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Famed Detroit concert poster artist Gary Grimshaw dead at 67
When Russ Gibb opened and began booking concerts at Detroit's Grande Ballroom, he called MC5 singer Rob Tyner and told him he wanted to advertise the shows with colorful, psychedelic posters like they were using in San Francisco.
Tyner passed the phone to a friend sitting on a nearby couch and said, "It's for you, Grimshaw..."
From that point Gary Grimshaw -- who died at the age of 67 Monday morning at Detroit Receiving Hospital after suffering through years of debilitating illness -- became a pioneering legend in the world of concert poster art. He created a body of indelible and influential images that remain prized, praised and highly collectible -- and even hangs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum in Cleveland.
"As kids, Gary Grimshaw was the best artist in our neighborhood," said MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, who grew up with the Detroit-born Grimshaw in Lincoln Park. "We drew hot rod cars and he knew the secret of how to capture chrome, which made him the coolest to a Downriver greaser like me.
"Of course, Gary became a truly great artist and friend and his art made the world a more beautiful place."
Photographer Leni Sinclair -- who published the book "Detroit Rocks: A Pictorial History of Motor City Rock and Roll (1965 to 1975)" with Grimshaw in 2012 -- called Grimshaw, "a true artist, to the bone. When you look at his work the one adjective that always comes to mind is flowing. He's always got these flowing lines -- sometimes it's water, sometimes it's flames. But it's always beautiful, flowing lines. That was Gary."
Scott Morgan from the Rationals and Sonic's Rendezvous Band, meanwhile, recalled it as "just excellent work. It really caught the spirit and the energy of the times."
Grimshaw was the son of a General Motors automotive designer and a mother who introduced him to books and music. He grew up drawing cars and comics as well as writing, and after returning from serving in the U.S. Navy during the early 60s he fell in with the rising anti-war movement in Detroit, serving as the Minister of Art for the White Panther Party and also working for the Fifth Estate underground newspaper, the Rainbow Peoples Party, the Detroit Artists Workshop and Trans-Love Energies.
The Grande jobs, however, made him a legend.
"He was the easiest guy in the world to work with," recalled the Grande's Gibb, who says part of Grimshaw's initial appeal was that he had an uncle who ran a printing company in Dearborn, so he could provide both the art but also the finished product at a reasonable price. "I'd give him the outline and never said what to do or how to do it. And he just did it and did it great. A little part of Detroit history left us today."
Friend and fellow artist Carl Lundgren said that "hard work" made Grimshaw such a high-caliber artist. "He was just amazingly gifted," Lundgren said. "His first attempts were rather crude, but he developed his style into just a mind-boggling quality. It's an incredible body of work; he spent hours and hours and hours at the drawing table, doing those things."
Tony D'Annunzio, director of the documentary "Louder Than Love: The Grande Ballroom Story," added that Grimshaw's images became as representative of the late 60s counterculture as any of his counterparts on the east and west coasts.
"That whole culture that was going on then, he wanted to be part of it," D'Annunzio said. "He wasn't a musician. HE wasn't going to be up on the stage playing. But when he was asked to help out with posters he jumped at the chance to be involved with the culture he was very much part of."
Grimshaw was also responsible for overturning the city of Detroit's obscenity ordinance in 1969, when the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling that one of his works was obscene. He moved to the San Francisco Bay Area for a few years during the late 60s, and besides posters Grimshaw also contributed artwork to the Ann Arbor Sun, the San Francisco Oracle and other underground publications, and he was associate art director for Creem magazine. He and his wife Laura also spent 14 years back in the Bay Area before returning to Detroit in 2003.
Despite his health issues Grimshaw continued to work, making posters for PJ's Lager House and Detroit's Concert of Colors and other concerns. Last fall he was in Brooklyn to exhibit and sign his work, which Laura Grimshaw said "were beautiful signings. People stood in line to honor him. It was way cool."
Grimshaw is survived by Laura and his son, Alan, who is also an artist and designer. Funeral arrangements for this weekend are pending, while "A NIght of Good Love," which was intended to be a benefit for Grimshaw on March 22 at the Macomb Music Theatre in Mount Clemens, will go on as scheduled as a memorial, with proceeds going to the family to allay his medical expenses. "Louder Than Love" will be shown, while Scott Morgan, Gary Quackenbush from SRC and Dick Wagner & Friends will perform.
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