CEDAR FALLS – Affectionately known as the “cow poster,” Gary Kelley’s iconic 1994 poster remains the most popular — and best-selling — promotional poster for the College Hill Arts Festival.
Rendered in pastels, Kelley’s folk-art influenced artwork depicts an artist painting spots on a cow’s flank. He gave it the tongue-in-cheek title of “Regionalist.”
In honor of the 40th anniversary of the annual summer art festival, Kelley has revisited the bovine theme with a fresh perspective. The new poster and festival t-shirts will be sold at this year’s festival from noon to 8 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at 23rd and College streets, on the University of Northern Iowa campus.
After 35 consecutive CHAF posters, the nationally-known Cedar Falls illustrator/artist admits it’s challenging to come up with a different theme each year. This year was an exception.
“Painting on the side of a cow, that’s a memorable image. I wanted to figure out a way to celebrate the memory of that poster, since it’s an important anniversary for the festival. People still call me and want to know where to find one, but it’s long been sold out,” says Kelley.
At the same time, he didn’t want to recreate the same image. “So I changed a few things. The cow is facing the opposite direction, and it’s a different kind of cow. The original cow had more mass on the side because of the spots. And in the original the artist painting on the cow was a guy. In this version, the gender has changed.”
In the artwork, the artist is painting “40” on the cow’s side, and the cow is wearing a birthday party hat to celebrate the festival’s milestone.
Kelley also changed the medium. The new painting is ink rolled on paper, except for the figure and numerals, which were done in pastels. “Basically you take etching ink, roll it out on good paper and try to sculpt your image with the roller. The ink is laid down with the roller so it looks printed. Then I went back and worked into it with pastels and colors.”
The result is artwork with an organic feel in modern neutrals with pops of color. And not a spot in sight.
Exploring different artistic styles and techniques is what makes the process appealing and engaging after so many years, he says. Festival organizers have never given him suggestions for poster themes, either.
“They let me come up with my own ideas. After having done so many posters, the bottom line for me is, I have to find a way to engage myself with the visual. I wanted to do a picture of a cow in a way I’ve never done before,” Kelley explains.
In previous years, Kelley’s posters have included a flock of chickens in “free-range art” (2011); a sheep with wool resembling Italian marbleized paper in “Eye of the Beholder” (2013), the depiction of Picasso’s blue period with pigs in “Pigasso” (2012), a view of the Venus sculpture installed on 23rd Street (2007) and French impressionists in a café scene (1997).
He has received national awards for several CHAF designs, including in competitions sponsored by Sunshine Artist magazine. Often his designs sell out and become collector’s items like the 1994 poster.
Each year the original artwork is sold to benefit the festival, while poster and T-shirt sales raise additional funds to keep the annual event free to the public.