Psychedelic 60s

Psychedelia and the Psychedelic movement


  1. From the latin word “psyche”, meaning mind, and the greek word “delos”, which means to manifest, or awaken: “to awaken the mind”.
  2. Pertaining to or characterized by hallucinations, distortions of perception and awareness.
  3. A drug that produces such effects.
  4. An art style influenced by the prevalence of hallucinatory drugs, especially LSD, with typical designs featuring abstract swirls of intense color with curvilinear calligraphy reminiscent of Art Nouveau.

The psychedelic movement began in the mid 1960’s and had an effect, not just on music, but also on many aspects of popular culture. This included style of dress, language and the way people spoke, art, literature and philosophy.

The name “psychedelic” refers to drugs that were popular with the youth culture of the time. Posters for rock concerts tried to visually express the feeling of tripping out.

The visual motifs of psychedelic art include Art Nouveau-inspired curvilinear shapes, illegible hand-drawn type, and intense optical color vibration inspired by the pop art movement.


The end of WWII in 1945 brought about a post-war economic boom in the U.S. It also brought about an enormous spike in the birth rate, known as “the baby boom.” Between 1945 and 1957 nearly 76 million babies were born in America. By the middle 1960s, most of these kids were young adults.

As young people do, these “baby boomers” questioned America’s materialism and conservative cultural and political norms. During the 1960s a youth movement emerged, seeking to create an egalitarian society free from discrimination. The feminist movement and the Black movement are a direct result of this evolution.

anti-war poster

The internationally recognized symbol for peace was originally designed for the British nuclear disarmament movement by Gerald Holtom in 1958.

photograph from the Civil Rights Movement

Americans in the 1960s and 70s addressed many controversial issues — from civil rights, the Vietnam War, nuclear proliferation, and the environment to drug use, sexual freedom, and nonconformity. Many youth sought spiritual experiences through Eastern Mysticism and psychedelic drugs.

Music festivals and concerts were a prominent feature of the 60s landscape, and musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, The Who, Janice Joplin were the super-stars of the day. It’s hard to say whether psychedelic music influenced the counterculture or vise versa. But a unique artform found expression in band posters and album covers.

The Summer of Love

1967 was the peak year for psychedelic rock. It gave us Sgt. Pepper’s, debut albums by Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, the Grateful Dead, and the Monterey Pop Festival. It was also The Summer of Love, the counter-cultural phenomenon where nearly 100,000 young people arrived in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district to celebrate music, art, and life. It was the year where just about everyone tried to make a psychedelic rock record, from obscure underground bands to bubblegum pop groups. Even Sonny Bono! View the album artwork and listen to the music on Brooklyn Vegan’s 50 best psychedelic rock albums of the Summer of Love.

Influential Designers

Wes Wilson
Wes Wilson was one of the best-known designers of psychedelic posters. Most well known for designing posters for Bill Graham of the The Fillmore in San Francisco, he invented a style that is now synonymous with the peace movement, psychedelic era, and the 1960s. In particular, he is known for inventing and popularizing a psychedelic font around 1966 that made the letters look like they were moving or melting.

Wes Wilson

Victor Moscoso
Moscoso was a formally trained graphic designer who borrowed from comic books, Victorian images, Art Nouveau, and pop art. He used the concept of vibrating colors to create the ‘psychedelic’ effect in many of his pieces. The vibration is achieved by taking colors from the opposite end of the color wheel, each one having equal value (dark to light) and intensity (brightness).

Victor Moscoso

Victor Moscoso

 The Influence of  Op Art  & Pop Art

Op art, short for Optical art, is a style of abstraction that relies on geometric shapes, lines, and color juxtapositions to create optical illusions for the viewer. Gaining popularity in the 1960s, such art often features patterns, grids, and effects like curving or diminishing objects. The Op art movement was driven by artists who were interested in investigating various perceptual effects.

Bridget Riley

“Pop” was a term first applied to popular culture rather than to art, but it would be one of the goals of the Pop art movement to blur the boundaries between ‘high’ art and ‘low’ popular culture.

Pop Art was one of the United States’ major artistic movements of the 20th century. It actually was first coined in Britain in 1955 but unsurprisingly the Americans took up the consumerist cause with much greater effect and conviction, and became the pioneers of the movement. Pop art and pop culture refers to the products of the mass media evolving in the late 1950s and 60s and also to the works of art that draw upon popular culture: packaging, television, advertisements, comic books, the cinema. Pop art attempted to break down the barriers between high (old-fashioned) art and contemporary culture.

Pop Art emphasized the kitschy elements of popular culture as a protest against the elitist art culture and the seriousness that surrounded it. It marked a return to sharp paintwork and representational art. It glorified unappreciated objects and ordinary business. In doing so, it aimed to make art more meaningful for everyday people and came to target a broad audience. Although it gained many supporters for the way it was easy to comprehend, critics saw pop art as vulgar.

Pop Art made its way to the United States in the 1960s with the help of ground-breakers Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.

Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein became a household name for the way he used stencil-like dots, thick lines, bold colors, and thought bubbles to represent the comic book style. His paintings were the size of billboards.

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol became the most famous American pop artist when he used an industrial silkscreen process to paint such commercial objects as Campbell’s soup cans and Coca-cola bottles and for portraying major celebrities like Liz Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, and Marilyn Monroe. As Warhol and Lichtenstein brought together elements of sign painting, commercial art and literary imagery in their work, they became renowned for erasing the boundaries between popular and high culture.


There is agreement among historians that the 1960’s witnessed some of the most significant cultural changes in the 20th century. As Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone Magazine put it ….

“The culture wars that began in the sixties, about drugs, about military incursions into foreign countries, about sex and human rights, the environment and on and on, are still being fought. All the issues are correct, and they are rooted in the activism of the sixties. The values have not only survived – in many ways they are the mainstream values of our times.”

More blogs on the 60s art scene can be found at these locations:
New York Times Article on Victor Moscoso :
Psychedelic Art Exchange
Buy, sell and learn about 1960s Psychedelic Rock Concert Posters

95 Responses to Psychedelic 60s

  1. Pingback: Psychedelia and Punk: 1960 – 1980 – Marina's blog

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  29. Wynn Miller says:

    While this isn’t pschedelic art, if you find it relevant, please let me know if you would like to expand the topic:

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  31. robert amos says:

    I am researching a collection of anti-war posters and prints created by a then-student at Berkeley in the late 1960s which her estate is donating to the library of the University of Victoria. In particular, there is a print of the poster “Know Your Enemy” which is featured in your bog about the psychedelic sixties. It is unsigned and I am searching for any further information about it. I would also like to discuss a number of other images in this collection and look forward to opening communication with you.

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  34. Pingback: Genre: Psychedelic Design – rhiDesign

  35. Pingback: The History of Psychedelic Art, From Woodstock to Coachella ~ Psy Minds

  36. Pingback: Three artists/ designers from the movement and culture – My Hippie Culture Blog

  37. Thanks Bruce. I don’t know much about the surf art of the 60s, but it sounds like a fascinating topic to research.

  38. Bruce says:

    You have created a great resource. Could you include a topic for surf art? Although it draws heavily from the psychedelic, I find that it is an expression of pure pleasure and holistic consciousness with a search for doing what is best for the environment and society. Rick Griffin was clearly its artistic innovator. Surf art and style seems to be unintentionally a trend setter for commerce to the masses. – Bruce

  39. Hi Shelby, another reader mentioned the same error, but I don’t know why that might be happening. “Sometimes” you get the 400 error? Not everytime? If anyone has suggestions, I’d appreciate hearing advice – I haven’t changed any pages or addresses ?! – Renee

  40. How’s things?, sometimes I get a 400 website error when I arrive at this website. Just a heads up, best wishes

  41. Pingback: Psychedelia | Christopher Okorejior/ Art & Design

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  43. Pingback: What is Psychedelic movement? – PSYCHEDELIC POP AND ROCK MUSIC

  44. DraftBox says:

    Your website is easy to read and I put it on my sources library already! lol, it is helpful for the basic research of design history.

  45. Pingback: The History of Psychedelic Art, From Woodstock to Coachella - Psy Minds

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  48. ジャックポットシティ says:

    Terrific post however I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more
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    Appreciate it!

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  51. I think it was Wes Wilson in the 1960s who adapted the style which was first designed by Alfred Roller in the 1890s. Check out these articles:
    about Wilson:
    about Roller:

  52. You are absolutely right Leo! I remember how popular his commercial artwork was – I particularly remember his work appearing on packaging and television commercials. Thanks for pointing out my oversight.

  53. Peter Max should be on the site! He was the most influential artist of the day because mope Peter
    viewed his art!

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  57. Ash says:

    I’m trying to find who first made this style, not who drew that version for the beatles. The style of the bottom half being fatter was already being used all all over the western world at that time. I don’t know who first did it.

  58. Ash, a quick search revealed that Charles Front designed the lettering on The Beatles Rubber Soul album: (thanks to Rod McKie’s blog).

    For something similiar, check this out:

  59. Ash says:

    Hi Renée, looking to find an answer to something that’s been on my mind. Do you know who invented this psychedelic font? >

  60. avoparsley says:

    Great read. Love the helpful amount of provided information!

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  70. conradino23 says:

    I got here by browsing for psychedelic pop concepts and aesthetics, and your post is really useful! Thx.

  71. gary says:

    I am a child of the 60s. Iam also an artist greatly influenced from the time. The hippie culture still gives me hope that people can live in peace.

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  78. Thanks for the link you your page on the 60’s – it’s excellent.

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  80. Tim Hodgetts, you are right. The quest to awaken the mind and discover new realities were (and still are) the reasons for the use psychedelics. My definition was meant to describe “psychedelic” in terms of an artistic style – I neglected to explain the why behind the what. Thank you for your comment.

  81. Tim Hodgetts says:

    The word Psychedelic comes from the latin word “psyche”, meaning mind, and the greek word “delos”, which means to manifest, or awaken, so there you go, psychedelic means “to awaken your mind”. I’d have thought you clever so and so’s would have known that, but then what can you expect from todays dumbed down academics?

  82. Hello PartyRadio. My sources of information are listed at the end of the blog – just above where the comments begin. I also double-check most info with the “bible” of graphic design history: “A History of Graphic Design” by Phillip B. Meggs

  83. Sharkey says:

    This post popped up a lot this week in my 1960’s class. Kudos to you – you’re getting a lot of great reviews on our discussion board. 🙂

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