Inside the psychedelic art and design movement
Hard not to be hypnotized by psychedelic arts, right? The highly distorted or surreal visuals, kaleidoscopically swirling patterns, bright colors and movement make it impossible not to trip.
The psychedelic movement was influenced mainly by the hippie culture, pacifism, and the interest in the eastern spiritualism. It was the most visually compelling product of the 1960s and early 1970s counterculture. This unique art form found expression in band posters and album covers, paintings, drawings, pictures, posters, murals and many other art forms.
Likewise, it’s impossible not to associate psychedelic arts with rock music and with the use of hallucinogenic drugs.
Psychedelic movement history and LSD influence
To better understand the psychedelic movement, we have to consider the scenario in which it emerged.
It all began when the "baby boomers" started to question and protest against issues like segregation, war, and consumerism in America and to explore their sexual liberties. Fast forward to the mid-60s, when the hallucinogenic power of LSD was embraced by artists as a way to find inspiration and free their minds. The fluorescent tones used in the designs were a reflection of the narcotic (LSD) vision.
Despite the unknown physical damage and psychosis associated with acid consumption, it spread like wildfire. LSD became a huge influence on different cultural sectors including art and graphic design, music, fashion and film.
The psychedelic world was so hyped that some artists used psychedelic elements to recreate the hallucinatory effects of an acid trip. Two great examples of this in the music industry were: Jimi Hendrix who used drawings and watercolors in his closing act at the Woodstock concert and the Beatles's Sgt. Peppers album cover, with the four members of the band in colorful clothes surrounded by lots of famous characters, artists and Hindi gurus.
The fashion and film industry also used psychedelic elements. Designers added overly colorful and decorative effects to their clothes, and filmmakers used gauze on their lenses to give a psychedelic perspective to their movies.
But the style wasn’t a mainstream consensus. Because of its association with drugs, the elite didn't see any aesthetic value besides the attempt to bring a sexual and visual experience provoked by the artist's hallucinations.
However, the movement wasn't influenced only by the drugs. It all started way before. We'll take you back to the fin-de-siecle and yearly 20th century Europe, when the movements of Art Nouveau, Vienna Secession, and Surrealism were a big trend. They all served, later on, as inspiration to the psychedelic generation.
Some more recent inspirations were the Op and Pop Art movements. Op Art explored optical illusions that gave a vibrant style and move to the paintings, and the Pop Art explored mass-reproduction techniques like silk-screening to reconfigured images.
Psychedelic artists that will make you trip
San Francisco and the birth of psychedelia
During the 60s, San Francisco was the world capital of counterculture, where the flower power, hippie culture, white rabbit, and the psychedelics arts exploded.
Many of the most famous psychedelic artists were based in the city: Wes Wilson, Victor Moscoso and Bonnie MacLean, Satty, Paul Olsen and Mouse and Kelley, and Gary Grimshaw, just to name a few.
Los Angeles was also an important place for the psychedelic movement, also emphasizing its surf culture. John Van Hamersveld and Rick Griffin are the most famous local artists.
Artists on the East Coast were also developing their own aesthetic.
Seymour Chwast and Milton Glaser were big names in the industry and created Push Pin, one of the most important graphic design agencies of the 20th century. Peter Max, a German-American artist was also based in the city.
The psychedelic style still has many fans and many artists are still inspired by it. If you felt inspired by all of these arts, check out these step-by-step stoner easy trippy paintings tutorials.
Commercialization of Psychedelic Art
During the 60s, psychedelic art was subversive and liberating just like the counterculture it emerged from. It was only at the beginning of the 70s that corporations started to recognize the commercial potential that psychedelic design had and started to sell their aesthetics.
General Electric, for example, was one of the big brands that could no longer ignore its potential. The company partnered up with Peter Max to design a line of psychedelic clocks.
The advertising world also decided to join the party and took ownership of the psychedelic aesthetic in its marketing campaigns. Campbell's soup created a psychedelic poster promotion that promised to "Turn your wall souper-delic!".
Not too long after that, the aesthetic expanded to all different kinds of products like hair products, cars, cigarettes and pantyhose.
The digitalization of the psychedelic art
The digital era helped the movement to regain force by making it easier to create computer-generated art with hallucinatory patterns and to manipulate images with 2D and 3D graphics software.
In the 90s, the psychedelic aesthetic regained force boosted by the rave movement and fueled by the newly available digital technology.
When the movement started, psychedelic art reflected a period when we couldn't set apart the art from the music. It is very satisfying to see the movement grow, influence several generations, and to be perpetuated until today.
If you are a big fan of psychedelic arts and all that is trippy, check out Stoners Rotation for more cannabis culture and content.