Magnaball is a music event, first and foremost, but throughout the weekend, the festival will also place a focus on art and science. Those themes can be found through the various art installations that dot the festival’s site and, in particular, when it comes to the art of Jim Pollock.
Few names are as closely associated with Phish’s events as Pollock’s. Though he was already well known for his role as the artist of many early Phish designs—Junta’s cover art and noses, for starters—the Chicago-based artist scored a much larger fan base at The Great Went, Phish’s second camping festival, in 1997.
“The Great Went was a big deal to me. I don’t know what happened there, but I developed a confidence in my art because of the response to it,” recalls Pollock. “It was one of those points when I was printing in front of people and began to present myself as a linoleum-block poster artist.”
Pollock does not expect to be as busy with printing at Magnaball as he was at The Great Went, but he does look forward to offering demonstrations of his work. “I’ll be printing and talking with friends and familiar faces from this community. I’ll probably be doing printing as more of a demonstration, and even letting some others try it perhaps. I won’t be as productive, print-wise, as I was at The Great Went, but that’s a good thing—this thing that I’ve created has stood the test of time,” he says, referring to the 18-year gap between his first and fourth turns printing live onsite at a Phish festival.
“People seem to be excited about watching me print stuff. It’s a little bit of performance, a bit of art, some performance art,” he says. “I’m excited—this is my seventh festival with Phish. It’s always fun, and Watkins Glen is beautiful. And since I’m in the studio so much, this is a lot less lonely.”
He adds: “When I am printing [this weekend], it’s more how to show people the process. So I’ll have art from my studio to display as well as what I make onsite and, of course, make time to see some music, since that’s what it’s all about.”
Pollock’s “Went Robot”—printed onsite at The Great Went—is still one of the most famous and sought-after gems in the rich catalog of posters that Phish has commissioned over the past 20-plus years. Beyond the music and printmaking, the moment when Spencer Tunick’s “nude photo shoot” ended was particularly memorable to Pollock.
“I remember when things were trying to dry at the booth as the rain finally cleared up. I was printing the Great Went Robot posters, and I see a field of naked people start walking toward my booth, back to the concert grounds. It was a surreal moment that wouldn’t happen in too many places, only at a Phish show.”
For Magnaball, not only will Pollock bring his bookbinding press, but he will also have an official festival poster on hand (only 1,000 will be available)—a four-color linoleum-block print using metallic inks. He will also create unique items for The Waterwheel Foundation, just as he did for Festival 8 (Halloween masks) and Superball IX (foldable racing cars). His Magnaball offerings include tetrahedron shapes that you fold together, including cubes, equilateral triangles and pentagons.
“I looked at the theme of art and science and went a little science-y—looking at the chemistry, very small objects that are the building blocks of everything,” he says. “Tetrahedrons are drawn a lot by people of science and the arts, so I am trying to explore the more scientific side of Magnaball, whatever that is. I’ve gone down the science route.”
Method-wise, linoleum-block carving is a craft that is difficult to master, and Pollock allows for improvisation in his process. “I start out with a form that I’ve developed, not a mirror image. I usually trace out a generalized form of what I want and, sometimes, the carving is more of the expressionistic part of what really is line and form. Carving the shadow and space is kind of improvised—not everything is planned out. There’s a lot improvisation in the printing process as well, adding in inks and using a hand-press.”
He continues: “I use a Vandercook 23 G and there’s an inconsistency to the ink in the way it lays in different prints and changes. It’s not all exactly the same like you would get with a commercial printing. I feel like my style broke at the same time there was a lot of digital printing and glossy stock. I think a lot of people like looking with their eyes instead of being hands-on; people seem to enjoy the simplicity of hand-press.”
Magnaball brings Jim Pollock back to the festival setting, where his career as a poster artist was first put on display for all to observe. Throughout the weekend, he’ll be using a printing style and method that has inspired AJ Masthay, Isadora Bullock and many others. “It’s full circle to come back to a Phish festival and make art,” he says, “and make a lot of art and do it a lot and support myself and my family.”