♢ EDITORIAL by Sal McIntyre, New York ♢
What we now know of as the psychedelic graphic art age, born in the 1960s primarily as a vehicle to communicate cultural expression amidst an atmosphere of heated socio-political upheaval, became arguably one of the most widely popular and universally influential visual art styles. The artists who were prominent at this time were in a unique position to shape the collective mentalities and ideologies permeating across the globe, with an undercurrent most often revolving around themes of love, peace and humanism. Hand in hand with the groundbreaking music of the time, much of the creative movement has unerring roots plunged deep into the most basic laws about what makes humans tick, and found an unrestrained vocalisation by way of the fearless use of color and bold stylization of form— leading to a crackling and ecstatic design language. So resonant is this type of visual expression that we have seemingly never recovered from it, revisiting and reinventing it untiringly.
Peter Max could perhaps be charged with defining the visual identity of 1960s culture, producing the work that became the epitome of the “summer of love” mentality. His experimental creative process and adeptness at drawing lent an energy and vitality to his work that could stand on a strong foundation of artistry. He underwent formal art training at the Art Students League of New York, studying anatomy, figure drawing and composition under Frank Reilly, who had studied at the League alongside Norman Rockwell. Max went on to become a giant in the graphic arts, helping to lead a worldwide movement and evolution. This brilliant poster Police Patrol is not only visually exciting and inspiring, but also almost laughably on key with much of today’s current conversation.
Milton Glaser is another giant of the cultural fever of the 60s, the artist behind the infamous Bob Dylan album cover with the colorful patterned hair. His humorous, upbeat timbre paired with a raw clarity of line quality results in designs that are both dark and spirited at the same time. With also an impressive background of art education including a fulbright scholarship, his mastery over the medium aids to translate any wild whim that may pass over his mind. In this poster designed for the San Diego Jazz Festival there is a glimpse into the many facets of his distinctive voice.
Although Seymour Chwast has a name less popularly known in the mainstream, his imagery is undoubtedly recognizable and beloved. Born in the Bronx, New York, and with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cooper Union, he irrevocably left his mark on the character of New York City in the heart of the art scene. Often referred to as "the left-handed designer," he founded Push Pin Studios in 1954 with Milton Glaser and others, carving out a channel by which his unique and charismatic style could find significant traction. One of the most brilliant in the medium of the visual pun, and with a refreshing measure of nonchalance, his designs are enigmatic and enchanting, and his colors are somehow forever new. This portrait of Judy Garland is an original 1967 stone lithograph printed poster for what looks to be “one performance only.”
And Tadanori Yokoo is probably the whole of the 1960s art movement rolled into one, his prolific work exploding out of Japan, traversing and magnifying the currents of revolution against oppression in all its forms. In a culture not known for its freedom of expression, Yokoo’s style was an unstoppable tidal wave, replete with untethered color, dynamic compositions and a barrage of intertwining imagery— yet assembled with such powerful instinct that his underlying structural strength is never remiss. Much of his incendiary work runs the gamut all the way between the high art history of the masters to the low art candy craving appeal of commercial packaging, often encapsulated in a sole piece. Of the 15 world-renowned artists commissioned to make the original famous poster series for Amnesty International, this one by Yokoo is one of the most memorable and sought-after, perhaps because, with his sophisticated tuning, it captures the impassioned urgency of the subject of human rights.
Over time it has become clear that the style created by the best poster designers of the 1960s has transcended even the important and monumental messages they convey, resulting in a blooming and vital wealth of material that is reflective of an inspiring generation of creators perhaps belonging to us all.