Psychedelia and the Psychedelic movement
- From the latin word “psyche”, meaning mind, and the greek word “delos”, which means to manifest, or awaken: “to awaken the mind”.
- Pertaining to or characterized by hallucinations, distortions of perception and awareness.
- A drug that produces such effects.
- 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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
“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 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 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.”