Wes Wilson, whose posters for Bay Area concert venues in the mid-to-late ’60s helped define the visual style of the psychedelic era, died on Jan. 24 at his home in Leanne, Mo., at the age of 82.
The New York Times confirmed the news from Wilson’s son Jason. The cause of death was not disclosed.
Born on July 15, 1937 in Sacramento, Calif., he moved to San Francisco after a stint in the military. He took a job as an in-house graphic designer for an insurance company, and eventually opened a print shop with his boss. During this time he began making posters, which attracted the attention of Chet Helms, whose Family Dog Productions promoted concerts at the Fillmore along with Bill Graham, for whom he later worked.
He went freelance, and his 1966 posters for a show at the Fillmore by the Association and the Beatles‘ last-ever concert at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park were early displays of his style. Wilson’s approach — big block letters without much regard for linear text — was intentional so that people would have to stop to focus on what was being advertised. The look, as seen on flyers for shows by such bands as the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company, became synonymous with the nascent local scene.
Wilson soon had a falling out with Graham over royalties — he called Graham a “lying crook” in a 2011 interview with Collectors Weekly — and moved from posters to watercolors. In 1976, he left San Francisco for southwestern Missouri, where he raised cattle and painted.
He told Collectors Weekly that Jefferson Airplane were his favorite of the local bands, and although he loved talking to Jerry Garcia — “one of the most wonderful people in that whole scene” — he didn’t particularly like the Grateful Dead. The best show he ever saw, however, was the Doors at the Fillmore.