The Psychedelic movement
The Psychedelic movement emerges and developed within the counterculture of the mid-1960s which aimed to resist the accepted social behaviour and attitudes. It had influenced music and many aspects of popular culture such as fashion, language, art and philosophy. The word “psychedelic” refers to a hallucinatory drug like LSD that creates hallucinations, distortions of perception and sometimes psychotic-like behaviour.
Posters and graphic designs for album covers at the time period were usually characterized with vivid, flashy colours, strong contrast, detailed elements and curvilinear calligraphy references to the Art Nouveau. The posters used this kind of visual expression to represent the psychedelic experience while taking hallucinatory drugs, or to induces the experiences under the influence of drugs.
Psychedelic posters reject the rationality and simplicity of the designs before 1965. When posters were always designed to communicate clearly and instantaneously, Psychedelic artists challenged such textual clarity. They adapted handwritten lettering styles that were distorted and almost illegible. They focused on addressing an experience than a literal message. The emerge of the stencilled text reflects the change in poster art and resistance to modern advertising at the time period.
Another feature of Psychedelic work is bright colours. The vivid flashy colour aims to produce retinal responses and reflects drug-addled senses. Also, such colours suggested light-shows which were popular in dance and music concert. Last but not least, Psychedelic design movement often appropriated historicist styles from various artistic precursors, including Art Nouveau and Surrealism.
We can clearly see the influence of Art Nouveau in the example of Bob Masse’s “United Empire Loyalists”. The poster is an advertisement for a light show dance presented by United Empire Loyalists and Winter Greens. Masse made use of bright neon yellow and green as his primary colours. The lettering is all handwritten and contoured into a unique style that is almost illegible.
The poster is clearly influenced by the style of Alphonse Mucha and Art Nouveau. Firstly, Masse’s treatment of women and feminine form is very similar to Mucha. The female figures in the poster references to the highly-idealized goddess in Mucha’s posters, such as the woman in “Monaco-Monte-Carlo”. They are both dressing in elegant dress and have a halo around their head. Secondly, both artists paid high attention to details. This can be shown in Masse’s halo and Mucha’s flowers. Thirdly, Masse’s use of long and curvilinear lines and organic matter reference to Mucha’s poster and the Art Nouveau style. Both artists see nature as a source of inspiration. This can be shown in the long and curvilinear stems of the flowers. The use of natural forms, asymmetrical composition, intricate linear design and sinuous, long, organic lines all reference to the Art Nouveau style.
As mentioned earlier in the article, the counterculture aimed to resist accepted social behaviour. The appropriation of Art Nouveau style can be seen as a way to reject modern advertising at the time period which is losing its culture and driving towards universal. The adaption of a previous historical style can be seen as a way to embrace their cultural history.
Although the work reflects influence from the Art Nouveau and Alphonse Mucha, the integrative visual and mental experience, vibrant colour palette, unique lettering style give Masse’s poster style a signature look.
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Montgomery, Scott B. “Radical Trips: Exploring the Political Dimension and Context of the 1960s Psychedelic Poster.” Journal for the Study of Radicalism, vol. 13, no. 1, 2019, pp. 121-154.
McCormack, Heather. High Art: A History of the Psychedelic Poster. vol. 124, Library Journals, LLC, New York, 1999.
“Psychedelic art.” The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide, edited by Helicon, 2018. Credo Reference, http://ocadu.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/heliconhe/psychedelic_art/0?institutionId=4079. Accessed 05 Apr. 2019.