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Punk band fliers to concert posters

Loss of eyesight doesn't stop Bayou City Art Festival featured artist Charlie Hardwick

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Bayou City Art Festival Downtown, featured artist, Charlie Hardwick, October 2012
Featured artist Charlie Hardwick was declared legally blind in 2007, but that hasn't stopped him from a career in big, bold graphic design.  Bayou City Art Festival
Bayou City Art Festival Downtown, poster, October 2012
Hardwick's poster image features his favorite view of the Bayou City.  Bayou City Art Festival
Bayou City Art Festival Downtown, featured artist, Charlie Hardwick, October 2012
Bayou City Art Festival Downtown, poster, October 2012
Bayou City Arts Festival
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Charlie Hardwick presented at his first downtown Bayou City Art Festival just three years ago, but he has been a fixture in the Houston art scene since his days as a teenage punk rocker in the '90s, when he would create fliers for his band's shows at seedy downtown warehouses.

These days Hardwick is well-known as "Uncle Charlie," the artist behind the iconic posters for bands stopping through Houston's House of Blues and Bayou Music Center. His compelling artwork and an equally compelling story earned him a spot as this year's BCAF Downtown Featured Artist

Hardwick decided upon a creative career after a short stint in the Marine Corps, enrolling at the Art Institute upon his return to Houston, designing concert posters for friends and working odd jobs as a Zamboni driver and a mail order filler at a record distribution company. The latter is where he came across the work of Austin-based poster artist Frank Kozik

 His compelling artwork and an equally compelling story earned him a spot as this year's BCAF Downtown Featured Artist. 

 "It was like going to see Jesus. It was incredible," said Hardwick of a brief visit to Kozik's studio. His unprecedented use of bright colors and bizarre imagery in concert posters had a profound effect on Hardwick's artistic development. 

After graduation, Hardwick immediately began a full-time career at a local design firm, where he worked on big accounts like Imperial Sugar, Hi-C and Minute Maid — almost simultaneously beginning a freelance gig as a professional poster designer for Pace Concerts (a precursor to Live Nation).

His first charge? A flier for a Smashing Pumpkins and Blind Melon show in Austin.

This combination of big-brand graphic design and big-band concert posters continued until Hardwick became ill in 2003, when a misdiagnosis and a series of other medical errors left him with irreversible ocular nerve damage. He was deemed legally blind in 2007. 

"It was such a slow, degenerative progression that it was hard for me to grasp the severity of it," Hardwick told CultureMap. Now with approximately 30 percent of his vision left, he likens his eyesight to that of tunnel vision — only where the tunnel isn't exactly in the center.  

Hardwick has changed his technique since his loss of sight and, because he can't see color, he bases his hues off of memorized CMYK combinations and slight variations in the tonality of the final piece. 

"I'm doing more bold line work," he explained. "It's funny, because it fits in with the style that I've always admired, like candy bar packaging and laundry detergent logos. Bright, vivid, bold." 

 Though music has been his primary medium since leaving his design firm job in 2008, Hardwick is increasing his library of art prints — and he hopes to use BCAF as an avenue for exposure.

 Though music has been his primary medium since leaving his design firm job in 2008, Hardwick is increasing his library of art prints — and he hopes to use BCAF as an avenue for exposure.

"The audience at the festival really lends itself to that," he said. Many of them have likely seen Hardwick's fliers on the marquees of local music venues, but most will see his first actual art piece on the poster for this weekend's festival. 

"That image is one of my more fond memories of living in Houston," said Hardwick, who used to kayak down the bayou from the 610 loop to downtown and marvel at the view of the downtown skyline after passing under the Shepherd bridge. 

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