From 1966 to 1971, an unprecedented quantity of extraordinary graphic art was produced in the San Francisco Bay Area.
This resulted from the demand for posters, handbills, and flyers advertising rock concerts and dances in some of the city’s oldest ballrooms, most decrepit sports arenas, and sweatiest dives.
The two main patrons of this proliferation of posters were Bill Graham—who promoted concerts at the Fillmore Auditorium, Winterland, and a dance hall he renamed the Fillmore West—and Chet Helms—the charismatic, if less business savvy, leader of an organization called the Family Dog, which produced concerts at the Avalon Ballroom, among other venues.
The “Big Five” poster artists of the San Francisco music scene, c. 1967. From left to right, Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso, Rick Griffin, Wes Wilson, Stanley Mouse. Photograph by Bob Seidemann.
A handful of San Francisco artists were ready for this poster renaissance, which flowered from the Trips Festival at Longshoremen’s Hall in January of 1966 until the closing of the Fillmore West in the summer of 1971.
During those five-and-a-half years, these artists were often inspired by Art Nouveau masters such as Alphonse Mucha and Alfred Roller, whose blocky lettering was made psychedelic by Wes Wilson.
Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse were drawn to Art Nouveau, too, but also to advertising art and appropriated images, giving their collaborations a look that was at once in sync with and outside the Pop Art currents of 1960s contemporary art.
Mouse and a Southern California artist named Rick Griffin were also infatuated with the artwork that grew out of hot-rod car culture.
Victor Moscoso, on the other hand, turned the traditional art-making orthodoxies he had learned as an art student on their collective ear, creating posters that nearly vibrated before the viewer’s eyes.