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Local artist wins national poster contest celebrating Woodstock anniversary

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published May 28, 2019

 This poster, created by Tim Gralewski, of Rochester Hills, won the national 2019 “Peace, Love & Posters” contest offered by the Bethel Woods Center for  the Arts.

This poster, created by Tim Gralewski, of Rochester Hills, won the national 2019 “Peace, Love & Posters” contest offered by the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.

Image provided by Tim Gralewski

 Tim Gralewski, of Rochester Hills, is a local graphic designer and artist.

Tim Gralewski, of Rochester Hills, is a local graphic designer and artist.

Photo provided by Tim Gralewski


ROCHESTER HILLS — As an artist, graphic designer, and art and design professor at Oakland University, Tim Gralewski is always looking for new ways to express his creativity.

While perusing the web, he saw that the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts — an amphitheater, performing arts center and museum at the site of the original 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair in Bethel, New York — was hosting a national poster contest, and he welcomed the challenge.

The Rochester Hills resident beat out over 270 artists for the grand prize of the “Peace, Love & Posters” competition, which asked students, amateurs and professionals to design posters that would not only celebrate the golden anniversary of the iconic music festival, but also capture the center’s mission to inspire passion and purpose.

“I knew the design was decent ... but I never really dreamed that I would win,” Gralewski said of his poster, which was awarded the $2,500 top prize.

The grand prize award also comes with a free trip to participate in the center’s Power of the Poster Festival at the center June 5, where Gralewski will appear on a panel with original poster designer David Edward Byrd and American design artist Frank “Fraver” Verlizzo, who judged the contest.

Verlizzo — known for creating the posters for many prominent Broadway productions, including “The Lion King,” “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” and “Sunday in the Park with George” — said a successful poster is something that’s distinctive from a distance.

“You can identify it, even if you may not even be able to read the type on it. You know just from the shapes and colors what it is. That’s sort of the feeling I got from Tim’s poster,” he said.

Although Gralewski wanted to pay tribute to the minimalistic design of the original poster — which featured a hand clutching a colorful guitar with a white dove perched beside it — he was also eager to showcase his own, more modern design aesthetic in his work.

“I wanted to definitely pay tribute to the past and have a guitar and a little dove in there ... but my design has more of a contemporary, modern feel to it, almost like a rebranding of it, in a way,” he said.

It all started with the silhouette of a guitar — which Gralewski repeatedly tweaked until it fit his vision — and he slowly let the design of the poster evolve from there.

“I added some different textures and patterns inside of it, and I liked how it turned out, so the rest of the design kind of built off of that,” he said.

The poster also includes a sun and the Earth, which Gralewski said symbolizes unity; butterflies — a nod to the classic Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song “Woodstock”; and many other intentional design elements.

“As a creative person, you are your own worst critic,” Gralewski explained. “You could design something and say, ‘Oh, this looks pretty good.’ And the next day you look at it and say it’s terrible. You kind of go back and forth with that.”

Creating the winning poster was no different for Gralewski.

“At first I was going to have it be on a white background, but it didn’t feel completed. The last addition to it before I submitted it was adding the blue background, and that helped complete it and bring all of the colors and all the objects together,” he said.

For Verlizzo, Gralewski’s poster “felt very unique.”

“He had a very clever way of reinterpreting the shapes that we know real well, but making them interesting and sort of stand out from the crowd. He also is on the border of graphic design, fine art and printmaking, so it’s really a great amalgam of mediums. … It was very, very unique in terms of the style and texture that he created,” Verlizzo said.

Gralewski earned a Master of Fine Arts degree with a concentration in printmaking from Eastern Michigan University, as well as a BFA from EMU. He currently serves as a part-time professor at the University of Michigan in Flint and at Oakland University.