Wes Wilson, An Originator of Psychedelic Poster Art, Dies at Age 82
Last night, we were saddened to hear of the passing of a San Francisco art legend, 1960's psychedelic poster artist, Wes Wilson. He was 82. For many here in the Bay Area, the aesthetic of those concert posters helped define an era of music and political protest, and internationally, the posters have come to define the Summer of Love and beyond. Wilson, along with Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, Alton Kelly and Stanley Mouse, were known as the big 5 in the poster art scene at the time.
In our March 2014 cover story on San Francisco psychedelic posters, author Eric Christensen wrote, "Wes Wilson was a student at San Francisco State when he became influenced by the 1965 Jugendstil & Expressionism in German Posters exhibit at UC Berkeley, showcasing Viennese Secessionist lettering using the letters as negative space. Crediting artist Alfred Roller with perfecting that style in the early 1900s, Wilson adopted the now iconic style where letters seem to melt into one another. 'You can’t read this!' an incredulous Bill Graham protested to Wilson. But the artist instructed the concert promoter not to read, but to just stare at the images. This kind of lettering, almost illegible but remarkably mesmerizing and visually alluring, appeared in most of the early Fillmore and Avalon posters. The style gave testament to some eclectic bookings and mixing of genres of music that probably wouldn’t appear on the same bill today. Bill Graham could pair Lenny Bruce and the Mothers of Invention, the Who and Woody Herman, and keep a continuity via the poster art."