Designed for the Bill Graham Presents company for a gig in San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium featuring bands Grateful Dead, The Canned Heat Blues Band and Otis Rush.
Interviewer: Hello Ladies and Gentleman! Today we have a very special guest who id going to talk about his poster for the San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium. He is one of the key founders of “the rock poster” design and even designed a font that is still being used to this day. Please welcome, Wes Wilson!
Wilson: Wow, what and introduction, are you going to get them to kiss my feet too? *Chuckles*
Interviewer: Don’t be so humble, sixty years later your work is still galleries all over the world from the MoMa, Tate and the AGO in Toronto. You deserve the introduction.
Wilson: Wow man, don’t thank me, thank the acid.
Interviewer: So its true? This art is inspired by the huge psychedelic revolution that boomed in the 60’s.
Wilson: Ahah well that’s what people say, but there is a lot more behind my art than just that. I am fascinated by the reaction of complementary colours. That’s why I used the pink and teal in the Fillmore poster. I wanted to make things that people really loved to look at, and for the community that I was a part of, it involed the symbolism involved in their vices. In the 60’s, Kaliedoscops were all the rage. People loved anything that broke the laws of phsysics and seemed unworldly. They really wanted an escape from their lives and these images were the farthest thing from reality.
Wes Wilson, Captain Beefheart, 1966, color lithograph, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Leslie, Judy and Gabri Schreyer, and Alice Schreyer Batko, 2000.75.8
Interviewer: How did this work as a marketing tool for the rock music scene
Wilson: Well, the rock seen was all about the unworldly. George Harrison came back India with all these weird instrument and people clung onto it because it was unlike anything they’d ever heard before, it was so experimental. And I try to do the same think with my art. I wanted to take my experiences and reformat them into my art so that people could relive psychedelia while they were sober and looking at the poster. Not only did it look really ‘far out”, but it gave the hippies a little taste of what these concerts and festivals would feel like. These images send the message the live music would put them into a trance. It advertised the beautiful woman that would be swaying to the music in the thick crowds, and most importantly, how their minds would feel while exploring it all.
Geroge Harrsion in India
Interviewers: Wow I wish live music was still like it was in the sixties.
Wilson: Me too
Interview: So how exactly did you convey these emotions and moods in your work? As I understand, the text was revolutionary for doing just that
Wilson: Ah yes. Everyone know my name because of that font I invented when I was young. Its sort of funny, I was sitting in my kitchen one day (because I didn’t have a studio since I wasn’t really a trained artists) doodling along when I had a sudden realization. Why don’t I try to draw with my text instead of just writing it? I was inspired to do this by Aldred Roller’s, an art nouveau designer who seemed to draw his text instead of just using a simple typeface.
Anyways, My drawing had lots of spirals and optical illusions in order to mess with the eye but my text looked really bland and didn’t match into it. So I decided to make the letters part of the drawing instead of just appearing beside it. My goal was to completely fill the space with imagery so your eyes would get lost in the poster. I had to squeeze all of the text into the wavey spaces in between the spirals and waves and by the time I was done, it felt completely unworldly.
Alfred Roller, 1897 Slevoge Lithrograph Print
Interviewer: Why do you think the text is so effective?
Wilson: Well it gave people the wavy distorted visuals that were popular in psychedelic culture throught text. No one had morphed text to that extent until I came around
Interviewer: Don’t you think that your text kind of defeats the purpose of a poster? Its supposed to communicate information, but your texts is very hard to read!
Wilson: Well I make posters that people love to look at. When they invest the time in staring as they get lost in the letters, they eventually figure out what it says. I don’t think this style would become popular in this decade because internet culture must deliver information to quickly grab people’s attention, but the fast pace of consumption wasn’t as important in the sixties.
Interviewer: How did you get into poster design?
Wilson: Well I was doing some design work in San Fransico for a man named Bob Carr who ran all the hippie stuff in Hait Ashbery. I was making posters for poetry nights and jazz halls. Bob was just starting up a small printing firm in his basement to help promote all his events and make money on the side. So I had the full facility to create lithograph posters with all the tools and colours I needed. I started to get really slammed with work when I got intouch with a promoter Chet Helms. He got all the huge jobs for be with the Beatles, the Doors and the Greatful Dead.
Interviewer: So, what will your next project be?
Wilson: Nothing because I died 4 years ago.