Gary Houston says it feels like he has been making poster art “for a lifetime”; as a youngster he and a friend made posters for a promoter in Wichita, Kansas advertising bands including Savoy Brown, Atomic Rooster, Deep Purple and Fleetwood Mac. He attended Wichita State University and Bethany College in Kansas, studying sculpture, art history and drawing and subsequently had a brief break from picture making to be a record wholesaler. In 1988 he opened a design studio in the Pearl District of Portland, Oregon.
Houston started Voodoo Catbox in 1995 and still does everything by hand; lettering, drawing, cutting (scratchboards, always using a No. 11 Exacto-knife blade) and silk-screening. Despite the low runs and quality of the work his posters start at only about $30, rising to more than twice that when the editions run low or are especially rare.
“We were in the Pearl when people were scared to go in there. We’d smoke cigarettes and put them out on the floor.”
When Hypergallery made our pilgrimage to Voodoo Catbox (now in the St Johns area of Portland) back in 2012, Houston was working over a desk in one corner of his vast studio. He was surrounded by mounds of paperwork (Houston doesn’t use a computer, leaving anything that requires it to his assistant) all of which was pushed aside to make space for one black and white drawing of a guitar with a lightning bolt head.
Guitars often feature in Voodoo Catbox posters, sometimes with wings, sometimes buried in undergrowth as the shape of the frets blends with the curls of the leaves; often he will plainly and simply place them at the centre of the frame. Other regular players are bottles of liquor, cigarettes, skulls and all manner of flora and fauna both real and fantastical; all play a part in the Voodoo Catbox oeuvre, demonstrating Houston’s love of the music with a touch of humour and a dash of symbolism.
For many years he has been creating the Waterfront Blues Festival poster, many of which have become serious collectors’ items such as 2008’s “Ain’t No Peace in the Barnyard” and Robert Johnson Waterfront Blues Festival Posters from 2001-2004. His scratchboard artwork with its woodblock feel to it has really become a visual identity for the festival. In an interview with Vortex Music Magazine Houston said "It was never our intention to brand any of this stuff. It just happened.” As they said, it's impossible to imagine the state's largest music festival without him at the visual helm.
An album cover design is a rarity from the Voodoo Catbox shed and we at Hypergallery have long been massive fans, crossing our fingers for an album cover design to pop up in their repertoire. We think his design for Little Feat's fifteenth album, released in 2012, is a stunner.