Sonic Art, or, Groovy Rock Posters

For fans of poster art and other ephemeral graphic representations of rock music, Rock Graphic Originals is a wonderful resource.

Rock Graphic Originals: Revolutions in Sonic Art from Plate to Print '55-'88
Peter Golding with Barry Miles

Thames & Hudson

Nov 2018

"'It clicked: Reverse everything I had ever learned! A poster should transmit its message quickly and simply? No! Our posters were taking as long as they could to be read, and were hanging up the viewer!'"
-- Victor Moscoso, p. 28

The artwork associated with rock music from the '60s to the '80s is as varied and influential the groups from the era. Rock Graphic Originals: Revolutions in Sonic Art from Plate to Print '55-'88 is a collection of rock art—posters, album covers, magazine spreads, etc.—that focus on specific artists, their processes, and the ongoing motifs that present themselves in the work.

This beautiful book is curated by Peter Golding, a designer and a major collector of graphic rock art, with an introduction and insight into the cultural context of the posters by author Barry Miles. Both Golding and Miles are well versed in not only the art, but in the time period it was created, the artists it was created for, and the creators themselves. In attempting to offer more than just a catalog of the artwork, Golding and Miles paint a fuller picture of the cultural zeitgeist.

Focusing heavily on some of the period's heavy hitters, such as the San Francisco Five: Victor Moscoso, Rick Griffin, Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley, and Wes Wilson, the book delves into their influences and artistic choices. These artists were purposefully changing what posters could be. No longer were they merely an advertisement for an artist or a show, now they were an artistic statement on their own, which would often become inextricably linked to the subject of the art. For example, just as Mouse and Kelley's skeleton with roses became the unmistakable logo for The Grateful Dead in the '60s, their airbrushed album covers for Journey and other bands from the '70s evoked a similarly recognizable style.

Moscoso's work is a perfectly representative example of the shifting techniques and artistic leaps being made around the burgeoning rock scene in San Francisco. His use of color -- often bright, clashing, and saturated -- along with his typographic choices, made his work original. Similarly, Griffin's lettering -- e.g., flying eyeballs, and use of Native American imagery --would also set his work apart. Though he incorporated his comics background into his early work, Griffin also became a painter and borrowed from historic engravings to create new images. An inability to be completely pinned down to one style is an ongoing theme for many of the artists represented here.

Maybe somewhat lesser known, Rock Graphic Originals also devotes pages to the art of Dennis Nolan and Lee Conklin, both known for the their drawing skills, evidenced by Nolan's poster for a Big Brother and the Holding Company gig at the Avalon Ballroom, and Conklin's famous cover of Santana's first album.

In addition to focusing on individual artists, the book also includes profiles of magazines, artistic influences, and social collectives. By placing them alongside artists, their importance and influence is acknowledged as similarly integral to the artistic movement. Magazines such as Gandalf's Garden and Miles' own International Times were heavily steeped in the same psychedelic imagery that would appear in much of the rock art of the time. Further, comics art and Art Nouveau—particularly in fonts—allowed artists to take techniques and motifs from various spectrums of the art world and create a new hybrid form.

Relying most heavily on the posters of the '60s, covering musicians such as The Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan, Rock Graphic Originals also includes artwork from the '70s and '80s. Poster art from the '80s is least represented, though the poster art of that era has its own distinction. Curated by Golding (and featuring art from his and Miles' own collections) this collection skews to the earlier days of rock graphics when music and the posters were unquestionably part of the cultural and political changes of the time.

It's no easy feat to encapsulate such an iconic time in the fusion of art and music amidst a shifting social landscape, in a book that serves as both a portfolio for many of the seminal artists and a history lesson of the era but it's done well, here. Beautifully presented with full-page images and bright reproductions, Rock Graphic Originals is a terrific primer on rock music poster art.

Thames & Hudson publicity image:





12 Essential Kate Bush Songs

While Kate Bush is a national treasure in the UK, American listeners don't know her as well. The following 12 songs capture her irrepressible spirit.


Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish Replace Form with Risk on 'Interactivity'

The more any notions of preconceived musicality are flicked to the curb, the more absorbing Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish's Interactivity gets.


Martin Green's Junkshop Yields the Gritty, Weird Story of Britpop Wannabes

Featuring a litany of otherwise-forgotten budget bin purchases, Martin Green's two-disc overview of coulda-been Britpop contenders knows little of genre confines, making for a fun historical detour if nothing else.


Haux Compellingly Explores Pain via 'Violence in a Quiet Mind'

By returning to defined moments of pain and struggle, Haux cultivates breathtaking music built on quiet, albeit intense, anguish.


'Stratoplay' Revels in the Delicious New Wave of the Revillos

Cherry Red Records' six-disc Revillos compilation, Stratoplay, successfully charts the convoluted history of Scottish new wave sensations.


Rising Young Jazz Pianist Micah Thomas Debuts with 'Tide'

Micah Thomas' Tide is the debut of a young jazz pianist who is comfortable and fluent in a "new mainstream": abstraction as well as tonality, freedom as well as technical complexity.


Why Australia's Alice Ivy Doesn't Want to Sleep

Alice Ivy walks a fine line between chillwave cool and Big Beat freakouts, and her 2018 debut record was an electropop wonder. Now, in the middle of a pandemic, she tries to keep the good vibes going with a new record decked out in endless collaborations.


Five Women Who Fought the Patriarchy

Whether one chooses to read Square Haunting for the sketches of the five fascinating women, or to understand how misogyny and patriarchy constricted intellectual and public life in the period, Francesca Wade's book is a superb achievement.


Director Denis Côté on Making Film Fearlessly

In this interview with PopMatters, director Denis Côté recalls 2010's Curling (now on Blu-Ray) discusses film as a "creative experiment in time", and making films for an audience excited by the idea of filling in playful narrative gaps.


Learning to Take a Picture: An Interview With Inara George

Inara George is unafraid to explore life's more difficult and tender moments. Discussion of her latest music, The Youth of Angst, leads to stories of working with Van Dyke Parks and getting David Lee Roth's musical approval.


Country Westerns Bask in an Unparalleled Sound and Energy on Their Debut

Country Westerns are intent on rejecting assumptions about a band from Nashville while basking in an unparalleled sound and energy.


Rediscovering Japanese Director Tomu Uchida

A world-class filmmaker of diverse styles, we take a look at Tomu Uchida's very different Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji and The Mad Fox.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.