The Art of AJ Masthay

Hampton '09 - Bass Bomb

Concert art has been a large facet of the Phish scene for quite some time, as legions of fans have transformed into collectors who buy, sell and trade show posters. While this hobby, often bordering on obsession, once centered on official posters sold at the merch stands, in the past few years, more and more independent artists have been issuing their own print runs for shows. And, as a result, unofficial prints have found a legitimate niche in the collecting community. AJ Masthay, one of the leading independent Phish artists, has come into his own since the band has returned in this era, transforming his art into sought after collectibles with a style distinctly his own. The two prints AJ made for the band’s Hampton reunion, in his own words, “represented a turning point” for his work and took his art to “a new level.” Since then, his prints have become favorites of collectors for their bold, engaging imagery and vibrant colors schemes. I recently caught up AJ to talk about his history as an artist, the inspiration behind his work, and the current state of affairs at Masthay Studios.

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MM: So, what came first, Phish or art?

Telluride 2010

AJM: Art came way before Phish—hell, my parents still have my kindergarten show & tell drawings of Spiderman! I was always the quintessential “art geek” throughout school, no interest in sports, proms, [or the more popular activities.] That’s probably one of the reasons I eventually clicked with heads and the counterculture surrounding the Grateful Dead and then Phish.

MM: Growing up, who were artists that you admired and who influenced your early vision?

AJM: When in art school getting my degree, I was heavily influenced by the old Italian Renaissance masters. I’ll never forget my first trip to Italy and just being blown away by Michelangelo’s slaves, unreal. My mentor at that time was a printmaker named Fred Wessel, and he really is the one who spurred on my love of prints and printmaking. As I became more interested in concert posters, I’d say my main influences were the works of Jeff Wood, Stanley Mouse and, of course, Jim Pollock.

MM: Talk a little bit about how you got into printing concert posters.

AJM: Well, I had to pay for going on tour somehow, right? I’m no good at making veggie burritos or French bread pizza, so it made sense to try to sell some artwork on the lots to help get me to the next shows. My absolute first experience selling on the lot was at the Lemonwheel. I had done a couple charcoal drawings of Jerry and made cheap photocopies of them to sell. Sure enough, they did pretty well at $5 a pop, and made me think maybe I had something here.

Fresh out of college I still had access to my university’s printshop, so I’d sneak in there and crank out 50 or so prints for upcoming shows to sell on the lots. Next thing I knew I found my own press and was able to set up my own humble printshop. I think the first works I created specific to the scene were back on TAB tour in 2001. These were small editions done on an etching press. They were well received and things just kind of snowballed from there.

Atlantic City 2010 Triptych

MM: Your prints have gained popularity for their bold imagery, thick use of paint, and vibrant colors. Explain a little how you’re vision and style has developed.

AJM: I’ve always loved dynamic compositions when it comes to artwork, I guess that’s where a lot of the bold imagery comes from. I believe it’s important to create a lot of depth in a print, places where the viewer can crawl into the image and get lost. I also love breaking the borders of an image, again, making parts of the print appear to jump off the page.

The vibrant colors come from my traditional printmaking background and preference for oil based inks over water. I often get comments about the “smell” of opening a fresh tube from my studio, which is due to the oil based inks. Also the fact that I layer my inks on the paper gives the colors more depth and after enough layers, a really nice glossy sheen that you don’t typically find on other prints.

MM: Have you been hired to do official work for any bands?

AJM: Absolutely. Most notably, over the past year, would be the multiple editions I’ve done for Umphrey’s McGee and Widespread Panic. In all likelihood, the lot art will become a thing of the past as my schedule becomes busier with the official work.

Worcester 2010

MM: How did those jobs come about?

AJM: I know the art director from Umphrey’s was a good friend of one of my biggest supporters. He introduced her to my work and the band approached me to do their 12/30/09 print at the Aragon Ballroom. I guess they liked my style; since then I’ve done prints for them at Red Rocks, Minneapolis, Madison, NYC, Boston, Philly, and a full triptych for their last New Year’s Run at the Riviera in Chicago.

Widespread learned about my work through Jeff Wood. They had asked him to recommend some new artists and he turned them on to me. Thanks Jeff!

MM: Explain the process of making a print for people who might not understand.

AJM: The majority of my works are reduction relief prints, also known as “suicide prints.” Each color in a print is created by carving a sheet of linoleum—envision a giant rubber stamp. But because I layer my colors on top of each other and do multiple carvings on the same plate, the plates, themselves, are destroyed in the creation process, hence [the term] “suicide prints.” What this also means is that there will never be any second editions of my work because the plates do not exists by the end of the printing process.

While creating last year’s Summer Camp Festival print, I made a nice little process page on my website that explains the process with tons of photos. Check it out for a better understanding.

MSG 2010 Triptych

MM: These days, how do you decide what Phish shows to make prints for?

AJM: I can’t say there is much rhyme or reason to it. I guess it’s based mostly upon what venues or locations I’m interested in or at least get my juices going. Nine times out of ten these are the shows I’ll be hitting on a tour, but not always.

MM: How do you get your inspiration for your prints? Do you consider location and Phish history? What type of things factor in?

AJM: I’ve learned that inspiration can come from any direction, usually when you least expect it. I have a running note on my iPhone entitled “Print Concepts” and every time something pops in my head, I force myself to stop and jot it down. I know if I don’t, it’ll be gone forever. (Damned short-term memory!) I enjoy doing prints for venues I’ve actually attended and will usually use some type of personal experience I’ve had there to work into the image. Sometimes it resonates with others, sometimes it doesn’t. Phish history can also play into an image. One specific example is my MSG prints from the last New Years Run. My first shows were the ’93 New Year’s Run with the fish tank stage. I’ve always wanted to create something around those memories and it became the basis for the underwater theme of those prints.

MM: What are your favorite Phish prints that you’ve done? Overall?

Hampton '09 - Bass Bomb II

AJM: That’s a tough question, like who’s your favorite child. My two Hampton prints from 2009—the Bass Bomb and Bass Bomb II—have to be near the top, if not at the top. I think those two prints really represent a turning point in my work, where something “clicked” and my prints went to a new level. Other highlights would have to be my Telluride and Atlantic City prints from last year and the Bethel and Portsmouth prints from this current run. Telluride and Portsmouth because of their classic, dignified images, and AC and Bethel because they are just downright fun.

MM: Let’s go through your Leg One prints for this summer. What was the inspiration for each? (To purchase any prints, simply click on the image!)

AJM: I had a tough time coming up with concepts for Leg One. I pushed myself a bit outside of my comfort zone and chose all venues I’ve never been to so there was no way for me to draw from personal experience.

Bethel Woods Triptych – 5.27,28,29 : Originally I wanted to do something for Bethel based around the Furthur bus and the whole Woodstock thing, but as I worked out sketches it all felt trite and I knew it wasn’t going to work. So I thought about the fact that the whole place used to be a dairy farm, and imagined what it must have been like back in the early ‘60’s before all the hippies descended; just cows roaming around. What kind of craziness might have happened in those fields back then? Why, alien cow abductions of course…

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PNC – 5.31 & 6.1: PNC was a fun one. Sometimes when I’m stuck on a venue I turn to the good ol’ Internet and see what Wikipedia has to say about the history of a city or venue. It turns out Bell Labs had a headquarters in Holmdel for many, many years. God only knows what kind of freaky experiments went on there, which got me thinking “How would a scientist explain what makes a Phish show special?”. I don’t think it’s a question that can be answered by analyzing the scene, but it sure would be fun to watch them try!

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Alpharetta – 6.14 & 15: Alpharetta is what I affectionately call the “Jabba Frog.” Having never been there, I’m pretty sure there are no swamps in that part of Georgia, but to be honest, that didn’t matter to me. I wanted to make a print that had that feeling of a humid overgrown swamp lake with huge flies buzzing around and a big fat frog getting fatter off them. I enjoyed playing with the borders on this piece, almost making the flies break out of the image to escape being eaten.

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Portsmouth – 6.19: Portsmouth has obvious ties to the nautical history of the town. In Connecticut, we have Mystic Seaport, where they have some of the really old, majestic tall ships, and I thought it would make the perfect image for that town. Again, I think this print has almost a vintage feel to it, something anyone could appreciate whether knowing it’s a concert poster or not. Really, one of my all time favorites.

MM: So, in regard to a possible collaboration with Phish in the future, do you know how they select artists for their official prints?

AJM: I’m not aware of what the process is, but hell yeah, I would love to do official work for my favorite band.

MM: Before signing off, any last words or anything you’d like to add about your craft?

AJM: I just really enjoy creating art. Honestly, I do it for myself. I think I’d still be drawing and printing if no one else were interested in my work. The fact that so many people appreciate it still blows my mind to this day and I appreciate the support of every person that digs my art.

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If you would like to order any of AJ’s prints for only $35, head over to Masthay Studios! AJ is also offering Leg One “subscriptions” for $225, where you will get the same number for each print in the series and get them delivered all at once. Check it out…

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Jam of the Day:

Tweezer > 2001” 7.1.98 II

A throwback to Summer ’98’s second show of summer in Den Gra Hal and one of the most mind-melting sequences that dropped all season

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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Greek Theatre 2010 Triptych

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724 Responses to “The Art of AJ Masthay”

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  1. tela'smuff Says:

    wow! fantastic Miner!! an interview! I feel stupid I hadn’t heard of this artist, but my Phish poster collecting has slowed in 3.0. This guy has some amazing work! I’ll for sure be looking to grab something Leg II. Thanks for shining a light on his art.

  2. garretc Says:

    Wow, great piece Miner! Didn’t see the interview angle coming! Nice to see you working a new feature into the blog.

    I don’t know if AJ will venture down here into the comments section, but I love every single print in this post, and if I had disposable income I’d buy a few… Awesome work man!

  3. Kurt from Indy Says:

    thought it was pretty funny that i was gazing into my dc 09 lot poster, with deer fish in the cornfields shaped like a maze, thinking man i need some more posters these things are cool, im gonna look up some shit on ebay, well i guess its that time of night/morning ill check out miner first…boom poster art, sweet timing mm

    i wasnt really familiar w his name but when i saw a few of his prints i thought ohh yeaaa, those are good

  4. Kurt from Indy Says:

    def remember a few of those prints, dont have any though

  5. Gavinsdad Says:

    Refreshing new twist there miner…I’d always dug your older “scene” posts and the art/Phish/collecting connection has been there since day 1. Thanks for shining a light on AJ.

    In other weds news….shouts to GarretC. Good luck on your final day of finals homie.

  6. halcyon Says:

    AJ has been consistently on point with his work. Thanks for the interview and shedding light on the artist, and process!

    Headed back to my adopted home today. Kind of bittersweet leaving NY. Many emotions are flowing and being felt today. Peace BB. Catch everyone another day!

  7. jdub Says:

    Great interview Miner! I love Masthay’s prints and hope he gets some official work from the band.

  8. AintNoTele Says:

    Wow, great job miner!

    Anyone care to pick me up one of those PNCs? My lab work is paying for summer tour so this one is truly fitting for this guy, I’ve never got a poster for a show I wasn’t at but I gotta get this one.

    Definitely a talented man behind these, thanks for a glimpse into the process Miner, A+++/$$$$

  9. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Bass
    ——- = Cactus – Awesome
    Funk

  10. albert walker Says:

    Great piece miner

    Love his work. Got turned onto it after msg and have been real impressed in what I’ve seen

    Still looking for a set of msg prints if anyone has em

    may have to grab a set of bethels too. Hip stuff.

    Have a good one comrades
    new summer tweezers

  11. btb Says:

    Thanks AJ and Miner!

  12. gavinsdad Says:

    BETHEL EXTRAS POST:

    i have a full set of bethel pavs for face/fees

    first 2 nites sec 100 row N
    last nite sec 7 row G

    edlooram AT yahoo

    holla as i need to get em in the mail yo

  13. sumodie Says:

    Miner: thanks for the masthay interview, nice way to mix it up here

    as for lot artists, my fav is Isadora Bullock:

    http://isadorabullock.com/archives

  14. gavinsdad Says:

    just struck thru my UIC nosebleeds on the ticket exchange spreadsheet. they are gone. update the spreadsheet if you need to folks.

  15. Brimley Says:

    Great interview Miner!! I look forward to the day that we see you interviewing a band member…

  16. MisterChristian Says:

    I really like the Woosta Mechafish, reminds me of the Darius video game series, one of my favorites of the shooter genre.
    when I’m not so broke I’ll pick one up!

  17. Fastenuff4who Says:

    Very cool interview. Love the artwork!

  18. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    really cool interview. nice to look a little behind the curtain for this type of thing. incidentally, UM just had a charity raffle that included his work as part of the booty.

    great feature to add to the site. maybe more like this could *gasp* end up with one of the boys stopping by…

  19. AintNoTele Says:

    Just saw you can order right from his site, done deal

  20. lastwaltzer Says:

    Nice piece Miner, nice work AJ.

    Great way to grow the site.

  21. AintNoTele Says:

    Phan tested, Gunslinger approved

  22. st8 of mind Says:

    That is one raging Tweez>2001. Thanks Miner!

  23. bhizzle Says:

    morning peoples…..was not quite expecting what I saw today…real neat. my ex best girl used to do that same thing in school with the linoleum. it seemed tedious to me but she loved it. she was real good too. the same school was just in the paper for doing a print large enough that the students used a drum compactor (asphalt roller) to press it onto the street. It was a dollar bill with something Dead orientated SYF or something where the prez head should be. Cool stuff. Funny that heads always seem to do the cool art. or is it I find their art the coolest cuz I’m a head too? more than likely.

  24. Monsterpus Says:

    Nice interview, and great work. AJ got the Miner Bump!

  25. lastwaltzer Says:

    ” was not quite expecting what I saw today…”bhizzle

    I’m gonna second that. In no way am I beatin on ya Miner but this was the first time in a while I’ve come on the site and been really surprised with what I got. Like I said not trying to say I don’t like what you do on a regular basis but it was nice to see you change it up. I’ve really enjoyed watching your site evolve as you come up with new ideas for these posts.

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