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The Psychedelic Poster Artists

 

The founders of the San Francisco School of psychedelic posters as we know them were Wes Wilson, Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, Rick Griffin and Victor Moscoso. Known as the Big Five, they were co-conspirators and often collaborators (particularly Mouse and Kelley). The first to be recognized for the flowing, organic psychedelic style was Wes Wilson who is considered generally as the father of the Psychedelic Poster. Wilson’s work for both Bill Graham and Chet Helms at first, began in early 1966 and by June Mouse and Kelley had joined him. Moscoso started getting regular commissions in the Fall of 1966 and Rick Griffin began designing posters in January 1967.

 

By mid-1966 the artists and promoters realized that their posters were disappearing – hippies were tearing them off telephone poles and putting them up in their rooms.  Press runs increased a bit to feed the interest and posters for next week’s shows were often handed out to people as they left a “dance concert.” The fact that these were more than just throwaway bits of advertising but were instead a new fantastic art form was recognized very quickly while it was happening as the Big Five displayed their art together in a “Joint Show,” which opened on July 17, 1967 at the Moore Gallery in San Francisco. Each of the five artists created a poster exclusively for this show.

 

While there were also psychedelic art movements in other cities, notably, London (Martin Sharp and Haphash), Gary Grimshaw’s posters for the Grande Ballroom in Detroit, Bob Masse in the Northwest and Vancouver, and Gilbert Shelton and Jim Franklin  for the Vulcan Gas Company in Austin, nothing compared in quality or quantity to what was going on in San Francisco.

 

Ultimately, it was more than the Big Five that were responsible for this creative revolution, although many of the other artists were only involved in the later stages of the period from 1968-1971. They include Bonnie MacLean, David Singer, Randy Tuten, David Byrd, Robert Fried, and Lee Conklin, most prominently and it should be noted that Grimshaw’s work, while derivative of the San Francisco School, stands tall among these artists with many of his posters (and their smaller press runs) highly valued by collectors.

Introduction

The Big Five in July 1967, from left: Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoco, Rick Griffin, Wes Wilson, Stanley Mouse. Photograph by Bob Seidemann

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