by Art Chantry ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
back in the mid-1980′s. i was asked by a local ‘underground’ art gallery/institution called 9-1-1 gallery to do an exhibit of my poster work (this was in the early 1980′s, years before the world trade center attack. “911″ was the local emergency help telephone hotline). they also had a secondary gallery space and they wanted me to also curate some sort of exhibit of my choosing there as well. so, i took it upon myself to gather a collection of northwest psychedelic posters. it was the first attempt to exhibit this work since the 1960′s, and the first time ever in a real art gallery space.
putting the collection together was daunting. at the time, regional psychedelic posters were not considered worth collecting. only the san francisco area posters were sought for serious archiving. the various regions of the united states (and the world) that also created these amazing images were considered ‘backwater copycats’ unworthy of notice for most of the experts. thank god that’s changed.
so, trying to find any of these old posters, much less any sort of comprehensive collection, was nearly impossible. the biggest batches i was able to find were literally stapled to the bedroom walls of a few old hippies. i dug through trunks full of memorabelia and sifted through attic dust piles. i got stuff from local celebrities like walt crowley and tom robbins as well as obscure ‘friends of friends of friends’. in the end, i had assembled a small but somewhat defining collection of the work that was actually produced in the northwest united states during the early psychedelic revolution (and i photographed them).
it turns out there were a number of well represented and rather impressive poster artists who actually cranked out quite a number of radically different styles, too. the real lost master of the scene was a man named ‘john moehring.’ i know little about him except that he eventually worked for boeing in some capacity. but, his posters were the most accomplished and finest examples of northwest psych i found. his technique was to apparently make a piece of base artwork in b&w, then make four separate negatives of the image. then he would cut the negatives apart and splice in combinations of color and overlapping inks to create a full color extravaganza – all int he darkroom! it’s a really unique approach i’ve never seen before. his results are quite astonishing to behold, his posters for the mothers, jethro tull, the mc5 , the quick and the dead, donovan, the doors and big brother are as magnificent as any vintage psych posters produced in the haight-ashbury scene.
the late northwest historian, walt crowley, created a large body of poster work, too. he worked in line-drawing cartoon style that the perfected as art director of the quintessential seattle hippie newspaper, the helix. his poster for the first outdoor rock festival held in the united states- the sky river festival – as well as posters for the yardbirds and the grateful dead are surprisingly brilliant and funny. fine artist jacques moiteret created posters for the likes of country joe and the fish and the daily flash in a gentle ‘children’s book illustration’ style – filtered through acid – that still evokes innocence and wonder and dread. the later editorial cartoonist (and creator of the comic strip ‘cecil c. attle and dipstick duck”) ray collins did a large number of these posters, too. even writer tom robbins tried his hand at a few.
however, the most amazing stuff was actually little one-off poster and flyers done by totally anonymous hippie folks. what few names you can find on many of these posters are people seemingly lost to history. the majority exist unsigned (though i was able to track down credits on a few of them.) they were hand-drawn and some were printing tour de forces. i’ve actually found psychedelic posters printed with letterpress!! (someday i’ll get a slide scanner and show you what they looked like.) they’re nothing like i’ve ever seen before.
the most interesting part of these weird regional psychedelic posters of the northwest is their relative early appearance in history. the northwest has always had a huge bohemian underground culture. it’s one of those ‘end of the world’ corners of the country where you run out of room to run – you can’t go no further and still be in the united states (unless you go to alaska – but only the PROS go to alaska). as a result of this entrenched counter culture in the northwest, psychedelic culture appeared here at almost the same time as it emerged in the san francisco scene. in fact many of the movers and shakers and musicians in the san francisco scene began their lives in the northwest. many of the california hippies moved up here as well. so, there has always been one foot of the hippie world that was planted firmly in the backwoods of the damp mossy northwest.
the early days of seattle and tacoma hosted an extensive and very active jazz scene (often considered second only to new orleans at the time). this gave way to early c/w &rockabilly and rocking r&b bands swarming the region as the 50′s gave way to the 60′s. the folkie scene was here in abundance contributing union songs from the wobblies and collegiate troubadors like the four freshmen alongside seattle’s many coffee shops and saloons (yup, coffee shops go waaaay back in the northwest. coffee is WARM.)
just as the northwest rock scene of the sonics and the wailers and the kingsmen starte
impact the national tastes, the folk-music oriented psych scene to the south was also brewing. in fact, as it ‘flowered’ most of those heavy r&b ‘northwest’ rock bands grew their hair out and headed south to take part in the psych/pop explosion. that steady exodus pretty much killed regional rock music up here for nearly 20 years.
to give you an idea of just how early the psych scene was up here in the northwest, ken kesey and his merry pranksters came through here and held a couple of ‘acid trips’. one of them was held at the bellingham high school gymnasium, no less! those ‘letterpress’ psychedelic posters i mentioned early are dated 1962! i also found a poster or an event titled “an underground film festival” done in classic flowing psychedelic typography in dayglo colors that was from 1964!. i’m talking way way early for psych.
this odd little poster i show you here is for a performance by the grateful dead (with two classic seattle hippie bands). it’s generally referred to as ‘the tombstone poster’, because it is supposed to resemble a gravestone – it even had the top edge hand trimmed into a curve to be actually SHAPED like a headstone. it’s black and white on cardboard (about 12″x18″) and i’ve only ever seen one copy of this thing ever. it actually dates from 1965! that’s extremely early for the grateful dead. many serious dead collectors don’t even know this thing exists – i’ve had serious experts tell me this never existed. yet it does.
so, when you start talking about hippies and LSD and underground and psychedelia, you can’t ever really forget about the upper northwest reaches of the bohemian world. we’ve always been weird up here. the further back in time you go looking, the weirder we mossbacks get.