Much as the poster art of Stanley Mouse, Rick Griffin, and Wes Wilson remains synonymous with the psychedelic culture of the 1960s, the designs of Frank Kozik embody the look and attitude of the grunge era; defiantly garish and proudly unsettling, his work springs forth from the collective unconscious of a generation, his subversive appropriation of universal icons and images translating into often brilliant graphics mirroring the power and visceral intensity of the music they promote. Born in 1962 and raised primarily in Spain, Kozik settled in the U.S. in 1976 and, after toiling in a series of dead-end jobs along the West Coast, he relocated to Austin, TX, in 1981. There he began teaching himself graphic design, influenced largely by the bold imagery of Russian military poster art as well as classic cheesecake pinups.
A fixture at area club dates, Kozik eventually began assembling posters promoting live appearances by a friend's band; when local promoters realized shows promoted by Kozik designs were better-attended than those without, he was off and running. From 1986 onward, he produced about a poster a week, with early commissions for Austin bands like the Butthole Surfers and Scratch Acid winning underground acclaim; the turning point, however, was a piece for the industrial duo Chris & Cosey -- prominently featuring a photograph of a World War II victim, the poster crystallized both Kozik's irreverent attitude and his fondness for appropriating key cultural touchstones, the cumulative effect launching him among the most distinctive practitioners of an art form ripe for resurrection.
As Kozik's eye-popping Day-Glo posters continued to grow in fame during the late '80s, so did the notoriety of his take-no-prisoners approach -- his work became infamous for both embracing and destroying pop culture icons, with notable images including Fred Flintstone in the junkie regalia of Sid Vicious, a dying Lee Harvey Oswald recast as a punk shouter, and the Archies on a bender. Nuns, Hitler, Charles Manson -- none were too provocative for his pen, with recurring motifs including crucifixions, bondage, and the ultimate Kozik image, the Devil Girl, the embodiment of his attraction to and fear of women. With the rise of grunge during the early '90s, his designs were seemingly everywhere, and as bands like the Melvins, Mudhoney, and Nirvana emerged from Seattle, Kozik posters heralded their live appearances across the country.
As the revival of rock concert art made its way into the mainstream media, Kozik was widely hailed as the leader of a new generation of craftsmen, with features on his life and work published in outlets including Newsweek, Rolling Stone, and Details. In 1992, he was honored with his first solo exhibit at La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles, with shows following in New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco (his home from mid-1994 onward) as well as Sydney, Australia, Zurich, Switzerland, and Tokyo. A collection of Kozik's work was additionally prepared for exhibition at the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and a Nine Inch Nails design was included in the Smithsonian Art book Posters American Style. In 1995, Last Gasp Publications also issued Man's Ruin: The Posters and Art of Frank Kozik, a collection of his most popular and infamous work.
By the mid-'90s, Kozik had also begun expanding into commercial design, with work commissioned by Entertainment Weekly, Nike, BASF, and Lincoln Center. Most importantly, in 1995 he formed Man's Ruin, a record label initially begun as a singles-only enterprise. Inaugurated with a 10" disc from the Sonic Boom side project Experimental Audio Research, Man's Ruin continued with additional releases in typically limited-run pressings and lavishly packaged in sleeves created in Kozik's trademark style, the company's formation a reflection of the artist's continuing interest in underground music as well as his affection for the enduring vinyl format. In time Man's Ruin also began issuing CD editions of its releases, among them projects from acts including Steel Pole Bath Tub, the Dwarves, and Kyuss.