Wormwood Chronicles: 60s rock posters as fine art | VailDaily.com

Wormwood Chronicles: 60s rock posters as fine art

Robert Weller
Special to the Vail Daily
Special to the Vail DailyLee Conklin's poster for a concert with Steppenwolf and the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore Wet in San Francisco in 1968

DENVER, Colorado ” An Animals’ song was going through my head as I entered the Denver Art Museum to see its large collection of psychedelic music posters:

“Strobe lights beam create dreams

walls move minds do too

on a warm San Franciscan night

old child young child feel all right

on a warm San Franciscan night

angels sing leather wings

jeans of blue Harley Davidsons too

on a warm San Franciscan night

old angels young angels feel all right

on a warm San Franciscan night.”

“I wasn’t born there perhaps I’ll die there

there’s no place left to go…

Adding to the atmosphere were photos of Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh standing under a Haight/Ashbury sign. The exhibition, called The Psychedelic Experience: Rock Posters From The San Francisco Bay Area, 1965-71 runs until July 19.

I had been in the city by the Bay in 1968, officially working on the presidential campaign of Bobby Kennedy. I was 21 years old, a senior in college, and never had seen anything like it. Nobody had. Few have seen anything like the Star Wars-Pyramid-like new wing of the Denver museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind.

I remember a cacophony of noise in San Francisco. Street dances called the Mime Troupe, sometimes held to raise money to get musicians out of jail.

My bosses took me to a topless bar. I think it was called “The Ore House.” I remember hearing Otis Redding’s voice singing “Your love lifts me higher than I have ever been lifted before.”

Sex was everywhere. Freud’s wildest theories about sex, even those he had rejected, would have been confirmed.

Pressure for a new style of poster had been building up as drug use increased and opposition to the Vietnam War increased. It wasn’t the first time that drugs had influenced art by any means.

The Roman poet Ovid incorporated them into his work, and like some that followed him ended up in exile. Absinthe, the green fairy, was the elixir used by painters and writers including Vincent Van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec, Oscar Wilde and Edgar Degas.

As good as the posters displayed now are, it seemed to me that every time I heard The Doors, Jimi Hendrix or someone like that my attention was distracted from the posters. Make of that what you will.

I have a friend, like me with more than 35 years as a mainstream journalist behind her, and we have both asked each other what happened after all this love in 1968? The war went on, and on.

Wes Wilson, was working at a small printing press company after attending San Francisco State University, when he began developing psychedelic posters, including anti-war designs, and got the trend going. His career took off when he went to work for the Avalon Ballroom and Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium.

Strobe lights and liquid light shows led to new designs. The late Jerry Garcia, of the Grateful Dead, often would turn his back to the audience to watch the lights, a museum board says. Visitors can make their own posters and do their own light shows.

The museum’s AIGA Associate Curator of Graphic Design, Darrin Alfred, formerly on the curatorial staff at MOMA in San Francisco, led the development of the exhibition, selecting about 300 posters from nearly 900, hanging them in salon style.

He selected the works of Wes Wilson, Bonnie MacLean, Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse, Victor Moscoso, Rick Griffin, Lee Conklin and David Singer and several other artists of the period. Experts say Conklin’s work was the boldest in expressing the psychedelic experience.

To bring some of the rest of the era to visitors, a room has been set up with memorabilia. “We wanted to give people a taste of everything “love, peace, the anti-war movement,” said Lindsey Housel, museum manager of adult programs.

A coffee table was set up to let people put their feet up and share the atmosphere, which included patchouli. An issue of Life magazine led with “The Draft, Who Beats It And How.” The famous poster of Che Guevera was on one wall.

Several rolodex-like devices were set up for people to post comments. One note, unsigned, was that just like the 60s we are in a war we don’t want.

A couple of old-fashioned telephones let you dial into YouTube to see a video of stars of the time, including Jimi Hendrix playing his guitar with his teeth. I can remember him burning a guitar and smashing it, as well as delivering an unforgettable performance of the Star Spangled Banner.

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