Simon Berndt’s gig posters invoke psychedelic rock-era art

Simon Berndt, or ‘One Horse Town’, is a Cape Town-based full-time, freelance illustrator. He has delighted in drawing ever since he can remember. Following this passion he studied a degree in graphic design at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

“When I realised that I could direct my studies towards a job where I could draw all day, it just made sense. When I finished in 2008 I started One Horse Town Illustration with fellow graduate Justin Poulter. We worked together for about 18 months before he immigrated to the UK. I decided to keep it going on my own and take the opportunity to really focus on, and realise my personal style a lot more,” he shares.

Popular for his concert and band posters, which draw inspiration from classic rock, his artwork is melodic – outlines merge into one another filled with a psychedelic colour palette. This distinctive, dreamlike style has garnered him recognition internationally. Simon has been commissioned to create vintage-inspired poster artwork for international destination festival Levitation and popular bands like Californian blues duo Golden Animals.

See a set of his vividly bold gig posters alongside our interview with the graphic artist below. 

Have you always created gig posters or do you dabble in other art forms?

The illustration work I do encompasses quite a few design fields including branding, packaging and a bit of advertising but the poster has really emerged as my major passion in design and illustration and the gig poster even more so. It’s a coming together of two of my biggest loves: art and music. I’ve also come to love traditional print media like screen printing and the screen printed poster as a collectible object, which has informed my style and process quite a bit.

Your aesthetic is so distinctive and totally psychedelic. What sort of path did you take to finding your style?

I’ve always been inspired by music and the accompanying graphics of gig posters and album art. I’ve also always loved making posters, something which was compounded in our early years as One Horse Town when we did all the posters for the Arcade Parties that enjoyed popularity at that time. The sort of reemergence of psychedelic rock – spearheaded by bands like The Black Angels and festivals like Levitation – was accompanied by a tidal wave of incredible music from all over the world while at the same time drawing into focus bands from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s that inspired this new sound. All this music was accompanied by poster work and art. This was one of the driving forces behind getting together with four other friends to start Psych Night. I just wanted to find an excuse to start making posters inspired by all of this amazing work. The Fillmore posters of the ’60s and ’70s, old film posters, graphic novels of the ’70s and ’80s, Frank Frazetta, Mucha and Beardsley, William Morris, optical art, vintage wallpaper and a collection of contemporary illustrators and poster makers have all been big inspirations culminating in the style that I enjoy working with today.

Tell us a bit about your creative process from idea to sketch to working up the final piece?

Once I have an idea I’ll start sketching layouts. These will generally be pretty rough in a sketchbook. Once I feel I have the layout down I’ll start the next phase. This often includes sourcing or shooting photographs for reference. I’ll then take these ideas onto a light box and put together a more refined but still loose drawing. This generally gets sent to clients for approval before putting together final artwork in Illustrator predominantly, sometimes a bit of Photoshop.

How do you feel your work has changed from when you first began to now?

My work has matured quite a lot, it’s kind of changed as I have changed and when I look back at my work over the years it reflects the progression of my life and the development of my interests. I think one of the things that has changed is that I used to be obsessive about detail where as now my work has become simpler and more graphic.

What type of projects do you usually work on (clients, commissions, personal projects?)

It’s a pretty broad mix of things. Posters are kind of the constant but I’ve done quite a lot of work on beer branding, skateboards and apparel stuff in the last few years for a range of clients and I’m busy working on a job for a theme park now which is a lot of fun! The Psych Night posters have become my personal projects and given me a platform to really express my personal style and an opportunity to work with some amazing bands. I’ve also been able to take a lot of these posters into screen printing, working closely with Black River Studio, which has been an extremely rewarding process. It’s always been really important to me to have a balance between passion projects and corporate work and it’s helped a lot to keep me excited about what I’m doing day in and day out.

What is one moment you are proud of in your career and what are some hopes that you have for your art practice in the future?

I’m really proud of all of the posters I’ve done for Levitation Festival (previously Austin Psych Fest) but the poster I did for Levitation festival in 2015 is probably the one I’m most proud of. Being asked to create the main commemorative poster for such an important and iconic festival was incredible and has always been a dream of mine. 2015 was an amazing year for the fest, featuring a rare 50th year anniversary show by Psychedelic legends The 13th Floor Elevators, Jesus & Mary Chain playing Psycho Candy, Spiritualized, and Tame Impala to name just a few. It also looks like it could be the last Levitation under the original creators. Last year’s Levitation was cancelled last minute due to weather and this year has not seen a return of the festival that has become a holy psychedelic pilgrimage for many music lovers from all over the world.


To view more of Simon Berndt’s illustration work, visit the One Horse Town website

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