Psychedelic San Francisco In Salem

On June 7, 2017, in Events, News, Posters, by Ben Marks

Six black lights really make Robert Fried’s Family Dog billboard pop!

In recent weeks, we’ve looked at two exhibitions mounted in San Francisco—at the de Young Museum and California Historical Society—to mark the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Now, a new show in Salem, Oregon, offers those of us who love rock posters a reason to head north. Titled “Behind the Beyond: Psychedelic Posters and Fashion in San Francisco, 1966-71,” the exhibition at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art features more than 100 posters and photographs, as well as 20 examples of period clothing, from the collection of Salem resident Gary Westford.

If that name sounds familiar to those who have seen “The Summer of Love Experience” at the de Young, it’s probably because 25 posters and a Robert Fried billboard that Westford has donated to the de Young are included in that show. Indeed, though he’s lived most of his life in Oregon, Westford’s California roots run deep. He was born in Oakland, grew up in San Lorenzo, went to high school in Hayward, and attended San Francisco State in 1968, thanks to—of all things—a wrestling scholarship.

“We had a good team,” Westford told me the other day when we spoke over the phone. Prior to his years at SF State, Westford spent much of his time trying to earn that scholarship. “I was an athlete,” he says. “In January of 1967, I was training for the California State Junior College Wrestling Championships. That was my focus.”

Some of Westford’s sociopolitical posters, including the one that got him started, “Wilderness Conference” by Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley.

Even so, in 1967, posters had already caught his eye. “The first psychedelic poster I ever saw was Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley’s “Wilderness Conference” poster for the Sierra Club. It completely blew me away. I was drawn to the color, the incredible lettering, the image of a Native American on horseback with his hands raised in supplication to nature, and that weird combination of the Sierra Club hosting an event at the San Francisco Hilton Hotel. That poster opened doors for me, and to this day it’s one of my all-time favorites.”

By the fall of 1968, Westford had enrolled at SF State and moved to the Lower Haight, near the corner of Haight and Pierce. That made it easy for him to see countless concerts. “I was late to the scene,” he says. “The first concert I attended was Cream at Winterland. I remember thinking ‘There are only three guys on that stage, and they are just tearing it down!’ Everyone has to attend a first concert, so it might as well be Cream.”

FD-28 by Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley, paired with its source image from a 1954 “LIFE” magazine.

Even though 1968 was an undeniably good year for music in San Francisco, it was a rough time to be at SF State. “In the fall of 1968, the campus was basically occupied by police, including members of tactical squad. I witnessed riots pretty much on a daily basis—teargas, helicopters in the sky. At the time, there was a huge open commons in the center of campus, and there would be these waves of officers who would sweep through. If you were in their way, you paid the price.”

Not exactly “peace, love, flowers, and dope,” but like most people who lived through those tumultuous times, Westford learned from his experiences, focusing as much as possible on the good but remaining mindful of the bad. In some respects, rock posters were an anchor. “I had begun to collect them when I was living in the Lower Haight. By the time I left San Francisco in 1971, I had about 35. Most of them were thumbtacked on my bedroom wall. But even as a 21 or 22 year old, I knew those posters were special—that they were emblematic of a time and place, and amazing in terms of their graphics, color, and design. I clearly remember thinking, ‘Someday I will do something with these posters.’”

A section of “Behind the Beyond” is devoted to the process of poster printing.

Westford picked up some of his posters at shows, but many others were purchased. “The Haight was obviously in decline by the time I got there, so lots of head shops were closing. One day, I walked into a poster shop and bought two posters—an original foil copy of Monterey Pop and a second print of FD-26, Skeleton and Roses. Both cost me three bucks, so I was happy about that.” Both are in the exhibition in Salem, thumbtack holes and all.

Posters also shaped Westford’s choices at SF State, and beyond. “I got a B.A. in Humanities, with an emphasis in creative writing,” he says. “But in my senior year, I decided I wanted to become an artist, in part because of rock posters. So, after leaving SF State, I worked for the Teamsters on the Oakland docks, loading semis with dry ice. I did that for two years, went to night school at Laney College, and then went to graduate school at UC Berkeley, where I got a master’s degree in art, specifically in painting.”

A 1960s zebra-print dress coat by Lilli Ann of California is paired with a black-light poster from a head shop.

Westford was finally an artist, but now what? “I moved to Oregon to begin a teaching career but couldn’t find any jobs. Finally, I found a position at the Oregon State Penitentiary, teaching in an arts education program that was administered through the local community college in Salem. I worked there for 13 years.” Before he retired, Westford also worked for a dozen years as an instructor in art and art history at Linn-Benton Community College in nearby Albany, Oregon.

As an artist, Westford’s work has what he describes as “a sociopolitical narrative, which is definitely a reference back to my experiences growing up in the San Francisco counterculture.” In fact, Westford’s years in San Francisco are deeply important to him. “The 56 posters that I gave to the de Young are my gift back to the city,” he says, “and to the artists and musicians of that time. That’s where those posters and the billboard belong.”

A selection of Wes Wilson posters from 1966 and 1967.

Not surprisingly, the Robert Fried billboard is a key part of Westford’s gift. “I had always been a fan of Fried,” Westford tells me, “and was actually going to be introduced to him at an exhibition featuring some of his work. But on the night of the opening, at around 8 o’clock, word began to filter through the crowd that he had had a brain aneurysm and died. I think he was 35 years old.”

Years later, Westford read about the Family Dog billboard in The Art of Rock. “I was on the lookout from that point on,” he says, “I finally located one in 2009 at SF Rock Posters. After that, one of my goals became to exhibit it somewhere in honor of Robert Fried. Now that has occurred.”

Twice, actually, because Westford eventually purchased two of Fried’s Family Dog billboards—one is on view at the de Young and the other can be seen at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. Which is not to say that the presentation is the same. “When the billboards were offered for sale in 1970 by the Print Mint, they cost $100 for all 12 4-by-6-foot sheets. And in the Print Mint catalog, they are described as being ‘Black Light.’ So in Salem, we have six state-of-the-art black light bulbs directed at the billboard. It practically flies off the wall!”

A Bill Ham light show DVD runs on a continuous loop. Th ephemera case in the center includes a copy of “The Whole Earth Catalog,” protest buttons, and bumper stickers.

Behind the Beyond: Psychedelic Posters and Fashion in San Francisco, 1966-71” runs at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art on the campus of Willamette University through August 27, 2017. On Thursday June 8, Scott Montgomery of the University of Denver will give a lecture on the origins and development of the psychedelic poster—from “The Seed” poster of 1965 to the psychedelic posters made before and during the Summer of Love.


A Weekend of Rock Art on the Left Coast

On May 30, 2017, in Events, Posters, by Ben Marks

Left to right: “The Lithosphere”by David Welker, “All You Need Is Love” by Chuck Sperry, “Coachella” by Emek.

This weekend, June 2, 3, and 4, is going to be a pretty good one for rock-poster fans. First up is a show by Emek on June 2, opening from 6-8 p.m., at the Jupiter Gallery in Portland. Look for screenprinted gig posters for Radiohead, Pearl Jam, and the Foo Fighters, a number of artist prints, and plenty of pen-and-inks. The show runs through August 1. Then, on Saturday June 3, opening from 6-9 p.m., at Spoke Art in San Francisco, David Welker will be in town for an exhibition of drawings and prints (including the mini print shown above) entitled “Anthropomorphized Anomalies.” The show runs through June 24. Last but not least, on Sunday June 4, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Chuck Sperry is hosting an open house and sale at his Oakland studio, where he will release a new screenprint called “All You Need Is Love,” display his Jerry Garcia prints, and have copies of “Helikon” and lots of other cool stuff available. One day only. See you there, there, and there!


A selection of Victor Moscoso posters, with portals below showing them in their animated form. Through August 20, 2017, at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

If “On the Road to the Summer of Love” at the California Historical Society is like happening upon Jimi Hendrix playing from the back of the Jefferson Airplane’s flatbed truck in the Panhandle in 1967, then “The Summer of Love Experience” at the de Young Museum, through August 20, is like a crowded weekend at Outside Lands 50 years later—with an exit through the gift shop, just to make sure it’s absolutely clear how far we have not come.

Snark aside, those who love rock posters will find plenty to admire amid the sprawling exhibition’s 400-plus objects and videos. For many rock-poster fans, the show’s highlight will probably be a small, red-walled gallery about halfway through the exhibition. Conceived by Victoria Binder, who is an Associate Paper Conservator at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and who contributed an essay to the de Young exhibition’s catalog, the gallery focuses on how posters were printed, how color was used to produce psychedelic effects, and how light could be used to make those effects even more eye-popping.

As you enter the gallery, start on the wall to your left, which features a 4-minute video—shot for the exhibition—of renowned poster artist David Lance Goines demonstrating the workings of the Heidelberg offset lithographic press at his shop, St. Hieronymus Press, in Berkeley. Take the time to watch the video before moving to your right, where a wall of posters by Robert Fried, Alton Kelley, Stanley Mouse, Wes Wilson, William Henry, Rick Griffin, and Victor Moscoso are paired with their corresponding sketches, mechanicals, and flats created during the printing process. To the right of that is a wall devoted to color, showing how transparent inks work their magic via Bob Schnepf’s “Tree Frog”; how opposite colors make posters psychedelic via Wes Wilson’s “Flames”; and how, contrary to popular belief, rock posters in the ’60s were not printed with Dayglo inks (the exception being “Keep California Green” by Kelley and Mouse). There are also two fine examples of the split-fountain technique.

A wall of posters at the de Young, organized by the ways in which they use color.

Finally, you are ready to turn your attention to a wall of Moscoso posters, most of which were designed to be viewed under alternating blue and red lights so that the images on the posters appear to be animated (the first poster in this series was a happy accident). Portals cut into the wall let you view reproductions of the posters in full animation, while the originals have been hung above so that you can compare the static versions to the animated ones.

Binder’s gallery is the culmination of 10 years of research, which has included numerous interviews with artists and regular trips to TRPS shows. Her efforts at the de Young, including her catalog essay, have resulted in what’s almost certainly the definitive description of how rock posters were produced in the 1960s by printers such as Levon Mosgofian of Tea Lautrec Litho, Frank Westlake of Bindweed Press, and Ewald Treude and Louis Longwenus of California Litho Plate, as well as people like Errol Hendra, whose Camera Shop worked closely with artists to help them prepare film for the presses. While this scholarship may not be as top of mind to rock-poster collectors as edition numbers, print runs, and whether a band listed on a poster cancelled at the last minute, it’s every bit as important. Indeed, until now, it was the missing piece in the rock-poster narrative.

Victoria Binder during installation of flats used to create negatives for a Victor Moscoso poster.


On the Road to the Summer of Love

On May 19, 2017, in Events, Photos, by Ben Marks

Jorma Kaukonen and Janis Joplin in 1962. Photo: Marjorie Alette

Right now, everybody’s talking about the Summer of Love, a phrase that first appeared in a 1967 press release.  The San Francisco Travel Association is using the slogan to help fill hotel rooms, online merchants are using it to sell everything from refrigerator magnets to T-shirts, and the de Young Museum has embraced these three words in the hopes of producing an art-world blockbuster.

The phrase also rears its hairy head in a new exhibition at the California Historical Society. Titled “On the Road to the Summer of Love” and curated by Dennis McNally and Alisa Leslie, the exhibition (on view through September 10) answers a couple of essential questions about that now mythical time: Where did this revered cultural watershed come from, and when did it end?

As the author of “Desolate Angel,” his 1979 biography of Jack Kerouac and entrée to Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, Dennis McNally has a unique perspective on the Summer of Love’s roots, even if he was not in San Francisco at the time to experience it firsthand. For McNally, the seeds of the Summer of Love that flowered in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in 1967 were actually planted in the coffee houses and book stores of North Beach, circa 1955.

Jay Defeo painting, 1959. Photo by Jerry Burchard; Courtesy of Dennis Hearne

To be clear, it’s not like the links between the Beats and the Hippies are unknown or unexplored—the “Cowboy Neal” at the wheel of the bus to never, ever land in “That’s It For The Other One” is, of course, Neal Cassady, who was the model for the Dean Moriarty character in Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel, “On the Road.” But McNally and Leslie do a terrific job of connecting a great many dots, mostly via black-and-white photographs, itself a counterintuitive way to present an era better known for psychedelic hues. Thus, we see a Harry Redl photo of poet Michael McClure sitting with his contemporaries in the basement of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights bookstore, as well as Jerry Burchard photos of artists Jay Defeo, Wally Hendrick, and Bruce Connor. The point is not that McClure directly influenced, say, the lyrics to “Cream Puff War,” or that one can draw a straight line from Jay Defeo’s “The Rose” to Alton Kelley’s earliest efforts for the Family Dog. Rather, the Beats presaged a new consciousness, as McNally puts it, that was amplified—literally and figuratively—in the mid-1960s.

But the curators go further than the Beats, finding numerous wellsprings for the spirit of the 1960s. First and foremost, there were the protests, whether they were against a visit to San Francisco City Hall by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1960 or the racist hiring practices of Van Ness Avenue car dealers in 1964. And, of course, there was the founding of the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley in 1964. Again, the links between these events and the so-called “flower power” of 1967 are not mathematical or formulaic. It’s more about the contagious spirit of freedom and the breaking down of archaic barriers that were in the air. McNally and Leslie capture that.

The exhibition also includes a section on the critical impact of new theater and performance forms on the Hippie scene, and not just the fact that Bill Graham was once the manager of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. McNally and Leslie devote a fair amount of wall space to the Tape Music Center, a political-comedy group called The Committee, and The Actor’s Workshop. A crucible of a completely different sort was the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada, where the Charlatans performed for six acid-soaked weeks in the summer of 1965.

“Revelations 2,” performed at the Open Theater in 1965. Photo by Kelly Hart

By the time viewers find their way to the 1966 and ’67 sections of the exhibition, the show will start to feel more familiar, more “of the era.” There are images of acid tests, a copy of Mari Tepper’s “Hallelujah, the Pill” poster, and photograph after photograph of head shops in the Haight, poolside parties at Olompali, the Diggers handing out free food in the Panhandle, and numerous bands playing up on Mt. Tam and down in Monterey. Throughout the exhibition, we also meet the pilgrims, the Cosmic Charlies and Charlenes, if you will, who flocked to the Haight thanks to saccharin nursery rhymes such as “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” written by John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas.

In October of 1967, though, the scene was officially declared dead. The first catalytic event occurred on October 2, 1967, when the police made six pot busts in the Haight, including one at the Grateful Dead’s house at 710 Ashbury. A few days later, on October 6, a coffin was carried down Haight Street by members of the Diggers to mark the Death of Hippie. Today, most people forget this important nail in the coffin of the Summer of Love, which means they miss the opportunity to learn what the whole enterprise might have really meant, as well as what it wasn’t—the Summer of Love wasn’t exactly the cultural utopia that marketing interests, then and now, would wish it to be. By giving the Summer of Love a proper beginning, middle, and end, “On the Road to the Summer of Love” does not make those same mistakes.

Death of Money Procession, December 17, 1966. Photo by Gene Anthony

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