This week, Cartoonist Kayfabe—a comic book YouTube channel—did a video entitled “Who Invented Psychedelic Art?” about the work of artist L.B. Cole. Watching the video, I never get the answer to the question and I went online to seek it.
Who Invented Psychedelic Art?
Well, first, what is Psychedelic Art? According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of psychedelic is:
of, relating to, characteristic of, or being the period of the mid-to-late-1960s that is associated with the psychedelic drug culture.
Psychedelic Art is the art movement of the 1960s counterculture. Anika D. wrote for Widewalls that “Trippy or Psychedelic art is something we usually proclaim as kitschy or banal, but if we return to that point in history when psychedelic art first emerged, we might discover some interesting facts about the movement that would change our opinion. Usually referred to as art influenced by hallucinogenic drugs like LSD or mescaline, psychedelic art was more than just a visual representation of the artists’ trippy-hippy experiences.”
In fact, the discovery of LSD is really the origin of psychedelic art. By using this drug, artists explored altered states of consciousness which inspired them to produce art that is fully surrealist or often at least connected to the style. Psychedelic art was inspired by dreams and hallucinations. That doesn’t mean it’s only a visual art. In fact, at first, it was beatnik poets Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs that popularized the use of psychedelic drugs in the production of art, in the 1950s.
Psychedelic art was not invented, it was a side effect, but not one that was dismissable.
The Psychedelic Art Movement
As a movement coming from San Francisco in the late 1960s, Psychedelic Art influenced music—or was influenced by music. Sound, pictures, and words clearly worked together as concert and event posters popularized the psychedelic style—with its metaphysical or surrealistic subject matter, kaleidoscopic patterns, contrasting colors, repetition of motifs, and innovative use of lettering. Artists like Wes Wilson, Victor Moscoso, Rick Griffin, Bonnie MacLean, Stanley Mouse & Alton Kelley made their marks using this medium. As the movement progressed, artists like Peter Max, Mati Klarwein, Pablo Amaringo, Roger Dean, Robert Williams, and more emerged.
Also during concerts, psychedelic light shows were created, becoming a new art form on their own. The music world was not the only one influenced, as the comic book world saw the emergence of the underground comix, a new genre developed by independent creators coming from the psychedelic counterculture—notably Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Barbara “Willy” Mendes, Trina Robbins, and more. It produced comics that were plain weird, satirical, and without limits.
As the movement progressed, more artists emerged and, obviously, the psychedelic aesthetic was commodified. It became commercial. From the heart of the counterculture to the hands of corporate advertising.
Psychedelic Art didn’t die at the end of the 1970s and the counterculture movement. Clearly codified, it found a new life with computer arts in the mid-1990s, especially with the help of fractal generating software. The influence of psychedelic poster art and 1970s advertising art can be seen in early digital art.
f you are into art, I also wrote about the origins of Pixel Art.