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Grateful Dead/Pentangle/Sir Douglas, Lee Conklin (Herb Greene photography) 1969 Lithograph

by • November 7, 2011 • ArtComments (0)238

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“The Grateful dead are not just a band, but an environment” aquote from Bill Graham off of Grateful Dead’s live albums, Ladies and Gentlemen…the Grateful Dead.

This environment was a combination of the band, the fans and the art that went along with it. The Grateful Dead was by far one of the most influential bands to come out of the San Francisco Haight-Ashbery scene. The Grateful Dead under the name The Warlocks had played concerts for the acid tests conducted by Ken Kesey in the bay area in early to mid 1960s. The band grew in notoriety for its psychedelic jamming style and association with both the San Francisco counter culture and with LSD. Lee Conklin’s poster, for their February 1969 run at the Fillmore West with Pentangle and Sir Douglas, drives home the counter culture aesthetics with masterful skill and lets loose that alternate vibe that the city seemed to feed off of. Herb Greene, a local photographer who contributed to many bay area concert promotions, in the 1960s, took the center photograph of the musicians.
Less flashy and without the expansive color palate present in other concert posters from this era, this work’s brilliance is more in its complex and meticulous subtly then in its shock and awe value. Negotiating the elements of complexity of pattern and design with a limited color palate, Conklin’s poster is an amalgamation of techniques. This limited color palate to red and orange at fist makes seeing the full complexity of the poster difficult without an extended viewing. By examining the poster more closely hidden and ill-defined patterns slowly take on physical forms revealing hidden faces and skulls throughout the poster. Here Conklin accomplishes two goals, fulfilling the advertising element of the poster, making it difficult to read the viewer is forced to examine the poster much more closely and for a longer amount of time. The text is hard to read requiring closer examination of the poster to attain the concert information. This may have been Conklin’s intention. By succeeding as an advertiser he is also succeeding as an artist, forcing the view to ruminate longer and harder on his work they gain it full effect.
The background pattern is hard to differentiate at first, from the over whelming orange that permeates the poster. Geniusly though the longer the poster is examined the more small details reveal themselves to the viewers. With a close examination of the poster the viewer can see that skulls are expertly intertwine throughout the pattern that runs through the poster. Besides the crude skulls more finely detailed faces are spread through the poster imbedded in the background pattern. These small almost hidden faces in the poster are a pleasant or shocking surprise when discovered by the viewer, mostly depending on the viewer’s current state of mind.
Like most psychedelic poster art it is not intended for the sober viewer ut rather geared toward those taking or have experienced LSD. For someone tripping on acid these intertwined faces, skulls and patterning would have greatly enhanced the visual experience of their trip.
The idea was that the poster artists on the bay area scene were trying in the same ways and just as hard as the musicians, to get people off. That’s what it was all about. The fiery red color in the background bounces out at the viewer with its contrast to the bright and vibrant orange text and patterning. The pattern spreads out covering all of the empty space in the poster with sporadic and almost unnoticed faces throughout it. Like the impromptu jam sessions that were the foundation of the innovativeness of psychedelic music, psychedelic poster art tried to push new boundaries and expand the minds of the viewers. Lee Conklin’ poster work, like the music of one of his subjects Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, was just as expertly complex. Like Garcia’s music unrivaled in innovativeness and methodical lyrics riddled double entendres, paralleled Conklin’s masterful ability to embed images into complex patterns and balance subtly with intense visual stimulation. 

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