Pole Position – Lee Hutzulak’s Subtle Street Campaigns

I first saw Lee’s work in the window of the late, lamented Dunn & Rundle Camera store on Granville Street in 2004. His detailed, highly personal photographs focused on the detritus of working life and urban surroundings. He had a rare and sensitive eye and a particular fondness for subtle greys. I subsequently tracked him down and ended up commissioning him for much delightful editorial work for the print version of Vancouver Review (2004 – 2011). He worked quickly, intuitively and always delivered something perfectly out of left field to illustrate a piece.

He is also a musician and the driving force behind an entity known as Dixie’s Death Pool which began life in Calgary in 1991. Now it’s impossible to keep track of the genres and musical configurations that bear the Hutzulak imprint.

To this day I am always taken with his posters. Originally designed to promote DDP gigs they’ve since become key to announcing exhibitions of his paintings and drawings under the “Leisure Thief” brand.

As a collector and designer of concert posters, I always keep an eye out for distinctive, consistent and effective work. Lee’s posters differ from most in that they feel like they are straining to contain some sort of colourful spirit just long enough to get your attention, make you seek out the essential information, then invite you to stand back and luxuriate in the texture, atmosphere and delicious oddness. Mostly he uses his own highly distinctive drawings and paintings but he also very effectively uses found materials and, lesser frequently, photography.

Lee is also obscenely prolific. He’s always painting, drawing and gigging and by the time you read this there will be another entire body of work floating around. But let’s at least focus some attention on some of Lee’s rather randomly selected “greatest hits” of the last 20 years! They aren’t produced in quantity and are snapped up quickly. We sat down last summer to talk posters … and I made sure I scored a few remaining copies of some favourites for the collection!

LH: “When I was in high school in Calgary I would take the train down to Stampede Station and get off walk up 17th Ave. It had a kind of vibe like Main Street. There were record stores and clubs like The Republic and The Ship and Anchor. I’d walk along to my high school and collect the coolest posters made by this theatre company called One Yellow Rabbit (coincidentally a group I’d done some video work for in the early 90s – ed.) and my room was wallpapered top to bottom with gig posters. I’d never heard the bands but most of the cool stuff did come from Vancouver. I had posters for Animal Slaves gigs long before I’d even been to a live show. I used to carefully remove the posters stapled on the wooden poles.”

MM: Ah yes, the poles. I recently had to pry some posters for a Luna gig in Seattle off a sodden pole that was encrusted with staples through layers of poster paper. And it was pouring out. Fun times! There are only a few areas left in Seattle where you can poster and the south end of Capitol Hill is one of them. But there’s been a postering renaissance in Vancouver fueled in part by the proliferation of city-managed pole display, construction boom hoarding supply and a general willingness of businesses to allow on-premises postering. It also helps that design standards have improved over the years. However, unlike, say, Germany or Holland our still largely design-illiterate coastal culture ensures that a smart, well designed poster will easily stand out. Lee’s posters work because there is a rare blend of whimsy, perverse humour and a clever design strategy. It helps that that there are no labels or PR types to interfere. But still, you need to get these things seen by the right people.

LH: “The poles in Vancouver are controlled by “the poster machine”. And if you’re doing a run of 20 you’re not going to waste them on poles anyway. You’ve gotta find windows and prime spots where there are no other posters.”

MM: Your own paintings and illustrations aside, what are some design influences?

LH: “It’s pretty all over the place as you can see! In terms of posters and graphic design? Why not Russian Constructivism (laughs)! It’s probably gotten less experimental as I’ve gone on. I usually start with a painting, find a font that suits the band so its probably influenced more by the software. There’s a formula in there somewhere.”

“What inspired me to start making posters again was getting Dixie’s Death Pool together again and needing to find something that suits the sound of the band. The Lido pub down the street here and the China Cloud are the places I play so I also design to reinforce a sense of community around those places as well. It’s important. And it all goes back to what I like about music; playing live, making a poster, a t-shirt and recording and doing a cover for an album. The whole creative world of music encompasses graphic design.”

MM: Postering strategy is important. We use Silver Fox for the Friends of Chamber Music posters I design but I’ve done my time street postering for my own projects as well. What’s your favoured route?

LH: “I poster a lot around Main Street so places like Our Town, Gene, and Budgie’s. Budgie’s displays posters using clothes pegs and wire so if you collect posters you can get them after the show in perfect shape. And also Cartem’s Donuts where I’m a regular customer. They’ve also hosted a show of my paintings. There’s also a nice big poster board at SFU Woodward’s. But Emily Carr is the BEST because there are all these white walls and there are no rules! It’s like the wild west at this point. You can put them wherever you want and they look awesome! Being close to an art college has been a real inspiration and since it’s opened nearby I’ve started really getting into making posters again and hand silk screening some of them.”

MM: You also seem to use a fairly consistent branding system across all your work.

“It’s been important for me to develop logos. I’ve developed a sort of code. Mozart used a K followed by a number to denote many of his pieces. I’m going with NGC for “New General Catalogue”. So on my posters you first see the business logo featuring an elephant (Leisure Thief), then a crown, then followed by NGC and the date. I just like putting logos on things. It makes them look official…and then there’s the micro type that you’re not even meant to read!”

Lee’s posters can be found in unlikely places around town at unpredictable intervals … but you can check out his site here:


and a piece I did on his recent Cartem’s Donuts show here: