A selection of Victor Moscoso posters, with portals below showing them in their animated form. Through August 20, 2017, at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

If “On the Road to the Summer of Love” at the California Historical Society is like happening upon Jimi Hendrix playing from the back of the Jefferson Airplane’s flatbed truck in the Panhandle in 1967, then “The Summer of Love Experience” at the de Young Museum, through August 20, is like a crowded weekend at Outside Lands 50 years later—with an exit through the gift shop, just to make sure it’s absolutely clear how far we have not come.

Snark aside, those who love rock posters will find plenty to admire amid the sprawling exhibition’s 400-plus objects and videos. For many rock-poster fans, the show’s highlight will probably be a small, red-walled gallery about halfway through the exhibition. Conceived by Victoria Binder, who is an Associate Paper Conservator at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and who contributed an essay to the de Young exhibition’s catalog, the gallery focuses on how posters were printed, how color was used to produce psychedelic effects, and how light could be used to make those effects even more eye-popping.

As you enter the gallery, start on the wall to your left, which features a 4-minute video—shot for the exhibition—of renowned poster artist David Lance Goines demonstrating the workings of the Heidelberg offset lithographic press at his shop, St. Hieronymus Press, in Berkeley. Take the time to watch the video before moving to your right, where a wall of posters by Robert Fried, Alton Kelley, Stanley Mouse, Wes Wilson, William Henry, Rick Griffin, and Victor Moscoso are paired with their corresponding sketches, mechanicals, and flats created during the printing process. To the right of that is a wall devoted to color, showing how transparent inks work their magic via Bob Schnepf’s “Tree Frog”; how opposite colors make posters psychedelic via Wes Wilson’s “Flames”; and how, contrary to popular belief, rock posters in the ’60s were not printed with Dayglo inks (the exception being “Keep California Green” by Kelley and Mouse). There are also two fine examples of the split-fountain technique.

A wall of posters at the de Young, organized by the ways in which they use color.

Finally, you are ready to turn your attention to a wall of Moscoso posters, most of which were designed to be viewed under alternating blue and red lights so that the images on the posters appear to be animated (the first poster in this series was a happy accident). Portals cut into the wall let you view reproductions of the posters in full animation, while the originals have been hung above so that you can compare the static versions to the animated ones.

Binder’s gallery is the culmination of 10 years of research, which has included numerous interviews with artists and regular trips to TRPS shows. Her efforts at the de Young, including her catalog essay, have resulted in what’s almost certainly the definitive description of how rock posters were produced in the 1960s by printers such as Levon Mosgofian of Tea Lautrec Litho, Frank Westlake of Bindweed Press, and Ewald Treude and Louis Longwenus of California Litho Plate, as well as people like Errol Hendra, whose Camera Shop worked closely with artists to help them prepare film for the presses. While this scholarship may not be as top of mind to rock-poster collectors as edition numbers, print runs, and whether a band listed on a poster cancelled at the last minute, it’s every bit as important. Indeed, until now, it was the missing piece in the rock-poster narrative.

Victoria Binder during installation of flats used to create negatives for a Victor Moscoso poster.


On the Road to the Summer of Love

On May 19, 2017, in Events, Photos, by Ben Marks

Jorma Kaukonen and Janis Joplin in 1962. Photo: Marjorie Alette

Right now, everybody’s talking about the Summer of Love, a phrase that first appeared in a 1967 press release.  The San Francisco Travel Association is using the slogan to help fill hotel rooms, online merchants are using it to sell everything from refrigerator magnets to T-shirts, and the de Young Museum has embraced these three words in the hopes of producing an art-world blockbuster.

The phrase also rears its hairy head in a new exhibition at the California Historical Society. Titled “On the Road to the Summer of Love” and curated by Dennis McNally and Alisa Leslie, the exhibition (on view through September 10) answers a couple of essential questions about that now mythical time: Where did this revered cultural watershed come from, and when did it end?

As the author of “Desolate Angel,” his 1979 biography of Jack Kerouac and entrée to Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, Dennis McNally has a unique perspective on the Summer of Love’s roots, even if he was not in San Francisco at the time to experience it firsthand. For McNally, the seeds of the Summer of Love that flowered in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in 1967 were actually planted in the coffee houses and book stores of North Beach, circa 1955.

Jay Defeo painting, 1959. Photo by Jerry Burchard; Courtesy of Dennis Hearne

To be clear, it’s not like the links between the Beats and the Hippies are unknown or unexplored—the “Cowboy Neal” at the wheel of the bus to never, ever land in “That’s It For The Other One” is, of course, Neal Cassady, who was the model for the Dean Moriarty character in Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel, “On the Road.” But McNally and Leslie do a terrific job of connecting a great many dots, mostly via black-and-white photographs, itself a counterintuitive way to present an era better known for psychedelic hues. Thus, we see a Harry Redl photo of poet Michael McClure sitting with his contemporaries in the basement of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights bookstore, as well as Jerry Burchard photos of artists Jay Defeo, Wally Hendrick, and Bruce Connor. The point is not that McClure directly influenced, say, the lyrics to “Cream Puff War,” or that one can draw a straight line from Jay Defeo’s “The Rose” to Alton Kelley’s earliest efforts for the Family Dog. Rather, the Beats presaged a new consciousness, as McNally puts it, that was amplified—literally and figuratively—in the mid-1960s.

But the curators go further than the Beats, finding numerous wellsprings for the spirit of the 1960s. First and foremost, there were the protests, whether they were against a visit to San Francisco City Hall by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1960 or the racist hiring practices of Van Ness Avenue car dealers in 1964. And, of course, there was the founding of the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley in 1964. Again, the links between these events and the so-called “flower power” of 1967 are not mathematical or formulaic. It’s more about the contagious spirit of freedom and the breaking down of archaic barriers that were in the air. McNally and Leslie capture that.

The exhibition also includes a section on the critical impact of new theater and performance forms on the Hippie scene, and not just the fact that Bill Graham was once the manager of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. McNally and Leslie devote a fair amount of wall space to the Tape Music Center, a political-comedy group called The Committee, and The Actor’s Workshop. A crucible of a completely different sort was the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada, where the Charlatans performed for six acid-soaked weeks in the summer of 1965.

“Revelations 2,” performed at the Open Theater in 1965. Photo by Kelly Hart

By the time viewers find their way to the 1966 and ’67 sections of the exhibition, the show will start to feel more familiar, more “of the era.” There are images of acid tests, a copy of Mari Tepper’s “Hallelujah, the Pill” poster, and photograph after photograph of head shops in the Haight, poolside parties at Olompali, the Diggers handing out free food in the Panhandle, and numerous bands playing up on Mt. Tam and down in Monterey. Throughout the exhibition, we also meet the pilgrims, the Cosmic Charlies and Charlenes, if you will, who flocked to the Haight thanks to saccharin nursery rhymes such as “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” written by John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas.

In October of 1967, though, the scene was officially declared dead. The first catalytic event occurred on October 2, 1967, when the police made six pot busts in the Haight, including one at the Grateful Dead’s house at 710 Ashbury. A few days later, on October 6, a coffin was carried down Haight Street by members of the Diggers to mark the Death of Hippie. Today, most people forget this important nail in the coffin of the Summer of Love, which means they miss the opportunity to learn what the whole enterprise might have really meant, as well as what it wasn’t—the Summer of Love wasn’t exactly the cultural utopia that marketing interests, then and now, would wish it to be. By giving the Summer of Love a proper beginning, middle, and end, “On the Road to the Summer of Love” does not make those same mistakes.

Death of Money Procession, December 17, 1966. Photo by Gene Anthony


Chris Cornell, RIP

On May 18, 2017, in News, by Ben Marks

Poster: Chris Shaw

Chris Cornell, the powerful, dynamic singer whose band Soundgarden was one of the architects of grunge music, has died at 52.

Mr. Cornell died Wednesday night in Detroit, said his representative, Brian Bumbery, in a statement that called the death “sudden and unexpected” and that said the singer’s family would be “working closely with the medical examiner to determine the cause.” Read the rest here at NY Times.


Summer of Love Youth Poster Contest

On May 15, 2017, in Events, by Ben Marks

If you know a budding young artist who lives in Marin County and is between the ages of 12 and 18, please let them know about the upcoming Youth Poster Contest, produced by Bruce Burtch, in partnership with Riley Street Art Supply, Haight Street Art Center, and TRPS.

The contest kicks off on May 27 with a free art poster workshop at Riley Street in San Rafael, led by rock-poster artist John Mavroudis. Submissions are accepted from August 1 through August 15, and winners in four categories and two age groups will be displayed at Riley Street in September and October. Winners will also see their work in the pages of the Pacific Sun.

For more information, visit the Youth Poster Contest website.

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