Getting beyond psychedelic but hardly nostalgic about Victor Moscoso…
Art Chantry (Art@artchantry.com ):
When I first discovered psychedelic posters back in the late 60’s, I was introduced to them through the work of Stanley ‘Mouse’ Miller. The first psych poster I ever bought was the ‘demonlover’ poster and the second was the ‘skull and roses’ poster. I was still a kid and the things were so cool.
There were head-shops and hippie book stores peppered all over the back alleys of America. At that time and they always had cool weird posters on the walls as decor (and for sale). Those day-glo FLOCKED posters (you know – those giant gorillas with day-glo spirals and fuzzy ink for fur? that’s flocking.) were everywhere in my hometown. It turns out that the printing shop that made all those flocked posters was based here in Tacoma. So, that stuff was everywhere cheap, like pseudo-hippie confetti.
But these actually psychedelic posters were different. They didn’t have the ‘manufactured’ look to them. They had real craftsmanship and intelligence and were actually advertising something, not just ornament. They were my introduction to postering and, eventually, the larger field of graphic design.
When I discovered the work of Rick Griffin, he instantly became my childhood favorite and I never looked back. He was the apex of cool for me. I had dozens of his posters and tried to draw like him (as if). I look at rick griffin (alongside kirby and ditko) as the guy who really tweaked me into trying it for myself. However badly.
But, it was the mad Spaniard, Victor Moscoso, who turned out to be my psychedelic mentor. Studying his work taught me virtually the core of everything I know about graphic design. Through examining his work I learned how printing worked, how inks worked,and how mechanical separation worked.
Moscoso was the only one of the ‘famous five’ San Francisco hippie psychedelic artists who knew contemporary print production technique. He worked in mechanical format and knew his way around film and stat cameras. He actually used photostat cameras to do his work. As a result, he had no ‘original’ image. All his work existed in pieces and were assembled into the final whole on the printing press itself.
The other psych guys understood the basics of mechanical production (the craft/art of preparing artwork for print reproduction by hand). but, I’ve seen some of their old mechanically (hand) separated original artwork and it’s very crudely executed . Each over-lay is often drawn with marking pens on tissue and registered by sight (very very stoned sight). The work of Rick Griffin is astonishing in it’s obsessional exactitude, but extremely crude in it’s technical sophistication and basic understanding of the printing process. He knew how it worked, but never bothered to really learn it’s language. He just faked it. Most of those guys did.
But Moscoso somehow already understood that all that process – using overlays and negatives and overlapping ink and a printing press – and what it can do. He understood that it was, all by itself, a creative process and medium as sophisticated as the master painter’s pigments and canvasses and brushes. He used the mechanical process itself to create his images almost exclusively. And he did brilliant work.
For instance, he would take the photos of Edward Muybridge, with their sequential documentation, and then overprint them in colors to build new color images. The result was a sort of ‘static animation’ of the film sequence suggested by the original photographic process. They actually moved on the poster. As an added tweak, he recommended using those colored ‘grannie glasses’ or (if you could actually find some) 3D glasses to look at the image. It would reveal new images or even create a stoned animated movie in your brain. quite extraordinary.
He would take found images and drafted typography (rendered with t-squares and triangles and french curves) and freehand-drawn elements to make images that were only parts of thing, each on a separate color plate. When the color was finally applied to the press and the press applied it to the paper, a whole new image emerged. Things that could not be imagined until all the ink was placed on the paper in the proper order. Stuff only Moscoso saw in his mind’s eye. His image didn’t really exist until it existed in multiple. There was no original image. Often it was a total surprise. His work was brilliant and an education to boot.
Moscoso’ sophisticated graphic process has, today, called for the re-evaluation of his body of work. Nowadays, when people in the ‘fine graphic design culture’ talk about the psychedelic poster artists of the hippie era, they talk about Moscoso first. They canonize him and write about him as if the others were also-rans.
Outside of the fine design world, in the greater popular culture, the head honcho of that era is still Rick Griffin, followed by Stanley Mouse, then Alton Kelley and then they list Moscoso. The guy who virtually INVENTED psych posters (and did most of those for the famous Fillmore), Wes Wilson, has been demoted to a mere mention.
So, these hierarchies are dramatically different. I doubt most ‘graphic design culture” people even know who these other guys are. But, they sure know Victor Moscoso.
The reason for the high ranking is his craftsmanship. The guy was a master graphic design maven. And I learned much of my process from studying his work.
He was also a hungry experimenter. He was constantly trying out new arenas and mediums. He was one of the first psychedelic poster artists to actually take on mainstream advertising assignments (like some posters for Levi’s). He also jumped on board with the underground comics crowd. He (and griffin) were the only poster guys to go seriously into comic art. However, Griffin already was a comic artist before he did posters (he was the staff cartoonist at surfer magazine for years, developing the ‘Murphy’ character there). Moscoso dropped in cold.
Moscoso got involved and stayed involved front and center for a long time; keeping a foot solidly in both worlds. Never mind that his strip work often became so bizarre and obtuse that you literally needed to be high to even figure out which end was up. As a result, his work is not that memorable. His strips had no stories to speak of but were solid visual treats. Crossing mediums isn’t always so easy. They require different developmental skills.
This little piece I show you here today( first image ) is one of my all time favorite (non-poster) pieces of Victor Moscoso artwork. It was a back cover for an underground comic book (i think an issue of zap). It’s a masterful piece of work with total control of the color printing process and the mastery is impeccable. But, his weird experimentation is also solidly in evidence. He does something here that iI’ve never seen anybody do before (or since.)
It’s really strange…
If you look closely at the vaguely feminine figure (held by the vaguely male figure), you’ll see the color inside the heavy outlines forming the image are not solidly opaque. In other words, there seems to be texture or something in the skin tones. Upon further inspection, you suddenly realize that the female form is actually drawn ON TOP of a clipped out photo of a nude woman (note the nipple approximately positioned where the proper nipple would be on the breasts). There is even a concealed woman’s face positioned under where the actual face would lay.
This is a bizarre idea and an even more bizarre image. The strange part is that it’s an idea that just about everybody has thought of tries and gives up on because they can’t figure out how to do and actually make it work. Moscoso actually figgered it out. Remember this is decades before the computer. I’m not 100% sure how he did this – and I’ve had over forty years of hands on experience with mechanical production work. A lot of Victor Mososo’s work I have a very hard time figuring out how he did it. And I know my stuff.
It’s just so Moscoso.
Art Chantry:another thought – somebody other than moscoso took that photo of the nude that he used. playboy? esquire? who was the photographer? who has the copyright on that photo of that nipple? and whose nipple is that? they have rights here, too. mom? izzat you?
all this hubbub about copyright is so bogus and silly. do unto others as they would do unto you.
original material copyright © Victor Moscoso