Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Wilson Inks An Impression On Music

When Wes Wilson first started designing rock posters, he didn't think twice about the deadlines or price. He just wanted to get the work done, making just enough money to afford the $30 rent he paid to stay at the Wentley Hotel in San Francisco. Several artists lived there.

It was one of them, his friend Kent Chapman, who eventually introduced Wilson to the owner of a small in-house commercial printing company. Together, they eventually took the company out of house. And it was there that Wilson made a symbolic political poster as a personal project.

When he took the infamous poster, which featured the stars and stripes of the American flag recast as a swastika, to an anti-war rally at Berkeley, reactions were mixed. Allen Ginsberg called it paranoid. The Anti-Defaminaton League thought it might be anti-Semitic. But is was promoter Chet Helms who saw something else.

He saw an emerging concert poster artist, even if Wilson considered drawing something that everyone in his family could do well. Helms went on to pay Wilson as little as $60 for short runs of 300 posters. Today, surviving posters such as Tribal Stomp sell for as much as $24,000.

Wes Wilson became the father of psychedelic rock posters. 

While psychedelic rock posters with freeform lettering became commonplace in the 1970s, Wilson had set the tone of them in motion in the 1960s. As he tells it today, serendipity interrupted all his plans and he began creating art for the masses, much of it inspired by Art Nouveau masters.

His work became so sought after that Bill Graham hired him the minute he saw one of the famous Open Theater posters. The two of them worked together for a spell until Graham realized Wilson was copyrighting his work. In the end, it was the contract that ended their friendship because the 6 percent royalty seemed fair to Graham until he realized he sold 100,000 posters.

In addition to those he sold, Graham used to accumulate and store material in newly minted condition, always having faith the posters would eventually be seen as works of art. That work, including the work of Wes Wilson, is now owned and managed by Wolfgang's Vault.

Some work, such as the Paul Butterfield Blues Band postcard, is listed for $20. Other work, such as the Sin Dance tour poster (featuring The Grass Roots, The Sons Of Adam, and Big Brother) lists for $1,900. Often the value is determined by the bands, art, and rarity.

A couple more graphs about artist Wes Wilson.

Wes Wilson was born in 1937 and a native of Sacramento, California. Interestingly enough, he was not interested in art as much as the nature and the outdoors. He studied forestry and horticulture at a small junior college in Auburn, California, until dropping out in 1963. His first poster was self-published two years later.

The timing was right in that an alternative culture was emerging and Wilson became caught up in it. The deeper he immersed himself in the work, the more he became inspired by great artists like Alphonse Mucha, Van Gogh, Gustav Klimt, and Egon Schiele and eventually Alfred Roller. The work progressed until finally reaching its height in 1966. He stopped working for Graham in 1967.

In 1968, Wilson was surprised to learn that he was to receive a $5,000 award by the National Endowment for the Arts for “his contributions to American Art.” The award recognized Wilson as a leader of the psychedelic poster scene, opening his work to be profiled in such major magazines as Life, Time, and Variety. In 1973, he and his family relocated to a cattle farm in the Missouri Ozarks.

The Art Of Wes Wilson Prints Up 9.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

The techniques that Wilson brought to the forefront still inspire poster artists today, filling the space with free lettering and beautiful repeating patterns. In addition to the vintage posters that helped define an era, Wilson produced some extraordinary watercolors and other original art that can be found on his site. They include posters for Graham, Family Dog, and others.

You can find some of his work for sale on his site. Conversely, many of the posters he designed for Graham and the Fillmore can be found at Wolfgang's Vault. Along with Wilson, the vault manages and sells posters, shirts, and photographs that were locked away by one of the most important promotors in San Francisco.
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