Leeds College of Art | Psychedelic Posters from the 1960's – Expand Your Mind

Known as the “turbulent sixties”, 1960s America saw the rise of civil unrest, driven by the youth culture that were newly intoxicated by sex, drugs, rock and roll. The artists of this time toyed around with the newly developing artistic techniques of surrealism. Barry Schwartz in “Psychedelic Art” (1968) believes that this particular genre of artwork is a “conscious expression of the psychedelic experience”. Hence, ‘Psychedelic art’ emerged out of this “art revolution”, where artwork was transformed into tangible displays of the artist’s mindset and experiences, whilst induced by drugs such as LSD and mescaline.


This Psychedelic poster exhibition on Blenheim Walk, brilliantly parades some of the most transgressive and influential art within the twentieth century. Each individual poster has a mixture of vibrant and bewildering designs, arranged in particular ways to disturb the mind’s idea of “normal” art.  Psychedelics is another word for “Entheogens” which literally translates, ‘awakening the divine within.’ These fantastic brightly coloured spirals and diffraction patterns in the posters manifested their way into the observer’s consciousness, managing to successfully manipulate our inner state of mind. Consequently, the psychedelic experiences that these artist envision whilst on drugs, are able to be break through the old ‘conservative’ tradition of artwork, displaying the emotions and inspirations that affect the mind. These drugs provided the perfect catalyst to electrify creativity; the artwork in this gallery therefore expresses truly the ‘divine within’ the artist’s imagination, put forth for the world to see.


Within the Leeds College of Art exhibition, all the posters excluding one, display an array colours, normally allied with sunsets and warmth, such as dark blues, reds and oranges. These build on the psychedelic impulse to overwhelm the senses, especially with the merging of colours and circular and bodily patterns. Furthermore, the nudist movement associated with the hippies of the 1960s are projected into these psychedelic posters, with a vast display of naked bodies. Nudity during this period was defined as a way of exploring and presenting mental and physical freedom; henceforth, these psychedelic posters transcend the boundaries of art form, recognizing the role of drugs and using art as a way of transferring the sense of freedom experienced during this period, on to paper.


The impact of psychedelic art in the 1960s is seen not only within this creative Leeds gallery, but also within the influence it has on popular culture today. These kaleidoscopically swirling patterns of LSD hallucinations are displayed all over musical artworks and used in many other commercial arenas. From these posters, we as observers are also to comprehend not only the innovative psych of the Artists, but also the revolutionary political, social and spiritual sentiments inspired by visions, originating from these psychedelic states of consciousness.


Chloe Breckon 

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