthesizers that recur, Warhol-style, across a series of renderings. And the “Apparel” section features photos of people wearing some of the striking, teeshirts that Hage designed. Ultimately, there’s enough consistency across the entirety of the artist’s visual style that a sharp eye might instantly recognize a design as being a Hage one regardless of whether or not you’re a Carolina Hurricanes fan, a Moog synth fetishist, or a Jack the Radio devotee.
He tops it off with a final “Coloring Book” section which, you guessed it, comprises black and white versions of several previously viewed images. Me, I’m planning on diving in to the aforementioned R. Crumb blues homage and try my hand at coloring, which I haven’t done since grade school. Now where did my mom put my box of Crayolas?