Dennis Preston shows off classic rock ‘n’ roll posters

Dennis Preston sat in the Lansing Mall on a recent afternoon, doodling a caricature in a leather sketchbook. Just feet away, mall visitors can have a Jimi Hendrix experience or “ah” and “um” at a portrait of Charles Mingus, courtesy of Preston’s pen.

The Keys to Creativity Event Gallery is hosting a collection of Preston’s rock posters, which he illustrated for various regional venues in the 1960s and ‘70s. The exhibition is part of the Lansing Mall art gallery’s series of events honoring the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love.

Preston, a musician himself, drew most of the posters for a concert promoter in the Detroit area. Preston would vary his approach to the art based on the artist and the situation.

“Sometimes I was drawing caricatures of the bands or the artists,” said Preston. “Sometimes I was just making up whatever I wanted to do to catch people’s eyes.

Sometimes the posters had to be done right away, so I’d just go through a sketchbook and cut something out and put words around it.”

Many times, Preston said, he only had between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. before the finished poster needed to be sent off for printing. Looking back on his work, Preston thinks he could remake many of the posters today with better results.

“I think the main thing I would do is redraw the people,” Preston said. “I can get better references photos now with the Internet. Back then I could only work with what they gave me or whatever I could find in a magazine or an album cover. There are some pictures I wish I would have had better photos to draw from.”

Preston said his posters hold stories, such as the time he drew a birthday card for Dewey Bunnell of America and was invited to go out with the band after the show.

“(The band said), ‘We’re going to go out now, do you want to go with us?’ I said, ‘Nah, you know, I better not,’” Preston recalled. “Back then I was kind of a shy guy. I went to the concert with my cousin, and she was still sitting out there waiting for me. Other people I’ve told this to go, ‘You should’ve asked your cousin if she wanted to go too!’” The exhibition is free to the public and on display until the end of June. The collection includes posters for Michigan artists like Rare Earth and Bob Seger, as well as rock icons like Alice Cooper and Edgar Winter. Most posters feature trippy, psychedelic lettering, and some feature oddball creatures from Preston’s imagination.

“When people just let me go and do what I want,” said Preston, “I’ll just stick on the headphones and come up with some pretty weird things.”

Dennis Preston Concert Poster

Exhibition Through June 30 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesday; noon-9 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday; noon-6 p.m. Sunday FREE Keys to Creativity Event Gallery (In the Lansing Mall) 5746 W. Saginaw Highway, Lansing (517) 657-2770, keystocreativity.net

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