Poster by Victor Moscoso
The Psychedelic era of the 1960’s had its roots in the experiments involving LSD in the late fifties, particularly Timothy Leary’s Harvard University studies in the therapeutic and psychological effects of the (then legal) drug. By the early sixties a few groups, led by the likes of Leary, Ken Kesey and others were pioneering what would within a few years become the “counter-culture”, embodying and advocating free love, intentional communities, long hair on guys and the use of psychedelic drugs.
As people experimented with this lifestyle (were “turned on”), their modes of expression changed drastically. This is very evident in graphic design.
The Beatles album cover for Revolver
Much of the mainstream visual aesthetic of the early sixties was very innocent, not very rebellious, and quite “straight” in its look. Once Psychedelia took hold, the dominant style turned into a very different animal.
Colours became vibrant and clashing. Designs became hallucinatory. Typography became a visual puzzle to be pored over for hours. Also, certain aesthetics of the past were appropriated by the “hippies” (as they were becoming known). Art nouveau became fashionable again, with flowering curves and borders gracing many a rock poster. Paisley became a pattern of choice in fashion and art, and the look of old Victoriana was seen in many designs and typography.
Art Nouveau style poster art by Victor Moscoso
Poster by Wes Wilson
The psychedelic movement also used cultural influences from around the world, with Arabic flourishes and patterns being used by many designers.
By the late sixties, what had been a sub-cultural movement started to be consumed by the mainstream, often dressing up very commercial, mainstream establishment ideals and products in quite psychedelic trappings. At this point, psychedelic design was more a superficial style than a true lifestyle choice. But, the original idealism and vision, not to mention playfulness, can be seen in much of the great work by such luminaries as Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, R. Crumb and Wes Wilson.
Aoxomoxoa cover by Rick Griffin
Album cover by R. Crumb