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Psychedelia


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Originating in San Francisco on the West Coast of the USA psychedelia was closely associated with the hippy movement, ‘flower power’, and the increasingly widespread use of hallucinatory drugs, initially in the USA in the mid‐1960s and soon afterwards in Europe. Such drugs as LSD induced in the taker a quasi‐surrealist experience, bringing together bright colours, sounds, and images, and feelings which some sought to echo by means of multimedia shows which included films, slides, and sounds. The American band the Grateful Dead explored such ideas through the words and music of ‘acid rock’. In Britain, the band Pink Floyd, also closely linked with psychedelia, played against a backdrop of specially commissioned light shows. Designers also sought to link psychedelic experiences to many things associated with everyday life, applying a vivid vocabulary of swirling, gaudy shapes and colours to a wide variety of surfaces including posters and record covers, clothing, furniture, jewellery, and boutiques. Typifying this genre were poster and record cover designers such as Victor Moscoso, Rick Griffin, and Wes Wilson in the USA and Martin Sharp and Hipgnosis in Britain. Such work, much of which embraced images associated with ‘alternative’ lifestyle, was often used to decorate the living environments of consumers opposed to the ethics of big business and was influenced by imagery as diverse as Art Nouveau and Indian art. The illustrated ‘underground’ magazine Oz, launched in London in 1967, was seen as ‘subversive’ in terms of content by the establishment. Oz also took on a radical visual appearance, with print and images superimposed, often in different, contrasting colours, with text laid at angles and visuals deliberately unfocused, a material counterpart to the psychedelic experience. Many self‐taught designers applied psychedelic designs to their cars and homes, whereas others applied them to more commercial, though generally small‐scale, concerns. These included the exterior of boutiques such as ‘Granny Takes a Trip’ painted by Nigel Weymouth and Michael English, a partnership known as ‘Hapsash and the Coloured Coat’ which had been formed in London in 1967. Although the impetus of psychedelic imagery derived from radical ideas associated with the projected creation of an ‘alternative’ society, within a very short period it was emasculated as a result of the highly commercial appropriation of its originally subcultural ideology by the very business interests that it opposed.

Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.


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