Wes Wilson is generally accepted as the “father of the 1960s rock concert poster” and he considers himself as the first psychedelic poster artist. In addition, he invented the style that is now synonymous with the peace movement and the psychedelic era.
Wilson’s posters were intended for a certain audience- one that was tuned in to the psychedelic experience- and to do so, he translated the sights and sounds of counterculture society into psychedelic iconography. His work quickly moved from psychedelic subculture into the mainstream culture by taking what he understood about promotional art and turning it upside down.
His approach to psychedelic poster making was quite improvisatory and experimental. His style was inspired by Art Nouveau masters as well as the Viennese Secessionist Alfred Roller whose lettering influenced Wilson’s own freehand lettering. Wilson expanded outlines and inset shapes of Roller’s lettering to alter the style to fit his own ambitions. Through these experimentations, he became known for inventing and popularizing the “psychedelic” font in 1966 that made letters look as if they were moving and melting- a very common font used in the 1970s.
Other than his lettering, Wes Wilson’s other major breakthrough was his experimentation and use of colour. Just like his unique typography, he had many influences in his skill with colour. These include being inspired by light shows of concerts, his visual experiences with LSD, and his professional experience as a printer in his younger days. These experiences allowed him to mix colours with wild abandon, resulting in visuals that perfectly captured the revolutionary essence of music that his art promoted.
In addition to his famous use of cryptic letters that filled every available space and clashing colours, Wilson also played with the foregrounds and backgrounds of his designs and with each new design pattern, his work became increasingly exaggerated.
Aside from his poster creations, he also published Off the Wall, a leading news journal that was devoted to the world of poster art and its happenings from 1991- 1995.
Wes Wilson was one of the leading designers of the psychedelic posters and has received an award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1968 for his contributions to American Art.
- Ankeny, Jason, and Jason Ankeny. “Wes Wilson | Biography & History.” AllMusic, www.allmusic.com/artist/wes-wilson-mn0001616809.
- “About.” Wes Wilson, www.wes-wilson.com/about.html.
- “Wes Wilson.” Smithsonian American Art Museum, americanart.si.edu/artist/wes-wilson-27389.
- Douglas, Ava. “Robert Wesley ‘Wes’ Wilson.” History of Graphic Design, www.historygraphicdesign.com/http://www.historygraphicdesign.com/the-age-of-information/the-conceptual-image/505-robert-wesley-wes-wilson.