Switch, Flicker, and Hum: A World Bathed in Ultraviolet...
Undoubtedly, one of the finest harnessing of powers was the introduction of ultraviolet light. My exposure (pun intended) to "black lights" came in 1968, but it wasn't until 1970 that I began collecting the epic posters that came out. This new ultramarine glow was the innersanctum, the very basement level of hippie-dom. In the dark with a mist of blue cascading up from a narrow fluorescent tube was the guiding light. It was beyond cool how it turned most white things to a bright blue, and skin to the deepest, weirdest tan of all. Soon, ambient lighting became a fascination for me. Candles, red light bulbs, or muted light of any kind became an art form. My room was the place to be. I mostly created my own posters. This was largely due to the fact that in our area during the late 60's, there weren't that many shops that carried them, and for the few that did, the selection wasn't that great.It wouldn't be until 1970 that the poster world began to open up and selections were much broader.
Fleurescent paints were awesome! The greatest invention known to mankind was contained in a series of brightly colored jars. Interestingly, they also glowed in daylight if natural sun was available. It was great to just set them up on the dresser as they were illuminated whenever the old black light was on. They cost around a dollar a set, and the set came with a brush. Blue is my favorite color, and I used as much of it as possible. I had to reinforce my paint sets constantly. Pink rarely got used, but it was a great color under ultraviolet. Orange was barely discernible. I'm RGB color blind, so that would explain a lot. Yellow was a great color, as was Green. I really liked red as a glow color, but it was hard for me to work with as it seemed kind of a darker orange color.
My biggest breakthroughs came with the mixing of colors. The final outputs were not so great, but the experimentation was interesting. I soon realized that the fluorescent paints worked best with primary and secondary colors only. Purples, browns, and shades of blues and greens were places you just didn't want to go. They in fact created the finest mud you could ever hope for. Next came my disastrous attempt to create a "glo black". Lots of money was wasted on paints being wasted. In the end, my inventions led me to the question: "how do you create a neon black?" Obviously, I wasn't the brightest kid in the class. I realized that there were just some things that science needs to leave alone.
I, Dayglo Artist
At 14, I was a pretty decent artist,I painted my own posters using fluorescent temperas. At first, I tried creating 70's concert posters which became an art form unto themselves. The whole San Francisco-West Coast hippie movement seemed to be driven by this type of art. Naturally, I had to re-create it. I did a fairly good job, but went nowhere near the masters. I especially had fun painting the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix' "fro" was awesome, and he was such a dynamic figure to draw and paint anyway. Few people looked great with a Fu Manchu, and he was one of those few. I also tried painting over photos which was a disaster.
Painting black light posters of Playboy centerfolds became a new, and highly requested art form for me. Now, friends were digging into their wallets. I was now taking orders for posters. However, I wasn't painting Playboy centerfolds; I was creating my own women in fantasy costume, nude, or nearly so, or just plain old fashioned portraits. I bought the larger jars of glo paints, and worked on larger canvases. My first big sale of $20 came in 1970 with a black light painting of Diana Ross.
One of the most difficult and mind-bending attempts of all was to imitate the unreadable lettering that dominated West Coast concert posters back in those great days. I can't begin to describe how long it took me to read the title "American Beauty" on the Grateful Dead album of the same name. Next, Quicksilver Messenger Service appeared on many posters, their name so scrambled it was barely readable. My personal slogan is: "If you could read it, you weren't really there." They too had a logo so scrambled that it seemed to be a painting rather than a name. To this day I have a sincere love and fascination for the designs of the San Francisco 70's scene, and all of the psychedelic posters of the day.
Art To the Max
My first artistic influences were Peter Max, and most album covers. Without going into his history, Peter Max was probably the most famous poster and pop artist of all time. He was an extreme innovator and influenced an entire generation with his works. I know that I painted hundreds of "Max-ish" posters, and went through gallons of fluorescent temperas in the process. One of the leaders in that day of bottled tempera paint was Prang. They would have loved me and would probably have sent me Christmas cards every year.Soon, I was painting Max-style almost 100%. I almost lost my own true identity in the process. It wasn't until I picked up my first "foil-covered" Steppenwolf albums that I began to "Un-Max" myself, and find my true artistic identity again.
I was young, and knew nothing of posterization, Lithos, block prints, or any of the offset print tricks of the times. All I knew was that this new art form was incredible, and it not only balanced my creative self, but changed it forever. Experimentation was the new word; Try it all, do it all, live and grow. And grow I did.
Black Light Rooms
In 1970, I began to collect black light posters as more and more of them became available. Record stores began housing them in Black Light Rooms. These were notorious ambient spaces usually separated by a sheet, tie-dyed curtain, or curtains of hanging beads. Most of these stores and headshops carried them as regular items. They used to have these bins, or shelves, and the poster would be rolled up and sealed in cellophane. On the end of the roll was a tag with the bin number on it. The posters on the wall had the same corresponding bin number, so all you had to do was pick out your favorite, go to the bin, and try to find it. Yeah, right. My favorites were usually sold out, and I had to go to smaller, more out of the way stores and pay a dollar, or 50 cents extra for the best ones. It was a blessing that headshops usually carried a decent selection. I bought my best posters at headshops.
Black light posters also became as legendary as rock groups, or albums. They had titles, and these titles live in infamy to this day. So, without further dialoguing, let's go to the black light room and relive some memories.