There is no better example of graphic design style born in a social context than psychedelic rock poster designs which started to appear in California in 1965. If we are talking about Psychedelic Posters Design, we need to talk about Wes Wilson one of the main exponents of this Style.
Robert Wesley Wes Wilson, born in Sacramento (California) in 1937 and Wilson didn’t have any official formation in arts as many of their colleagues during these years, in fact, Wes Wilson studied philosophy and religion before leaving the college in 1963.
Once he left the college he moved to San Francisco in 1965 and started auto-publishing his works and posters, and some of his firsts published posters were against the Vietnam War.
While Wes Wilson was living in San Francisco he met Bob Carr because they were living in the same apartment complex, together they started a printing business and develop their skills, which made them gain more popularity and Wes Wilson started to get more interest in beat poetry and Jazz music.
During these years in San Francisco the Hippie scene was growing and according to Wilson “It was a time of enlightenment”, due to this fact Wes Wilson began to interact with local artists at parties as Janis Joplin and Jerry Garcia and their printing business with Bob Carr was going well-making flyers and poster to performing groups, these factors and the increase for the poster demand made Wes Wilson work for different musical promoters like Bill Graham and Fillmore auditorium.
Wes Wilson’s works reflect perfectly his anticultural attitude, the flourishing drug society adopted by many young people during this period, and the growing rock and hippie movements. By looking at Wes Wilson’s poster we can see a clear influence of art nouveau poster design style which in Wilson’s works reflect the idealism of an earlier age with equally avant-garde movement.
In Wilson’s posters, there is a clear sacrifice of legibility for the aesthetic regarding typography, which in his famous “Beefheart” poster help him due to the actual poster design had a spelling mistake and he wrote “Beefhart”. As mentioned earlier Wilson sacrifices the legibility of the text for a visual aesthetic and because of this, he repeated the text with the main information on the borders of the poster to help the viewer see the information.
Is very common to see Wes Wilson posters where he mixed letters with unique typography and art nouveau illustration with images from victorian memories that he found. This combination of historical design styles and the fact that not many people in that years were well known about the direct influences of Wilson made his posters really popular and fresh in the 60s.
According to many experts and magazines, Wes Wilson is considered the father of the psychedelic rock concert posters and the founder of the hippie poster movement by the Chicago Tribune and it’s not a surprise considering that Wilson was the most known poster artist in the United States at one point and he became the most well-known artist during the hippie movement in San Francisco.
All these merits are not a surprise considering that Wilson launched an entire art movement and the fluid block lettering style which is a visual symbol of the 60s, Wilson always experiment with fonts and colors making the letters moving by themselves and create the effect that their posters were living, these made that his posters belong to many collectors nowadays and the value of some of his works can reach thousands of dollars.
Hope you find this article interesting and learn about Wes Wilson, considered the father of psychedelic poster design style and get inspired by his works, and if you want to learn more about graphic design history I recommend you these other posts.
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