It Was Psychedelic, Man!

quicksilverMaybe it was all those psychedelic drugs we were tripping on, but even if you never went to the Fillmore (East or West) or the Avalon Ballroom, the rock poster art of the era gave you the vicarious experience.

Jefferson AirplanePut Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane or the Doors on the turntable (you remember those whirly things), especially a live album with audience reaction, and it was like you were really there.

Most of the art was created by the same core groups of artists: Bob Masse, Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley (who died this past June), Victor Moscoso, Lee Conklin, Gary Grimshaw and Wes Wilson. CreamCheck out High Art: The History of the Psychedelic Poster if you want to see some of the best artists.

The stylized lettering is familiar to anyone who studies the poster art of the era Yardbirdsbecause once it became a staple of the art form, everyone had the same type of lettering. Speaking of imitation, Lee Conklin must have been a fan of Hieronymous Bosch, because his work often had the same level of detail.

Bob Masse, on the other hand, was an admirer of art nouveau and had his own penchant for meticulous detail. If you think you see a little bit of Maxfield Parrish in his work, you wouldn’t be wrong.

Gary Grimshaw started out in Detroit at the Grande Ballroom and doing art for MC5 Hendrixbut moved on to San Francisco to end up doing posters for Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, and the Who.

Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse were a big Zig-Zag manhit with their poster that featured Zig-Zag Man logo for a 1966 Avalon Ballroom concert. Overnight, the fledgling cigarette rolling paper company became a great success (maybe the profits went up in smoke?).

These poster artists rarely got paid more than $100 for their efforts so they were not in it for the big bucks. When Chronicle Books published a book about the posters in 1985, artists that created the posters sued for copyright infringement only to learn that they did not own the rights to their own creations.

The Art of Rock is a great source of information about the artists of the psychedelic era. And if you’re ready to buy back some of your youth, Wolfgang's Vault has a great collection of original posters. There’s a wide range of prices, but who would have ever predicted that a Vanilla Fudge poster could go for $900?

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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