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Wes Wilson

Jefferson Airplane at Fillmore Auditorium 12/16-18/66 by Wes Wilson & 
Herb Greene

© Bill Graham Archives, LLC. All Rights Reserved

WWes Wilson is generally acknowledged as the father of the 60s rock concert poster. In 1968, he received an award from the National Endowment for the Arts for “his contributions to American Art.” He pioneered what is now known as the psychedelic poster.

Wilson grew up more interested in nature and the outdoors than in art. He studied forestry and horticulture at a junior college in Auburn, California, then attended San Francisco State, where his major was philosophy. After college, Wilson joined Bob Carr, whose basement print shop was known as Contact Printing. As Carr’s assistant and partner, Wes Wilson did the basic layout and design for most of the work Carr brought in through contacts in San Francisco’s North Beach coffeehouse poetry and jazz club scene.

In 1965, Contact Printing was well-positioned to serve San Francisco’s burgeoning counterculture. It produced handbills for the San Francisco Mime Troupe fundraising benefits, the so-called ‘Appeal’ parties, as well as for the Merry Prankster Acid Tests. Both were linked to the newly reborn dance-hall venues through a series of benefit concerts, so it is no surprise that the dance-hall promoters soon found their way to the Contact press. Wes Wilson’s first poster was self-published. Done in 1965, it features a swastika within an American flag motif, a protest by Wilson to the ever-increasing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.  Wilson designed the handbill for the Trips Festival. He attended the event and was deeply moved by what he saw and experienced.

Wes Wilson had also been doing the posters for promoter Chet Helms’ shows at the Straight Theatre. It was Wilson who designed the original logo for the Family Dog and who did the posters for the brief series of Family Dog shows at the Fillmore Auditorium, and then for the first series of Family Dog shows at the Avalon Ballroom. Soon he was doing that work plus doing the posters for Bill Graham’s shows at the Fillmore. After several months, Wilson stopped producing for the Family Dog venue and concentrated almost exclusively on posters for Bill Graham’s Fillmore events. He cites that with Chet Helms and the Avalon Ballroom, he was often given a theme around which he was asked to improvise, while with Bill Graham and the Fillmore, he was given complete freedom to design whatever he wanted. Wilson enjoyed the added artistic freedom.

After a friend showed him a copy of a 1908 poster done by the Viennese Secessionist artist, Alfred Roller, that contained an alphabet and lettering style similar to what Wilson had been doing, Wilson absorbed the Roller style, altering it in an explosion of lettering creativity that changed the poster scene permanently. His style of filling all available space with lettering, of creating fluid forms made from letters, and using flowing letters to create shapes became the standard that most artists followed in order to put “psychedelic” in the art. The first clear example of this—and a key piece in Wilson’s history—was the poster BG-18, done for a show with the Association at the Fillmore Auditorium. Set in a background of green is a swirling flame-form of red letters. With this poster came a new concept in the art of that time—perhaps the first truly ‘psychedelic’ poster.

The Art Nouveau style of celebrated Czech designer Alphonse Mucha was another major source that influenced Wilson’s work. In late 1966, Wilson created a poster for Bill Graham’s Winterland that has been nicknamed The Sound.” (BG-29) It combines Wilson’s ability to fill all available space with vibrant, flowing letters together with his admiration and respect for the feminine form. It is one of a handful of posters from that era that is considered representative of the entire period. Wilson’s treatment of women and the feminine form is one of his most lasting contributions to the poster art of the sixties. It has been said that the psychedelic poster—as we have come to know it—was defined by Wes Wilson sometime in the summer of 1966. Wilson did his last poster for Bill Graham in May of 1967 but continued to produce posters for the Avalon and other venues.

 

 

Posters and Handbills by Wes Wilson

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poster date cat. no. venue for sale
Fashion Show and Art Exhibition at Anastasia's 12/7/66 by Wes Wilson

12/7/1966

MSC-ANA.1966.12.07

Anastasia's 12/7/66

Products Available

 
Grateful Dead at Fillmore Auditorium 12/9-11/66 by Wes Wilson

12/9/1966

BG-41

Fillmore Auditorium 12/9-11/66

Products Available

 
Jefferson Airplane at Fillmore Auditorium 12/16-18/66 by Wes Wilson & 
Herb Greene

12/16/1966

BG-42

Fillmore Auditorium 12/16-18/66

Products Available

 
Otis Redding and His Orchestra at Fillmore Auditorium 12/20-22/66 by Wes Wilson

12/20/1966

BG-43

Fillmore Auditorium 12/20-22/66

Products Available

 
Jefferson Airplane at Fillmore Auditorium 12/30-31/66 by Wes Wilson

12/30/1966

BG-37

Fillmore Auditorium 12/30-31/66

Products Available

 
Young Rascals at Fillmore Auditorium 1/6-8/67 by Wes Wilson

1/6/1967

BG-44

Fillmore Auditorium 1/6-8/67

Products Available

 
Junior Wells Chicago Blues Band at Fillmore Auditorium 1/13-15/67 by Wes Wilson

1/13/1967

BG-45

Fillmore Auditorium 1/13-15/67

Products Available

 
Butterfield Blues Band at Fillmore Auditorium 1/20-22/67 by Wes Wilson

1/20/1967

BG-46

Fillmore Auditorium 1/20-22/67

Products Available

 
Butterfield Blues Band at Fillmore Auditorium 1/27-29/67 by Wes Wilson

1/27/1967

BG-47

Fillmore Auditorium 1/27-29/67

Products Available

 
Jefferson Airplane at Fillmore Auditorium 2/3-5/67 by Wes Wilson

2/3/1967

BG-48

Fillmore Auditorium 2/3-5/67

Products Available

 
Blues Project at Fillmore Auditorium 2/17-19/67 by Wes Wilson

2/17/1967

BG-50

Fillmore Auditorium 2/17-19/67

Products Available

 
Otis Rush and His Chicago Blues Band at Fillmore Auditorium 2/24-26/67 by Wes Wilson

2/24/1967

BG-51

Fillmore Auditorium 2/24-26/67

Products Available

 
Otis Rush and His Chicago Blues Band at Fillmore Auditorium 3/3-5/67 by Wes Wilson

3/3/1967

BG-53

Fillmore Auditorium 3/3-5/67

Products Available

 
Jefferson Airplane at Fillmore Auditorium 3/12/67 Winterland 3/10-11/67 by Wes Wilson

3/12/1967

BG-54

Fillmore Auditorium 3/12/67 Winterland 3/10-11/67

Products Available

 
Chuck Berry at Fillmore Auditorium 3/19/67 Winterland 3/17-18/67 by Wes Wilson

3/19/1967

BG-55

Fillmore Auditorium 3/19/67 Winterland 3/17-18/67

Products Available

 
Moby Grape at Fillmore Auditorium 3/26/67 Winterland 3/24-25/67 by Wes Wilson

3/26/1967

BG-56

Fillmore Auditorium 3/26/67 Winterland 3/24-25/67

Products Available

 
Byrds at Fillmore Auditorium 4/2/67 Winterland 3/31 & 4/2/67 by Wes Wilson

4/2/1967

BG-57

Fillmore Auditorium 4/2/67 Winterland 3/31 & 4/2/67

Products Available

 
Chambers Brothers at Fillmore Auditorium 4/7-9/67 by Wes Wilson

4/7/1967

BG-58

Fillmore Auditorium 4/7-9/67

Products Available

 
Howlin' Wolf at Fillmore Auditorium 4/21-23/67 by Wes Wilson

4/21/1967

BG-60

Fillmore Auditorium 4/21-23/67

Products Available

 
Buffalo Springfield at Fillmore Auditorium 4/28-30/67 by Wes Wilson

4/28/1967

BG-61

Fillmore Auditorium 4/28-30/67

Products Available

 
Grateful Dead at Fillmore Auditorium 5/5-6/67 by Wes Wilson

5/5/1967

BG-62

Fillmore Auditorium 5/5-6/67

Products Available

 
Joint Show at Moore Gallery 7/67 by Wes Wilson

7/7/1967

AOR-2.349

Moore Gallery 7/67

Products Available

 
Joint Show at Moore Gallery 7/67 by Rick Griffin & Stanley Mouse & Wes Wilson & Alton Kelley & Victor Moscoso

7/31/1967

AOR-2.351A

Moore Gallery 7/67

Products Available

 
Van Morrison at Avalon Ballroom 10/20-22/67 by Wes Wilson

10/20/1967

FD-88

Avalon Ballroom 10/20-22/67

Products Available

 
Blues Project at Avalon Ballroom 4/5-7/68 by Wes Wilson

4/5/1968

FD-113

Avalon Ballroom 4/5-7/68

Products Available

 
John Mayall at Avalon Ballroom 9/13-15/68 by Wes Wilson & Kurt Strausse

9/13/1968

FD-137

Avalon Ballroom 9/13-15/68

Products Available

 
Steve Miller Band at Avalon Ballroom 9/20-22/68 by Wes Wilson & John O'Green

9/20/1968

FD-138

Avalon Ballroom 9/20-22/68

Products Available

 
Flatt and Scruggs at Avalon Ballroom 9/27-29/68 by Wes Wilson & Jim Smirich

9/27/1968

FD-139

Avalon Ballroom 9/27-29/68

Products Available

 
Quicksilver Messenger Service at Avalon Ballroom 10/4-6/68 by Wes Wilson & Dean Cail

10/4/1968

FD-140

Avalon Ballroom 10/4-6/68

Products Available

 
Grateful Dead at Avalon Ballroom 10/11-13/68 by Wes Wilson & 
Robert Knight

10/11/1968

FD-141

Avalon Ballroom 10/11-13/68

Products Available

 
Velvet Underground at Avalon Ballroom 10/18-20/68 by Wes Wilson & Bellmer Wright

10/18/1968

FD-142

Avalon Ballroom 10/18-20/68

Products Available

 
Buddy Miles Express at Avalon Ballroom 10/25-27/68 by Wes Wilson & Jerry Uelsmann

10/25/1968

FD-143

Avalon Ballroom 10/25-27/68

Products Available

 
Byrds at Avalon Ballroom 11/1-3/68 by Wes Wilson & Jerry Uelsmann

11/1/1968

FD-144

Avalon Ballroom 11/1-3/68

Products Available

 
Santana at Fillmore West 12/19-22/68 by Wes Wilson

12/19/1968

BG-150

Fillmore West 12/19-22/68

Products Available

 
Steve Miller Band at Fillmore West 12/26-29/68 by Wes Wilson

12/26/1968

BG-151

Fillmore West 12/26-29/68

Products Available

 
Jefferson Airplane at Great Highway 7/7/69 by Wes Wilson & 
Victor Moscoso

7/7/1969

MSC-GHY.1969.07.07

Great Highway 7/7/69
No current products  
War Protest March at Polo Grounds - Golden Gate Park 11/15/69 by Wes Wilson

11/15/1969

MSC-GPP.1969.11.15

Polo Grounds - Golden Gate Park 11/15/69

Products Available

 
Grateful Dead at Winterland 6/17/75 by Stanley Mouse & 
Alton Kelley & 
Wes Wilson & 
Rick Griffin & 
Victor Moscoso

6/17/1975

MSC-WIN.1975.06.17

Winterland 6/17/75

Products Available

 
Zulu Spear at The Stone, San Francisco, CA 12/7/86 by Rick Griffin & 
Stanley Mouse & 
Alton Kelley & 
Wes Wilson & 
Victor Moscoso

12/7/1986

MSC-sTN.1986.12.07

The Stone, San Francisco, CA 12/7/86

Products Available

 
Jerry Garcia at The Old Fillmore 3/18/87 by Victor Moscoso & 
Rick Griffin & 
Alton Kelley & 
Wes Wilson & 
Stanley Mouse

3/18/1987

MSC-FIL.1987.03.18

The Old Fillmore 3/18/87

Products Available

 

 

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