Rock-solid inspiration: the musical art of St. Pete's Adam Turkel

For diehard music fans, what makes a great concert or gig poster is often in the details. Like with any good art, we want it to make us feel something — just like when we were a kids slobbering over a new record, studying the art, reading all the lyrics (and every other word in the liner notes) while we played the album as loud as we could get away with. 

St. Petersburg-based artist Adam Turkel was one of those kids. He's been combining his love for rock ‘n’ roll and art in the Tampa Bay area for nearly 20 years, creating thoughtful, edgy and classic-looking posters for local acts and bands who come to town, as well as other work inspired by all things rock. As a lifelong fan with serious punk and glam-rock leanings, Turkel’s encyclopedic knowledge of the performers he loves is on display in his work, as is his attention to detail.

“I always try to take bits and pieces from bands’ histories, or make them unique for the fans so that they know that someone’s not just doing a bullshit poster to promote a show," he says. "I try to make it a piece of art that relates to the band’s history in a way that the fans would see it and dig it.”

Turkel uses mixed media to make his visually compelling posters, saying that whatever is nearby when he’s got an idea — acrylic or oil paint, oil pastels, chalk pastels, pen or pencil — is what he starts with, and then he adds components as needed to create the look and feel he’s going for.  

“It just all depends on what the project is, what I have laying around, that I’m like 'hey, I’ve got an idea,'“ he says, “'I’ve got a yellow fucking pastel right here.'”

Turkel started making concert fliers and posters as a kid growing up in Baltimore, a regular in that city’s (and D.C.’s) punk scene, and continued through college, where he earned his degree in Fine Art Oil Painting from Towson University in 1998.

In 1999 Turkel and his future wife Melissa moved to Florida from Baltimore and started their company, Altamont Records, where they sell his artwork, custom T-shirts, and rare vinyl and other music. 

During his first years on the St. Pete art scene, local creatives and the cool kids starting frequenting downtown’s Emerald Bar “as a novelty” and he was among the first artists, along with others like Blue Lucy and Anna Sauer, to have their art hanging in the Emerald back when it wasn’t “hip or punk or anything yet,” he says. 

click to enlarge Rock-solid inspiration: the musical art of St. Pete's Adam Turkel
Courtesy Adam Turkel

Around that time, Turkel also started working at Jannus Landing, where he made a poster for Blue Oyster Cult. Shortly thereafter he talked the management at The State Theatre into letting him make a New York Dolls poster for their upcoming show, because he’s a huge fan — and since then, “They have pretty much let me pick and choose and do what I want for the gigs that come to town,” he says. 

Besides the gig posters, he’s done lots of recognizable art around town, including indie St. Pete music shop Planet Retro’s logo and downtown stalwart Daddy Kool’s Record Store Day T-shirt designs, and he’s used his work to help community causes by donating pieces for auctions. His art is also frequently shown in various galleries (and his T-shirts are regularly seen on my husband).  

click to enlarge Rock-solid inspiration: the musical art of St. Pete's Adam Turkel
Courtesy Adam Turkel

In February his newest project is starting a residency at St. Pete’s RockShop. Turkel’s Skull Art project, in which he paints eerie and alluring skull faces over printed photos of (mostly) dead rock stars with with oil pastels, will be shown and sold there. He also plans to add dead authors like Charles Bukowski, William S. Burrows and Hunter S. Thompson to the mix soon.

As with all of Turkel’s art, the skull paintings convey an originality spurred by his super-music-nerd fandom and his admiration for the musicians who’ve been the motivation for his own unique niche.

“I’m a rock ‘n’ roll artist,” he says. “It’s always inspired me — the artwork on albums. And I’ve definitely spent more time emulating the artwork and being inspired by the artwork from album art than I ever was by going to museums.”

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