Designers present posters in new context
At Country Club Gallery on Sunset Boulevard, Patrick Ewing stands with his arm akimbo between two menacing German shepherds, while on the other side of the room, Roger Clemens gazes toward home plate with a steaming rocket in his hand where a baseball should be. Though Clemens and Ewing arenât present in the flesh, they might as well be â designers John and Tock Costacos immortalized them in fantastical sports posters more than 20 years ago.
For The Kids is something of a retrospective showcase for the Costacos brothers and their iconic imagery that captured the imagination of a sports-centric 1980s.
If you ask John Costacos where his career as a sports poster designer began, he may recount a moment in college when he was in the shower and heard Princeâs âPurple Rainâ come on the radio. John Costacos was attending the University of Washington at a time when the Huskies football defense was unstoppable.
In a flash of inspiration, Princeâs âPurple Rainâ became âPurple Reign,â which ended up on a T-shirt. John Costacos, along with brother Tock, eventually sold more than 25,000 T-shirts to Huskies fans.
âThe best part about youthful entrepreneurs is that you are fearless because you see only the opportunities,â John Costacos said.
Building upon their initial success, the Costacos brothers began looking for their next big idea. Asking local sporting goods stores for desired, hard-to-find goods revealed a demand for a poster of the Seattle Seahawks safety Kenny Easley. Through a series of chance phone calls, John Costacos found himself at dinner with Kenny Easley pitching him a poster idea.
â[Easley] said he wasnât interested in doing any posters because the way they wanted to portray him was just running down the field with a football or just standing there,â John Costacos said.
John Costacos had an entirely different idea in mind for Easley, one that involved a dark alley, a fog machine and a leather cutoff jacket; accordingly, the Costacos brothersâ first poster shows Easley standing in an ominously lit backstreet sandwiched between dynamic typography that reads âKenny Easleyâ above and âThe Enforcerâ below.
If you didnât know Easley, you might think you were looking at a movie poster for a low budget â80s action film. If you did know him, your reaction to the poster would be closer to that of complete awe and an instant desire to get your hands on one. This specific aesthetic carries through the rest of the brothersâ work.
From the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s, the Costacos brothers created dozens of posters that cast the biggest players in basketball, football and baseball into mythical proportions. In each poster, a player stands mightily in the foreground of a dreamlike setting; the players hold props that symbolize their identity in the context of their respective sport and pop- cultural standing.
âWe werenât really thinking so much about mixing [sports] with pop culture. I think we were hoping we could ride pop culture,â John Costacos said.
To magnify each persona further, the player in each poster is accompanied by a nickname known to the public or one created by the brothers: Karl Malone as âThe Mailman,â Jim McMahon as âMad Macâ and Jerry Rice as âGoldfinger.â
â[Posters] were the things that people hung in their room; they built shrines to look at their superheroes essentially. [The Costacos brothers] were creating these larger-than-life personas or caricatures for kids to absorb and obsess about,â said Adam Shopkorn, the exhibit curator at the Country Club Gallery.
The posters that were at one time created for bedroom walls are now being shown as works of art. Shopkorn organized the show for Salon 94 in New York and decided to see how it would fare on the West Coast.
âThe real public that this hits hard have already downloaded all this stuff 25 years ago, and it has resonated with them. Now it takes on this element of nostalgia,â Shopkorn said. âWhat I didnât realize before I did the show was how powerful nostalgia can be.â
Many visitors to the gallery were once kids who put the Costacos posters on their walls. Now, theyâve come to regain a piece of their youth.
âThe show is titled For The Kids. When I spoke to John and Tock, they kept reiterating that they were doing it for the kids. They were making these posters for kids,â Shopkorn said.
For the Kids is an eccentric display of â80s sports and pop culture that is captured in a one-of-a-kind aesthetic. The work of the Costacos brothers is a time capsule, making viewers yearn for an age where athletes were revered for their athleticism and larger-than-life personalities.
For John Costacos, the process of creating posters was a labor of love, and to see his work span the course of 25 years is nothing short of notable.
âIt felt like we were a part of something. It was fun being connected with the sports leagues. It was really fun working with the players, and having been out of it for so long and feeling like there is some appreciation for it âŠ is a really nice feeling,â John Costacos said.
For The Kids is on display at Country Club Gallery on 7561 Sunset Blvd. through March 4.
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