Wes Wilson, who designed concert posters for many prominent bands throughout the psychedelic movement in 1960s San Francisco, has died. His family announced in a Facebook post that he passed away peacefully at his home in Leann, MO, surrounded by his family on Friday.
Throughout his storied career, Wilson created posters for concerts put on by Bill Graham at his San Francisco venues including the Fillmore Auditorium and Fillmore West, as well as Chet Helms‘ concerts at the Avalon Ballroom. Along with fellow artists Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso, and Rick Griffin, Wilson helped usher in an entirely new art style of psychedelia by experimenting with fonts and colors, making it look as if the letters themselves were moving.
Robert Wesley Wilson was born in Sacramento, CA on July 15, 1937, and eventually found his way to San Francisco State where he worked at a small printing press to put himself through school. While working at the press, the demand for concert posters and handbills exploded with the advent of the Haight-Ashbury movement of the mid-to-late 1960s, and Wilson was more than happy to oblige the skyrocketing demand.
As the San Francisco-ballroom era came to a close, Wilson’s artwork became valued by a generation of concertgoers for its unique and trippy style, rather than their ability to convey information. When the hippies left the Haight and the spirit of the 1960s faded, Wilson became disillusioned with the growing commercialism of the concert poster industry, and retreated to a farm in the Ozarks in Missouri, where he lived until his death.
Today, Wilson’s concert posters hang in both art and history museums alike, including the Smithsonian and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art.
Wilson’s website offers prints of his iconic posters, as well as original drawings, and stories from the man himself about some of his most famous works.
Watch a recent mini-documentary about Wes Wilson’s artist legacy below.
Paper, Ink and Rock and Roll – “The Poster Art of Wes Wilson”