"The MSG Rapture" - Final Sketch (AJ Masthay)
With New Year’s Run just around the corner, artist and printmaker, AJ Masthay, has been hard at work designing his hotly-anticipated MSG edition. Last year, AJ wowed Phish poster collectors with an awesome triptych that portrayed the inside of Madison Square Garden as an aquarium, playing off the band’s 1993 Holiday Run band’s stage set back in 1993. This year, AJ has created an unprecedented quadtych (four individual posters that combine to from one image) that vividly illustrates a scene of the imagination outside The Garden—”The MSG Rapture. I recently caught up with AJ to discuss his work in progress. (Click images to enlarge)
MM: You’ve had a great summer of Phish printmaking! Fans are really beginning to value your work more than ever—congratulations! Did you see an increase in demand for your prints this summer?
AJM: Thanks! I’ve absolutely seen an increase in demand this summer, especially for the UIC triptychs. I made 125 sets of those and all of them sold at Da Mock Show poster expo in Chicago. It’s always humbling for me to have my artwork in such high demand. I really do appreciate the fact that people enjoy my work. It still blows my mind sometimes when I’m packing orders that are being shipped all over the country and internationally.
Lake Tahoe (Masthay)
MM: Funny you should mention the UIC prints; I really dug that triptych with so much Chicago history woven into the artwork and the unique color scheme that you used. Did you have a favorite of Summer Leg II print, and if so, why?
AJM: Though I love them all, I’d say I had the most fun creating the Tahoe edition. Folks that have followed my work know that I have a love for skulls and bones that goes way back to my college days and my early influences of Georgia O’Keeffe. It’s totally not a death-thing, it’s a beauty-thing. I find the organic shapes and intricacies of the form just fascinating. The Tahoe print was also a return to working from “real life” for me, I actually had that deer skull set up and lit in my studio and managed to get my hands on an old single action revolver to draw from. Reference photos are great, but there’s nothing like having the real thing in front of you to work from.
Have you ever done a quadtych before this MSG run? Did the process pose unique issues or challenges that other triptychs and diptychs haven’t?
This will be my first quadtych ever. The biggest challenge is really the scale of the whole project. Even though the quad as a whole is broken down into individual panels, each color needs to be printed at basically the same time to ensure consistency in the inks. In essence and edition of 150 prints is really an edition of 600 with carving of 4 plates in between each printing. The scale, however, also provides me with a huge canvas to create an expansive composition. I’m always trying to draw the viewer into my images, and having more space actually makes that easier since there are more opportunities for depth and detail.
Talk a little bit about your inspiration for “The MSG Rapture?”
12.31 Sketch (Masthay)
I started out without much of a concept in mind other than I knew I wanted to use an exterior image of MSG to compliment the interior view from last year’s triptych. I also knew I wanted to bring back the image of the gas mask from the Hampton ’09 “Bass Bomb.” I love working on images for venues that I’ve been to numerous times and I try to draw from personal experience whenever possible. My first time at MSG, not for Phish, but for the Grateful Dead—I think it was ’93—I was young and in college and, honestly, don’t remember much detail from the experience, but I do remember lots of mounted police outside the venue. They were cool, not hassling anyone, just “keeping the peace.” I have a vivid memory of going up and saying hello to one of them and asking if I could pet his horse, which he had no problem with. I know it’s an odd association, but ever since I’ve always had a connection between horses and MSG.
The second half of the concept came from wanting to visually represent how for those four days, MSG is truly the center of the universe for fans, hence the burning sun and rings of planets orbiting the New Year’s Eve panel of the quad. There’s a lot more to it, but I think I’ll leave the rest up to the viewer.
I love the color palette for these prints, especially the sky or outer space. How do you choose the colors you are going to work with in prints? What about this one?
12.28 Sketch (Masthay)
Colors are always tough decisions since it’s just as much about making sure the colors will print correctly as it is about how the colors work in the image. Over the years, I think I’ve developed a “signature” color palette that you will see repeating through many of my works. Using undiluted primary colors against rich blacks and pastel pinks or mauves makes each previous color pop. Another factor that doesn’t translate unless you’re viewing the actual print is the sheen of the ink. I exclusively use oil-based inks, as layers of this ink build up on the paper it develops a gloss that very few artists in the poster world take advantage of. Think of the difference between a photograph printed on regular copy paper versus one printed on high gloss photo paper, the color on the glossy one is going to appear much richer and deeper.
I love how each print in the quadtych can stand alone as a poster for that night. How hard is it to make each print both a standalone piece and part of a whole? For this series? For triptychs in general?
Therein lies the real challenge when composing these multi-night images. I always intend for the pieces to be viewed together as a whole, but I also know that may not always be possible and each panel does need to work on its own. I usually start with the overall composition of all the panels and once that flow is generally in place I’ll work on the composition of each panel individually.
For this quadtych, in particular, some of the small details really pull the individual panels together. Take the streamers for example, without those elements I don’t think the individual panels would be successful, but with them, the flow all of a sudden works.
12.30 Sketch (Masthay)
When do these prints go on sale? Because I have a feeling they are gonna’ fly off your site!
The MSG sets will go up for sale this Friday, November 18th [in two days] at 12 noon EST on my website. I will also be blogging the entire creation process for this edition at . This way anyone who decides to purchase a set can follow along and literally watch their prints being made.
Thanks for your time AJ, I’ll see you in New York!
Jam of the Day
“Timber -> Simple” 11.16.97 II
This vastly underrated Denver ’97 highlight has always lived in the shadow of the band’s monstrous show the following night. But this “Timber” jam—from 14 years ago today—is the bees knees; a filthy combination of groove and psychedelia. The band emerges from the extreme darkness with gorgeous segment of melodic resolution that carries them through dramatic segue into “Simple.”