The 1960s was a revolutionary decade that turned traditional Western norms on their heads. Consumerism culture was growing, spurred by the emergence of television, and a “generation gap” was dividing the old and the post-World War II baby boomer young. What resulted was the “counter-culture” movement, characterized by an anti-establishment attitude that rejected the contemporary social values. Superficially, this era was associated with psychoactive drug use, Hippie culture, and psychedelic rock music; however, the movement was very much shaped by disillusionment among the younger generation towards politics and war as the Civil Rights Movement took place and the United States began its military invasion of Vietnam.

These tensions were explored and reflected in the art and music of the time, which continue to be highly regarded today. Visual arts in the 1960s took a page from the Surrealism movement, in particular Dadaism, along with hints of Pop Art and Art Nouveau. The defining element was the “psychedelic” (meaning “mind-manifesting”) look, inspired by popular psychoactive drugs such as LSD and psilocybin (magic mushrooms), which induced hallucinations frequently depicted as kaleidoscopic swirls of bright and contrasting colours. In addition, psychedelic art often contained morphing and distorted shapes and collages of images and repeating motifs organized in the horror vacui (or kenophobia – meaning “fear of empty space”) style of a fully-covered canvas of detailed artwork with no empty space. As counter-culture and psychedelia progressed, helped along by the “British Invasion” of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, psychedelic art was most frequently featured on album covers and concert posters, becoming associated with popular acts like the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Janice Joplin, the Zombies, the Grateful Dead, and the Doors.

For this issue of IMMpress, we pay homage to the drug-inspired art of the 1960s counter-culture era. The intertwining clouds of smoke in contrasting and complementary colours reflect the increasingly blurry line between those drugs that are considered normal or medicinal, and those that remain socially unacceptable.

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Kieran Manion and Angela Zhou

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