Jim Pollock Shares The Early Days Creating Art for Phish and How He's Evolved His Creative Process

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Jim Pollock of Pollock Prints is best known for the art he has done for the band Phish, starting with his iconic album cover art for the band's first album Junta. Since the mid-1980s, when he met members of the band at Goddard College in rural Vermont, Jim's artistic journey has been motivated by a singular urge: to create unique pieces that evoke a spirit of discovery and that are open for interpretation. These days, fans line up for hours before shows to get a poster from that night's performance, and Jim's live art-making installations have become a defining fixture of their festival experience.

Listen in as Jim discusses his evolving creative process and how he first started making art for Phish in their early days.

Some Highlights From the Show

Jim Pollock All In This Together Sticker“The 'We're All in This Together' Sticker is my first sticker I'm printing  with StickerGiant. I've obviously done a lot of designs that turned into stickers, but this one is a first of its kind and really timed to the moment we're in. Though we're apart, we are also all in this together.” - Jim Pollock

Below is an edited transcript with the highlights from our conversation with Jim.

Stickers on the Mic: Today we welcome a guest whose work has been in the life of millions of music fans all around the world. Today we have Jim Pollock, who's an artist and who runs Pollock Prints and he is going to share the story of his creative process and how he has become one of the most iconic visual artists for some very important bands in American culture. Jim, thank you so much for joining us. Tell us a little bit about how you got into wanting to be an artist and what what sort of drove you to this this place of expression that you've created.

Jim Pollock: Well, really early on, I'd say. I was always drawing as a kid, like to copy a lot of Peanuts comic strips of Snoopy, then through drawing characters from Warner Brothers, and some Disney. So I was just always drawing, and then I was in art classes all the time. So my initial plan was going to be drawing stuff, and you know getting a lot of artists to show people what they've been working on to get responses. 

Stickers on the Mic: So that drives you to obviously be very experimental and you ended up at Goddard College in the 1980s.

Jim Pollock: Which is kind of a fluke because I grew up outside of Philadelphia in the Main Line suburbs of West Chester, Pennsylvania. I was a bit of a punk rocker or something because there was a big punk rock scene at the time in the early 80s and then I ended up at Goddard College. The circumstance and events of which was kind of a much different cultural experience, a little out of my box. It was like hippie and crunchy and it was the era of Reagan, and it was all very much against what I was going for. It was so Vermont. And it was an alternative education, a John Dewey School of Education philosophy from the mid-19th century, which you get to study whatever you want and they don't give your grades and that type of thing. And when I showed up, I showed up the same time as Page McConnell, now the keyboard player for the band Phish, and we hit it off. We kind of had come back from similar circumstances, both of us. He grew up in suburban New Jersey. He had gone to a big university and failed out. I went to Syracuse and failed out. When you get yourself into a very new cultural environment, sometimes it forces you to change rapidly. And I did. I formed a lot of my ideas that have come along the way.

Anyway, so me and Page were friends and hanging out and every spring Goddard would have a Spring Fest, and they'd bring these bands out, and one band that was supposed to show up and they couldn't. And then they sent Phish, or what was Phish then. They showed up and they played and they had two guitars and a drummer and a bass player. They played Whipping Post and all these classic rock things. And Page was playing. He was teaching me music, and I was a novice guitar player. I've gotten better over time, but he was teaching me stuff, and he was obviously very talented and these guys showed up and we were both like "You've got to play with those guys. They're amazing."

They were playing the Allman Brothers, Santana. It was just awesome. And then a month later, he starts touring with them and then eventually the guitar player left, and Trey and the drummer Fishman both dropped out of UVM or something like that, same type of thing. And then they ended up at Goddard. So they're just doing their band there. And then I left and then went to Chicago where I've been. I had been before I moved to Pittsburgh and finished up the School of the Art Institute and kind of started my career with them there. But even before then, when I was at school and they'd play local clubs, I'd make some Xerox posters of the show and stuff like that.

Stickers of the Mic: When it came to that because they had a logo, your imprint your sort of style, the visual language that you've brought to their music, because you know music is not pictorial right? It's not the art form, but your art has sort of very much helped in some way shape how people interpret the band, whether it's the album covers or the posters or the tickets. What does that process look like when you're creating around their events and their actual products.

Jim Pollock: Yeah, it's a lot of fun. I mean, I get a lot of leeway as an artist to kind of experiment and do whatever. Sometimes it's very specific, but in a lot of times, I'm just given kind of free leeway and give them some ideas that I'm thinking of, and then we go from there. It kind of slowly evolves over time, but I started even before the posters. The posters started more or less in the 90s.

Stickers on the Mic: Right, the late 90s is when the posters become a thing, they're now these collectibles that people line up around the block for a day just to get them, which must make you feel pretty cool as an artist.

Jim Pollock: I know, it's crazy. Because I just wanted to, I mean before I started the posters, I was still doing the merchandise. And I guess that's why it's kind of grown with the band. I did a lot of t-shirts, did a lot of cartoons for their newsletter the Doniac Schvice. Just kind of evolved with them and they're always creating new stuff, and I'm always creating new stuff and it's just kind of a monster and just keeps going. It's like my biggest client, obviously, and I am very happy for them. And the relationship with the fans is just something that can't even be put into words. It's an amazing feeling.

Stickers on the Mic: And well, when the fans for the first time, when they were buying records and CDs. Back in the day, the Junta album cover just sort of jumps off of the shelf at you. It's so different. When you're a kid like me in the mid to early 90s at a record store, and you're used to seeing things that get pretty boilerplate, you can tell the industry machine is churning out the same look for every artist, and then you pick up this black and white thing, and there's noses with feet! Where and how does that style come together? As a fan that's always has been very intriguing.

Jim Pollock: That's the cartoony look I wanted, to be a comic strip for this or comic book for this. I've gotten to do something much different, which is like, way more rewarding by far. I'd say my style has evolved with the linoleum prints to be less like the ink pen and ink and the detailed lines stuff that I do so more carvings and stuff like that. Then you lose detail, but then also I like to simplify the forms because of printmaking. I like to, almost like a Henri Matisse thing where you keep it simple, because I always thought of the posters as being something that you look at from like two feet or three feet away. And something that's a cartoon that you're looking at very closely. It's almost like my relationship to what an eyeball sees, how close or far the eyeball is from whatever it's looking at.

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