Wes Wilson

born Sacramento, CA 1937
Also known as
  • Robert Wesley Wilson
Sacramento, California, United States
Active in
  • San Francisco, California, United States
  • Missouri, United States
  • American

Wes Wilson attended San Francisco State University and was working at Contact Printing, a small San Francisco press, when his career as a psychedelic poster artist took off. At Contact, Wilson did the layout and design for handbills that eventually established him as a poster designer. When the Avalon Ballroon and Bill Graham's Fillmore Auditorium began to hold weekly dance concerts, Wilson was called upon to design the posters. He created psychedelic posters from February 1966 until May 1967, when disputes over money severed his connection with Graham. Wilson's early work was unique, but by mid-1967, so many artists had copied his style that he was easily replaced.

Wilson claims that he was the first artist to create a psychedelic poster. Intended for a particular audience—one that was tuned in to the psychedelic experience—his art, especially the lugubrious, freehand lettering, emerged from Wilson's own involvement with that experience and the psychedelic art of light shows. His influential lettering was derived from the Viennese Secessionist lettering he discovered in a University of California exhibition catalogue.

Wilson's approach to poster making was quite improvisatory. According to the artist, he selected colors through visual experiences with LSD, as well as from his professional experience as a printer. Eventually disillusioned with the career and financial opportunities of poster art, he moved to the Missouri Ozarks, where he lives on a farm.

Therese Thau Heyman Posters American Style (New York and Washington, D.C.: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., in association with the National Museum of American Art, 1998)