Just starting your vintage psychedelic concert poster collection? Curious about artists from the era and how their art styles differ? Interested in expanding your current collection? Here’s a list of some key poster artists from the psychedelic poster era, as well as some important pieces they created.
Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley
Though Mouse and Kelley created their own art individually, their partnership during this era was important. At first, Kelley came up with ideas. Then, Mouse created the artwork. Eventually, they began to create their pieces simultaneously. Sometimes they’d even work on a piece at the same time, one taking the left side and one taking the right. Both developed their artistic abilities through an interest in cars and painting hot-rods.
The two met in San Francisco. Kelley had begun to create posters for The Family Dog, and they began to work together. In 1966, they created one of the most influential and important posters of all time, a piece for the Grateful Dead entitled “Skull And Roses”. This poster was based on an illustration from 1913 done by one of their Art Nouveau influences Edmund Joseph Sullivan. It developed their technique of creating something new from artwork that already existed.
Mouse specialized in painting and drawing, and Kelley was interested in collage work. They combined their skill to create over 150 works between 1966 and 1969, which included pieces for The Family Dog and for promoter Bill Graham. In 1967, they formed the Berkeley Bonaparte Distribution Agency along with fellow psychedelic poster artists Rick Griffin, Wes Wilson, and Victor Moscoso. Mouse and Kelley created much of the essential art associated with The Grateful Dead. They worked with the band throughout the decades that they were active.
Wes Wilson is often considered to be the father of the 1960’s concert poster. His first poster was not a concert poster, however. It was a piece of protest art he designed in opposition to America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. This was something that truly spoke to his character. While working with Bob Carr and Contact Printing, Wilson assisted in creating artwork for Ken Kesey’s acid tests.
In 1966, Wilson designed the handbill for the Trips Festival, which he attended and was inspired by. He created work for both The Family Dog and for Bill Graham’s numbered series. A friend showed him a work created by Viennese secessionist Alfred Roller. Afterward, Wilson was inspired to create the dripping, melting, illegible font that has become a staple of psychedelic poster art. The first poster he created that featured this font was the BG-18. It was made for The Association at The Fillmore.
This is the poster that is often credited with being the first true psychedelic poster and set a standard for the era. The lettering style was hard to read, which only encouraged people viewing it to take their time trying to make sense of the words. This proved a useful advertising tactic. Wilson’s influence cannot be overstated. He is credited with truly starting the psychedelic concert art movement.
Rick Griffin began his career as a cartoonist, creating art for Surfer magazine. After viewing the work of Mouse and Kelley, he moved to San Francisco and began creating psychedelic art. His first poster was created in 1967 for the jug band Jook Savages art show. Later that year, he produced a piece for the Human-Be-In event. It is credited with triggering the Summer of Love later that same year. After that, he began working with The Family Dog. Later on, he also created work for Bill Graham.
Griffin took inspiration from many places, including the Old West, which inspired his lettering style, and Native American history. This is apparent in some of his imagery. Griffin’s surf and comic backgrounds also heavily influenced his art style.
One of Griffin’s most iconic, sought-after posters is BG-105, which he made to advertise a 1968 string of Jimi Hendrix shows. Another important poster he designed was the Aoxomoxoa, a piece initially created for a Grateful Dead show that the band liked so much that they also used it as the cover for their third album. Griffin continued to create posters and contribute to underground comix, including Zap Comix, throughout his life until he died in 1991.
Victor Moscoso came from a bit of a different background than most of the other psychedelic poster artists of the 1960s. He was a formally trained artist and had studied at Yale. He found himself fascinated by the early Family Dog posters. They inspired him to begin creating posters himself. In order to do so, he had to forget much of his art school training. Moscoso made use of vibrant, clashing colors, and bubble-like lettering. His lettering style was directly inspired by the font used on the cover of The Beatles’ 1965 album Rubber Soul.
Not wanting to have his artwork owned by Bill Graham or The Family Dog, Moscoso created his own poster company in 1966 called Neon Rose. Here he created iconic pieces, largely for the San Francisco venue The Matrix. These posters mostly featured various orange, blue, pink, and green colors. Aside from posters, Moscoso was also a prominent figure in the underground comix scene, including Zap Comix, during the same time period.
Bonnie MacLean began designing poster art for Bill Graham and The Fillmore in 1967. Wes Wilson had been Graham’s main artist until the two had a falling out. Then, MacLean took over. She had been painting notice boards at The Fillmore, employing the psychedelic style, and took an interest in it. She ended up creating thirty-two works for Graham. MacLean drew from Art Nouveau, and designed vibrant works. She made use of faces and facial expressions as a motif in her work, as well as Native American and other diverse imagery. MacLean was the only woman to create psychedelic concert art during this era, and her legacy stands today.
Lee Conklin was a cartoonist who had been recently discharged from the army when he heard about the psychedelic art scene and moved to San Francisco. He went to Bill Graham with his portfolio and was immediately hired to create posters for The Fillmore, of which he did thirty-three total. His style is focused on intricate drawings that are often surreal in nature. One of his crowning works was the album cover for Santana’s 1969 debut album, which featured an image of a lion. The album cover was reworked from a poster Conklin had created for a show featuring Santana and The Grateful Dead.
David Singer was the last of the Fillmore poster artists. He moved to San Francisco in 1964 after being discharged from the Navy, and became part of the hippie scene. Singer was inspired by Mouse, Kelley, Moscoso, and Wilson to create psychedelic art. Based on advice from Moscoso, he approached Bill Graham who commissioned twelve posters from him. Singer ended up creating sixty-seven posters for Graham’s Fillmore between 1969 and 1971, and an additional eight for Graham after the Fillmore closed. He ended up doing more posters for Bill Graham than any other artist. His art style is focused on surrealist collage and employs a wide variety of lettering styles.
Gary Grimshaw discovered psychedelic art while he was in the Navy. While his ship was being repaired in the Bay Area, he visited the Fillmore and the Avalon Ballroom. After his discharge in 1966, he returned to his hometown of Detroit and began designing posters for the Grande Ballroom there. These were some of the first psychedelic posters outside of San Francisco. Grimshaw further explored the font employed by the Bay Area artists, creating his own, more legible version. He believed the illegible letters employed by other artists were somewhat exclusive, and set out to create something that more people could understand. This, in part, caused him to be known as an artist of the people. Grimshaw was very influential on both his community and poster artists for years to come.
A self-taught artist, Randy Tuten began his career by doing his first poster for Bill Graham in 1969. Between 1969 and 1971, he and David Singer alternated in creating ads for the promoter. Tuten continued to produce posters for Graham, and his work for The Fillmore spans five decades. His designs are eclectic and showcase his drawing skills. He claims to avoid “heavy meaning” in his posters, and they tend to mix vibrant color, graphic imagery, and photography.
Greg Irons was born in Philly and moved to San Francisco in 1967. He created several posters for Bill Graham and one poster for The Family Dog. He was also a cartoonist and animator, and worked on the Beatles film Yellow Submarine. Irons was also a legendary tattoo artist.
Robert Fried began designing posters while earning his MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute. He met Rick Griffin and Victor Moscoso who then hired him to design the third piece in the Family Dog Charlatans triptych. From there, Fried went on to be one of the most important poster artists of the era. He created a large number of posters for The Family Dog’s numbered series. His style often makes use of stars and patterns. After designing posters, he went back to creating fine art, which was his background before dying tragically in 1975.
Dennis Larkins began his work in San Francisco not as a poster artist, but as a scenic artist and set designer for Bill Graham.
He designed massive stage sets for the legendary “Day On The Green” concerts. He was extremely influential in this area, creating backdrops for bands including Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones. This work led Larkins to begin designing posters for Graham. His best-known piece was done to promote a 1980 Grateful Dead show at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. His posters can be described as theatrical, which is very much in line with his background. Larkins took inspiration from his work in psychedelic concert posters to now create pop-surrealist paintings.
Thanks for joining us on this trip down the rabbit hole of poster artists of the psychedelic era. Check out our other articles, then join us on the Poster Collecting journey!