Arts and Entertainment

Iconic images will set the walls of Book Arts on fire

Godspell is one of many musicals that David Edward Byrd created posters for.  - Courtesy Photo
Godspell is one of many musicals that David Edward Byrd created posters for.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

A major exhibit of the work of David Edward Byrd — one of the 20th century’s most prolific poster artists and illustrators — will open this weekend at The BookArts Building, in the former VFW Hall on Vashon.

The exhibit, “Set the Walls on Fire: Returning to Rock’s Roots with Artist David Edward Byrd,” will be a 40-year retrospective of art by a man who has created some of the most famous images in the history of rock music and Broadway shows.

“This will be the largest retrospective of his work ever held,” said Phil Bevis, who runs The Center for Sustainable Book Arts and is organizing the exhibit in conjunction with and Vashon Island Books.

Bryd, 69, will attend the show and work with Bevis on a video documentation of the event that aims to tell the stories behind his iconic works.

Byrd is renowned for his work for Bill Graham at Fillmore East and his posters for Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, The Who and the rock opera “Tommy,” Traffic, Iron Butterfly, Ravi Shankar and the Grateful Dead.

He also designed iconic imagery for the Woodstock Festival and graphics for the 1969 Rolling Stones tour.

In addition to his concert and tour work, Byrd also created posters and graphics for several Broadway shows, including “Godspell,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Little Shop of Horrors.” He’s designed countless book jackets, album covers and animated film characters as well.

In recent years, he did extensive pre-production design work for the first three Harry Potter films.

All of this work — including drawings that influenced the development of characters and settings in the Harry Potter films — will be represented in the show at Tthe BookArts Building.

“He’s had such an interesting career. A lot of artists have one career that either rises or falls, but he made it big initially doing music albums and posters, and then that segued into Broadway work and film,” Bevis said.

Reached at his Los Angeles studio, Byrd took time away from his current projects to talk about the upcoming show.

He said that although he had never been to Vashon, he was looking forward to his time on the Island and working with Bevis, whom he met through a mutual friend.

“He has a big, beautiful building, and I think the Island looks beautiful,” Byrd said.

He said he was excited to see so much of his work under one roof and to work on the video documentation project with Bevis.

“I have so many stories,” he said. “Someone got me writing them down now, so now, whenever I can get a moment, I just start scribbling, but I’m not a writer.”

Byrd has some favorite works among the hundreds he has created over the years.

“One of my favorites was a poster I did for the 1974 art deco exposition at Radio City Music Hall. It’s one of the posters I’ve done that is owned by Louvre Graphic Collection. Another favorite I did for my first show at Triton Gallery, in 1971. It was a terrific event and I love that poster — it is of a time and place that is very evocative.”

Age has also afforded Byrd with an opportunity to see the patterns in his work and what made his posters so special.

“The simpler things I like, the more punchy,” he explained. “Also, as I look back, I notice that I did a lot of posters with heads, because somehow people can’t not look at eyes. That’s what you do when you meet someone, because their eyes tell you a lot about them. I never thought about that, but now I’m thinking about it.”

“Set the Walls on Fire: Returning to Rock’s Roots with Artist David Edward Byrd” will open from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26, at The BooksArts Building, 22100 Vashon Hwy S.W. The artist will be in attendance at the opening. Some works in the show will be for sale. For more information, visit or call 408-7017.

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