The other day I started blogging about the museum’s cool collection of psychedelic posters. These posters were displayed mostly in hippie boutique windows and on the streets of the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco from the mid 1960′s through the early 1970′s. Although they were produced as advertisements for concerts, these posters became the background of the psychedelic scene and were works of art in their own right.
The posters were created by a diverse group of talented artists hired by concert promoters Chet Helms and Bill Graham. The principal designers in the group were Wes Wilson, Victor Moscoso, Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley and Rick Griffin, who were often called the “Fillmore Five”. Some of the artists, such as Moscoso and Bob Fried, had formal art training while others, like Greg Irons and David Singer, were mostly self taught. A few were natives of San Francisco, many others migrated there. They were possibly drawn to the artistic climate and the sense of freedom and experimentation that had been emerging in the San Francisco area since the 1950′s. Bonnie MacLean was the only female artist in the group steadily employed in making posters.
What these artists had in common was that they attempted to unify, through their art, the ideas and spirit of the counterculture movement of which they were a part. With the use of florescent color, surreal imagery and, often times, to the uninitiated, illegible text, they vividly captured the heady vibe of the time. This may have been easy for them to accomplish because, it has been said, they were stoned much of the time! Their imagery often made subtle, and sometimes obvious, reference to the flourishing drug culture. The loud, vibrating colors in their work also echoed the high-decibel music and light shows which these artists were commissioned to advertise.
Although each artist developed a very distinct style of expression, you can see various influences in their work, from Early American illustrators, the Vienna Secession and the Art Nouveau style, to comic book art, pop culture and advertising graphics. They manipulated these forms, used bizarre optical effects and collage, and sometimes photography. Two of the photographers whose work was incorporated into the poster designs were Herb Greene and Jim Marshall (who was the chief photographer at the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival). Greene and Marshall are also featured in the current museum exhibition Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present. Check out the blog next week for more on these posters and the artists that created them. Please also visit the museum’s Contemporary Collection pages to view more posters and the rest of our contemporary collection.