Psychedelic Concert Posters

This post was written by Sarah Shelburne of the Vintage Posters department using examples from the May 25 auction of Graphic Design.


Lot 261: David Singer, Fillmore West / Closing Week / Grateful Dead, 1971. Estimate $700 to $1,000.
Bill Graham was a famed promoter who, along with Family Dog, hosted the concerts and commissioned the posters that became emblematic of the psychedelic movement. This poster was commissioned in his honor for the final concert held at the
Fillmore West in 1971, which featured an all-star line-up of the acts he had promoted during his tenure.


Few art forms have been as seamlessly integrated into the cultural milieu as that of the psychedelic posters of the 1960s. Emerging from the microcosm of the San Francisco music scene, and later recognized as the origin of the hippie and hard rock convergence, poster artists imbued their designs with the LSD-fueled, avant-garde and experimental qualities of the sound they intended to evoke. While the legendary halls of the Fillmore West and the Avalon Ballroom launched the careers of such stars as Carlos Santana, The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, their visionary promotion in turn launched a new wave of artistic innovation that continues to mold graphic design to this day.


Lot 10: Emil Rudolph Weiss, Die – Insel, 1899. Estimate $2,000 to $3,000.
Lot 257: Wes Wilson, The Sound / Jefferson Airplane / Muddy Waters, 1966. Estimate $800 to $1,200.


Elements of the psychedelic style, while instantly identifiable as its own genre, can be traced back to other foundational movements in advertising, including, most notably, the Viennese Secession. Wes Wilson, the artist generally acknowledged as the father of the psychedelic poster due to his early popularity and enterprising style, reportedly derived his bulbous and unrestrained lettering from the typography of the Secession. Upon examining the works of artists such as Alfred Röller and Emil Rudolph Weiss, it is clear that the innovative typography and playful coloring present throughout their oeuvre heavily influenced the poster artists who followed them.


Lot 274: Lee Conklin, Butterfield Blues Band / Santana, 1968.
Estimate $300 to $400.


In a modernization of this Secessionist template, the poster artists of the psychedelic era incorporated boundless lettering and bright, playful color palettes in their advertising. These stylistic choices were often further informed by their own drug use, in an effort to visually impart upon the viewer an experience found at any concert they promoted. Wilson utilized LSD in choosing his color scheme, developing a motif with sometimes grating combinations that evoked a psycho-stimulated drug trip. In this way, he (and the artists who built upon this style) continued a graphically experimental dialogue that had begun over half a century earlier.


Lot 267: Greg Irons, Crosby – Stills – Nash & Young / Blues Image & John Sebastian, 1969. Estimate $500 to $750.
Carlos Santana, who began his musical career with an impromptu performance at the Fillmore West in 1966, was one of two acts to fill in for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young for this scheduled performance when they were forced to drop out at the last minute.
The other act was Janis Joplin.


These visually stimulating, and occasionally jarring, posters have become inextricably linked with the bands they promoted, the lifestyle they referenced, and the era as a whole. The “San Francisco Sound,” was born from the varied dance halls of the city, and encompassed bands as varied as Jimi Hendrix, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Grateful Dead, and Crosby, Nash, Stills & Young. While each concert would attract a different crowd, the experience was made cohesive through their visionary, and now iconic, posters, and the larger theme of musical, artistic, and psychedelic experimentation that defined the late 1960s.


Find more concert posters in our catalogue.