Nels Jacobson

Gig Poster Artist
ArtworkSpecial Projects

About the Artist

Nels Jacobson has been researching, writing about, and creating rock poster art for almost 40 years. In the late 1970s he moved from Chicago to Austin, Texas where he served as manager at Club Foot, a music venue featuring local bands and touring acts such as U2, REM, James Brown, and BB King. One of best parts of his job was commissioning gig-poster designs from veteran Texas artists Guy Juke, Micael Priest, and others. He had been admiring and collecting their work since moving to town, and soon he was trying his hand at creating posters himself. After leaving Club Foot he founded Jagmo Studios, a design firm specializing in graphic art for the music industry. Over the course of the next 15 years, Jacobson worked with almost every Austin band, music promoter, and venue—hand drawing or hand cutting his designs in the tradition of the San Francisco and Texas poster artists of the 1960s and 1970s. He used markers and x-acto blades for the simple sketches and collages he began with but by the mid-1980s he was crosshatching, stippling, and lettering with a rapidograph.

Jacobson was art director for South by Southwest (SXSW) during its first six years, designing the original logo and posters. He helped organize a cultural exchange tour to the Soviet Union in 1987, designed the poster, and accompanied the performers to Helsinki, Leningrad, Moscow, and Kiev.

He has written and lectured extensively on art and legal topics—presenting his paper “Art of Rock and Roll” at the Entertainment Law Institute in Dallas in 2014, presenting his paper “Art Laws and Outlaws: Legal Issues in Music Graphics” during SXSW 2015, and contributing the essay “Colorful Tales and Early Techniques” to Homegrown: Austin Music Posters 1967 to 1982, published by the University of Texas Press. His poster work has been featured in other books as well, including Art of Modern Rock: The Poster ExplosionSWAG 2: Rock Posters of the ‘90s and Beyond;Rock Paper Show: Flatstock Volume One; and the French volume Rock Poster Art: Sérigraphies de Concert. His posters are archived at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and can be viewed at For several years Jacobson served on the packaging GRAMMY committees for the Texas and San Francisco Chapters of the Recording Academy. He is a board member of The Rock Poster Society and a founding board member of both the South Austin Popular Culture Center and the American Poster Institute.

Artwork by Nels Jacobson

Artist Statement

Gig posters have played a part in the promotion of rock music for about as long as rock and roll has been around and their importance is not limited to advertising. Since at least the 1960s rock posters, quite apart from the performances that spawned them, have been revered and collected as valuable in their own right—because a powerful gig poster is capable of more than simply publicizing an upcoming concert. It can take on a life of its own as a singular piece of art or an iconic commemorative trophy.

And now, particularly in the digital age, it is more apparent than ever that there is something pure and potent in a gig poster. There is something about posters that satisfies a primordial need to touch the rough edges of our totems—to hold them in our hands and to display them in places of honor. Objects such as these can’t be replaced by digital representations—ghost images that disappear when the power fails. Rather, it’s precisely because they possess form and substance that tangible posters have the ability to anchor us physically to a specific concert in time and space. In this way the tactile magic of the humblest black and white handbill—the sensuous physicality of simple ink on paper—transcends the performance event itself. Long after the last notes have faded and the stage lights have gone dark, rock posters live on as physical connections to the bands, the performances, the audiences, and the fleeting alchemy that bound them all together for a time. It is my hope that at least a few of the posters I’ve created over the years have done more than merely inspire music fans to attend concerts, but that they also have provided real-world, pigment-on-paper portals to fondly remembered performances.

Gig Poster Chats with Nels Jacobson