Steef Davidson Collection – The music psychedelics of The San Francisco Five

Having grown up in the more nihilistic era of punk, I used not to care for the counterculture period of the late sixties, especially the hippy music of those days. The overindulgence of excessive soloing and seemingly pointless improvisation only inspired a rebellious disdain for these hairy old dinosaurs. The rebellious nature of the counterculture movement itself I did not recognize. Beards, long hair and flared trousers simply weren’t cool. These sentiments have grown a bit more balanced over the years, although I still prefer the 3 minute song over six variations of Who Do You Love by Quicksilver Messenger Service. [youtube=]

In any case I was still surprised when researching the small collection of concert posters as part of the Davidson collection we’ve acquired. I suddenly realized what an impact designers like Rick Griffin, Wes Wilson and others have had, not only through their designs, but also through their practices.

I’m not gonna expand here on their individual accomplishments. There’s quite a lot to find on the internet about them and their works and I will suffice to provide a few links of interest. What surprised me the most was how these guys operated, on the one hand very much do-it-yourself, on the other hand very businesslike. They took control over their own work. No anonymous designs for advertising agencies or production companies. A quite logical approach really as these up and coming creatives took a collective stance against “The Man”, but as I said I had not fully appreciated the rebellious nature of the counterculture until recently.


It did not take the SAN FRANCISCO FIVE (Rick Griffin, Wes Wilson, Stanley Mouse, Victor Moscoso and Alton Kelley) long to set up their distribution agency BERKELEY BONAPARTE in the heart of the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement along with THE FAMILY DOG organization that took care of the organization of cultural events in venues in the San Fransisco area. At Berkeley Bonaparte they did quite a lot of work collectively, later on they set up their own agencies like Victor Moscoso’s Neon Rose. As such these artists proved to be of mayor importance for graphic design in general. A key point here is the use of their distinctive style as a trademark and unique selling point, something they undoubtedly picked up from pop art. Another point is their reissuing of earlier designs. This is what makes buying these concert posters tricky. When they found out there was demand for their posters, they re-issued printings “exclusively”. The prints were done years after the concert was held. This Grateful Dead poster at the Honolulu International Center is a good example.

GRATEFUL DEAD Honolulu International Center July 25th 1969 32×51 cm, USA 1969 artist Rick griffin

This particular concert was abandoned and the original posters mostly destroyed. Due to great demand the poster was re-issued in another format.

These practices are very common now and visible in all kinds of low art printing, whether in music (artists like Frank Kozik or Chuck Sperry) or indeed movies (for example the Alamo Drafthouse or Mondo posters or the Castro Theatre posters). A contributing factor to their influence is their cross-over with other fields of low culture. Moscoso and Griffin joined forces with Robert Crumb when the latter formed ZAP COMIX in 1968. In this the SAN FRANCISCO FIVE were not alone. Other artists who contributed to the concert poster scene were doing similar stuff or doing something else. Greg Irons for example became a well-known tattoo-artist. It was all happening in those crazy or should I say groovy  intermedial late sixties days.

Links of interest on featured artists:

Rick Griffin       Victor Moscoso       Victor Moscoso Font

Wes Wilson       Stanley Mouse         Alton Kelley

Greg Irons         Lee Conklin             Randy Tuten                  Randy Tuten interview

David Singer      John van Hamersveld

Commercial sites (probably same business), but great info on individual posters:

Classic Posters

Wolfgangs Vault

Oh and IMPORTANT!! here’s how it should be done


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