Gary Grimshaw

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Gary Grimshaw (February 25, 1946 – January 13, 2014) was an American graphic artist who specialized in designing rock concert posters. He was also a radical political activist with the White Panther Party and related organizations.

Early years

Grimshaw was born on February 25, 1946 in Detroit, and raised in Lincoln Park, Michigan. His best friend in high school was Rob Derminer. later known as Rob Tyner, cofounder of the Detroit protopunk band, the MC5. Another friend from his youth in Lincoln Park was Wayne Kramer, later the renowned guitarist for the MC5. According to Kramer, “Grimshaw was the best artist in our neighborhood” and “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."

After high school, Grimshaw enlisted in the United States Navy to avoid being drafted into the Army. He served on an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea during theVietnam War. He was first exposed to psychedelic concert art when his ship was repaired in the San Francisco Bay Area. While there, he visited two famous rock concert venues, the Avalon Ballroom and The Fillmore, and observed light showoperators at work. He was discharged from the Navy in 1966, and returned to Detroit.

Rock art and politics

After his return to Detroit, Russ Gibb hired him do light shows during rock performances at the Grande Ballroom. At a party about the same time, he met John Sinclair, a poet and jazz critic who had just been released from six months in jail on a marijuana conviction. That was the first time that Sinclair heard the MC5 perform, and he soon became the band's manager and and political mentor. Soon, Grimshaw was also designing posters for the MC5 and other bands performing at the Grande Ballroom and other Detroit area venues. His poster style was "psychedelic and heady, heavily embroidered with bright colors and flowing text."

Grimshaw was active in the anti-war movement and was a leading figure in the White Panther Party, founded in 1968 by John Sinclair, his wife Leni Sinclair and Pun Plamondon. He was Minister of Art for the White Panther Party which modeled itself after the Black Panther Party.

Grimshaw did many posters for the MC5 and worked with the Detroit Artists Workshop, Translove, the Hill House commune in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and later for the The Rainbow Peoples Party, successor to the White Panthers. He designed the cover for the MC5's inaugural album Kick Out the Jams, using photography by Joel Brodsky. During the heyday of the Grande Ballroom, Grimshaw and Carl Lundgren were the two artists primarily responsible for its rock poster art. During that period, he did posters for performances by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, Canned Heat, The Who and many others.

In 1968, he was indicted on a marijuana charge in Grand Traverse County, Michigan, and fled to San Francisco and Boston, where he continued designing posters. He surrendered in 1970 and beat the charges.

In 1969, the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned Grimshaw's conviction by a lower court on obscenity charges. Grimshaw had been convicted of flying a "fifteen cent kite that had a dirty word lettered on it", and sentenced to 15 days in jail and a $150.00 fine, but the court threw out the Detroit ordinance, on the basis that it "unconstitutionally inhibits free speech".

His political mentor John Sinclair was sent to prison on marijuana charges in 1969, and Grimshaw worked hard for his freedom. One of Grimshaw's most "memorable, iconic" posters promoted the John Sinclair Freedom Rally, held in Ann Arbor on December 10, 1971, featuring performances by John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Stevie Wonder, Bob Seger, Archie Shepp and Phil Ochs. Speakers at the event included Bobby Seale of the Black Panther Party, Jerry Rubin of the Yippies, and beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Sinclair was freed within days of the rally.

He worked for Creem Magazine as an associate art director ftom 1976 to 1984.

Later years and death

In 1988, Grimshaw designed the cover for Iggy Pop's album Instinct. In 1993, he designed a limited edition poster for the "Motor City Joint Show" at the Ubiquity Gallery in Ferndale, Michigan, highlighting work by Detroit poster artists Stanley Mouse, Wes Wilson, Mark Arminski and Grimshaw himself. In December, 1999, the Detroit Free Press named him to its list of Michigan's 100 greatest artists and entertainers of the 20th century. He lived in San Francisco and Oakland, California from 1990 to 2005, when he relocated back to Detroit.

He died in Detroit on January 13, 2014, after several strokes and a long illness.


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