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The Psychedelic Experience: Rock Posters from the San Francisco Bay Area, 1965-71

March 21 - July 19, 2009

 

Are you experienced? Take a trip back in time with 300 psychedelic rock posters -- as well as album covers, underground newspapers, and other items -- from the late 1960s and early '70s, an era of free love, rock music, and experimental design. (right: Lee Conklin, Steppenwolf, Grateful Dead, Fillmore West, San Francisco, 1968. Partial gift of David and Sheryl Tippit; partial purchase with Architecture, Design & Graphics Department Acquisition Funds; and Volunteer Endowment Funds in honor of R. Craig Miller; © Bill Graham Archives, LLC. www.Wolfgangsvault.com)

The Psychedelic Experience includes selections from our own collection of vibrant, colorful works by the psychedelic poster movement's major contributors. Whether you were part of the vibrant San Francisco scene or just a twinkle in your mama's eye, you'll recognize these iconic images.

Once you've experienced the art, explore the scene with the Psychedelic Side Trip. Transport yourself back to the sights and sounds of the era through video, music and interactive activities. Freak out to our wall of sound. Make your own groovy light show, or try your hand designing your own psychedelic poster.

Beginning in 1965, a critical mass of young people congregated in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Lured by a burgeoning music scene, drugs, and the promise of like-minded idealists, this hippie subculture found expression of their spirit in the dynamic visual language developed by a group of poster artists, many of them with little formal training.

Between 1966 and 1971, two influential event promoters, Bill Graham and Chet Helms, commissioned some 500 posters announcing weekly dance concerts at their rock emporiums: the Fillmore Auditorium and the Avalon Ballroom. Artists such as Wes Wilson, Victor Moscoso, and Lee Conklin captured the essence of these "happenings" in wildly experimental advertisements. Through a melting pot of hallucinatory imagery and illegible lettering, often in unorthodox juxtapositions of electric colors, their posters recreated the mind-altering experiences induced by hallucinogenic drugs. Additionally, these artists adopted graphic facsimiles for the barrage of sound and imagery experienced within the dancehall environment, from liquid light shows to dancing to the Grateful Dead.

The resulting psychedelic posters dramatically contrast with the clarity and legibility that were the norm for graphic designs. Yet they communicated well enough to fill auditoriums with a younger generation who deciphered, rather than read, the message. Posters were designed to promote bands, appeal to aficionados, and offend everyone else. These announcements serve as stunning reminders of an era that espoused free love, drugs, and the hard-edged rock music known as the San Francisco Sound.

 

The Artists

 
Wes Wilson
 
The first artist to consistently create posters for the Avalon and Fillmore, Wilson's designs set the style, capturing the full sensory experience of the dancehall environment and effects of psychedelic drugs. Veering away from clear, utterly readable design, Wilson hand-lettered his posters to create three-dimensional, undulating shapes. (left: Wes Wilson, Association, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, 1966. Collection of David and Sheryl Tippit; © 1966 Wes Wilson)
 
Bonnie MacLean
 
Bonnie MacLean helped her husband, Bill Graham, with just about everything involved in operating the Fillmore, from blowing up balloons and counting money, to designing the upcoming events chalkboard in the Fillmore lobby. Using Wilson's style as inspiration, MacLean played with lettering and often focused her design on detached-looking figures.
 
Victor Moscoso
 
Although he studied under color theorist Josef Albers at Yale University, Moscoso broke the rules of color interactions and traditional graphic design by creating posters with vibrating color combinations and illegible lettering. He designed many posters for the Avalon and Fillmore, but in 1966 he formed his own poster production company, the Neon Rose.
 
Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse
 
One of the founding members of the Family Dog commune, Alton Kelley began by drawing posters and handbills for the group's dances. Stanley Mouse developed his graphic style in Detroit, where he designed hot-rod graphics. The pair came together to form Mouse Studios, with Kelley imagining themes and finding photographs and Mouse drawing and lettering. They started out designing posters weekly for the Avalon, and by the end of their first year they also produced 26 posters for the Fillmore. (right: Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse, Skull and Roses/Grateful Dead, Oxford Circle, Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, 1966. Denver Art Museum: Partial gift of David and Sheryl Tippit; partial purchase with Architecture, Design & Graphics Department Acquisition Funds; and Volunteer Endowment Funds in honor of R. Craig Miller; Family Dog © 2009 Rhino Entertainment)
 
Rick Griffin
 
Originally from the Southern California surfing scene, Rick Griffin saw a psychedelic poster that belonged to a friend and decided to move to San Francisco to see what he could add to the movement. Old Western imagery, bold color combinations, and highly decorative lettering became his trademarks.
 
Lee Conklin
 
Armed with formidable drawing skills, Lee Conklin composed his posters in overnight sessions during which he crammed forms into almost every single letter and figure. His alternate realities and occasionally dark images reflected changes occurring in the counterculture community as young people swarmed the Haight and hard drug use skyrocketed.
 
David Singer
 
David Singer's creations stemmed from his interest in collage: his restrained style avoided the vibrant color, decorative lettering, and patterns that defined earlier psychedelic posters. Singer designed more posters for the Fillmore than any other artist, creating 67 examples between 1969 and 1971. (left: David Singer, Grateful Dead, Miles Davis Quintet, Fillmore West, San Francisco, 1970. Partial gift of David and Sheryl Tippit; partial purchase with Architecture, Design & Graphics Department Acquisition Funds; and Volunteer Endowment Funds in honor of R. Craig Miller; © Bill Graham Archives, LLC. www.Wolfgangsvault.com)
 
 
Greg Irons, Norman Orr, & Randy Tuten
 
Work by artists like Greg Irons, Norman Orr, and Randy Tuten reflected the changing scene that followed the Summer of Love. As the Haight and Bill Graham's concerts became more mainstream, the poster artists responded with clear, legible text and recognizable imagery replacing psychedelic colors and themes.

Please click here to view the exhibition checklist

 

 

(above; Rick Griffin, Heart and Torch/Big Brother and the Holding Company, Santana, Fillmore West, San Francisco, 1968. Partial gift of David and Sheryl Tippit; partial purchase with Architecture, Design & Graphics Department Acquisition Funds; and Volunteer Endowment Funds in honor of R. Craig Miller; © Bill Graham Archives, LLC. www.Wolfgangsvault.com)

 

 

(above; Bonnie MacLean, Yardbirds, Doors, Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, 1967. Partial gift of David and Sheryl Tippit; partial purchase with Architecture, Design & Graphics Department Acquisition Funds; and Volunteer Endowment Funds in honor of R. Craig Miller; © Bill Graham Archives, LLC. www.Wolfgangsvault.com)

 

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