Psychedelia Descends on the Clark County Museum 

  Psychedelia Descends on the Clark County Museum 

Posted by CN Staff on June 16, 2002 at 13:09:31 PT
By Gregory Crosby 
Source: Las Vegas City Life 

Given its ubiquitous presence in the visual language of everything from advertising to Saturday-morning cartoons in the latter part of the century, it's easy to forget just how "far out" the conventions of psychedelic art were in the '60s. To immerse yourself in "Feelin' Groovy: Rock and Roll Graphics, 1966-70," a traveling exhibition now at the Clark County Museum, is to be reminded of just how radical a break from the sleek lines and decorous Modernism of American poster art these advertisements for the Fillmore and Avalon Ballroom really were.
It's a visually stimulating discovery, almost to the point of overload, and makes the long trip out to the County Museum more than worthwhile (not to say that the County Museum, with its restored houses showcasing various decades in the valley's history and its antique train cars, isn't worthwhile itself; it's just so far out on Boulder Highway it might as well be in Boulder City). The exhibit features dozens of examples from the rich period of poster art that mushroomed (pun intended) in San Francisco, where an unexpected and eccentric round of influences came together to inspire varied artists to new heights of visual invention for what, in effect, were flyers for bands.In the summer of 1965, a band called the Charlatans came out of Virginia City, Nev., hitting San Francisco's Haight-Ashbery neighborhood with an Edwardian Cowboy aesthetic that blended perfectly with the area's Victorian houses. The 19th century came flooding back into the burgeoning counterculture's visual language with full force, particularly Art Nouveau, whose organic, flowing, biomorphic lines dovetailed perfectly with the tropes of hallucinogenic drugs and whose lyricism and florid beauty couldn't be further from the regimented, corporate austerity of American life. Throw in a little Pop and Op Art sensibility, and the result was a poster whose ostensible purpose was to let you know Canned Heat was playing, but in reality was a complex meeting of form, color and text whose function as an advertisement was an afterthought. In fact, images of the performers themselves, while occasionally integrated either as a photo or drawing into the poster, seem to have been rare, a true departure at a time when the machinery of selling pop stars and their image was kicking into high gear.Bill Graham, the Fillmore's famed impresario, is said to have grumbled at the illegibility of many posters, even while allowing the artists a great deal of freedom. How could he not when so many of the works were such intricate and stunning flights of fancy? And many of these works are in fact nearly completely illegible, with text and typography so stylized, integrated into the image or yoked to the service of optical illusion as to make the posters hieroglyphic, where the names of the bands had to be teased out by no doubt hours of scrutiny (with or without the help of LSD). If there's a complaint to be made about the exhibition, it's that it's mostly comprised of 5x7 handbills, with only a few full-sized posters. At this size, these elaborate pieces are almost too dense to be fully appreciated, and I sometimes found myself squinting and longing for a magnifying glass.That said, the artists on display are a bit of a revelation to anyone who thought psychedelic style was uniform or cliched in its execution. The distinctive sensibility of each artist shines through, while never straying too far from the overall aesthetics of the period (an example of the exciting interchange and mutual influences of artists working in the same city): Stanley "Mouse" Miller's orange Renaissance angel surrounded by a hot pink banner for the Steve Miller Band; Rick Griffith's Wild West and Indian motifs, and his bony, symmetrical lettering for the Grateful Dead; Wes Wilson's morphic typography and gorgeous, Eve-like nudes; Lee Conklin's vivid, pure acid renderings of letters resembling frozen lava; Bob Fried's intense, Day-Glo colors; Bonnie MacLean's delicate, highly detailed line work harkening back to the Belle Epoque; Victor Moscoso's amusing photo collage and shimmering Op Art columns of text; and David Singer's restrained (by comparison) combine images and spindly type. Over and over, these handbills present the themes of the era - the revival of beauty, the freedom of sexuality, the rejection of contemporary consumer culture, the interest in mysticism and altered consciousness - in a way that impresses the viewer who wasn't there of just how seductive and special that time and place was, and why it came to loom so large in the nation's mind. It was brief, but explosive, and the fact that each of these visions owes its existence to the music of the '60s makes a case for these posters as the most authentic representation of the era's visual culture. Even if they were geographically limited, their influence on those who saw them was immense, filtering down almost immediately into the mainstream of advertising and graphic art, and paved the way for much of the groovy-yet-stylized typography and design of the '70s.Break out your vinyl Meanwhile, over at the Arts Factory, another show takes rock 'n' roll aesthetics as its occasion and subject with some works whose look and vibrancy owe more to punk and the British Invasion than to the freewheeling aesthetic of hippiedom. Angee Jackson and Johnny Hancen present their latest works in the common area of the building, with Hancen showing off his odd, primitive paintings that resemble outsider art colliding with handmade roadside billboards. They look overwrought and ugly next to Jackson's small, simple, yet ultra-stylized portraits of rock stars, from the famous to the obscure, each created out of colored cuts of vinyl. Johnny Cash, David Bowie, and Lou Reed are captured, along with a quote from their songs, with the appealing dynamism that informs the work of any serious fan. But they're so well-executed that the fan aspect is blunted, and they're priced to sell. While not as far a drive as the Clark County Museum, they too are more than worth the trip."Feelin' Groovy: Rock and Roll Graphics, 1966-70" is on display through August 18 at the Clark County Museum, 1830 S. Boulder Highway in Henderson. Hours: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily. Admission is $1.50 for adults, $1 for seniors and children. Angee Jackson and Johnny Hancen's work is on display through July 1 at the Arts Factory. Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.Complete Title: Worth The Trip: Psychedelia Descends on the Clark County Museum with "Feelin' Groovy"Source: Las Vegas City Life (NV)Author: Gregory CrosbyPublished: Sunday, June 16, 2002 Copyright: 2002 Las Vegas City LifeContact: obrien lvpress.comWebsite: Article & Web Sites:Psychodelia's Middle-Aged Head Trip' Groovy: Rock and Roll Graphics' Groovy: Rock and Roll Graphics - PDF Format

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