The first time Chuck Sperry saw a psychedelic rock poster he was 5 or 6 and had mustered up the nerve to climb the attic stairs into his big brother’s bedroom.
There, pinned to the wall, was a drawing of a fat prop plane with umbrellas. He studied the lettering, then sneaked back up a second time until he could finally make out the words, “Jefferson Airplane, an Ectodelic Trip, Civic Auditorium Dance, June 4, 9-1, $2.25.”
“I remember staring at that poster in the late 60’s while my brother Jody and I recorded The Who’s Tommy in its entirety on a reel-to-reel tape recorder,” said Sperry laughing.
Sperry followed that poster to Haight-Ashbury, where he found love, an amazing apartment and the charmed life of a poster artist.
He timed it just right to have been selected by art director Arelene Owseichik to join Bill Graham Presents’ “New Fillmore Series” of posters in 1994. His career spanning 500+ handmade, limited edition, screen printed Rock Posters and art prints – not to mention 200+ art shows in over a dozen countries – has not slowed since then.
In fact, Sperry’s career is speeding up; He will have a solo exhibition in New York City at Spoke Art Gallery on November 19, 2016. There he will present his newest wood panels and archived classic rock posters and art prints. He will also present his newest book, “Helikon, The Muses of Chuck Sperry” devoted entirely to his screenprint on wood panels.
“Recently I had the great honor to make five posters – over the last year – for The Who. They gave me massive props by showing my posters on the huge stadium stage screen before and after their concerts. When I saw them in Oakland this year, I thought about my brother and me in 1969 in his room under that Jefferson Airplane poster.”
On Saturday, Oct. 22, Sperry’s art will proudly be on display at the Festival of Rock Posters in the Hall of Flowers in Golden Gate Park.
The Festival, put on by the nonprofit all-volunteer Rock Poster Society, is a highly anticipated annual art event. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the invention of the psychedelic rock poster. To honor this important milestone, artists, dealers, and collectors are coming from around the country, to create one of the largest TRPS events to date.
“The psychedelic style stood out from everything else,” says Sperry, now 54, and still a resident of that same apartment in The Haight.
Sperry has lived in The Haight for 26 years, and has worked as an artist for all that time. He’s made shows from Buenos Aires to Paris, Athens to Japan. His art is in the permanent collections of many prominent museums as well as The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
He owns an art studio/gallery in West Oakland where he regularly hosts very well-attended art shows and open houses. Presently he is working on a series of four Jerry Garcia portraits for the Garcia family’s foundation, which collectors are avidly awaiting.
“Wes Wilson did a series of 10 or 12 posters that ignited all of these other artists to get started,” Sperry says. “Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley,Victor Moscoso, and Rick Griffin were breaking all the printing rules by putting colors like red and blue next to each other, which vibrated the eye. You had to be hip in order to even read the posters. It was really a revolutionary artistic statement.”
According to Ben Marks, vice president of the Rock Poster Society, the style for psychedelic rock posters can be traced to that most un-psychedelic of bands, the Association, singing “Windy” and “Cherish”. It was drawn by Wilson using flames for lettering. If you’ve taken a course in hippie hieroglyphics you can make out the words “July 22-23, Fillmore Auditorium.”’
“San Francisco’s Psychedelic style completely changed graphic aesthetics around the world,” says Sperry. The 50th anniversary of the Human Be-In is Jan. 14, and that will launch a year of tributes to the Summer of Love. Posters from the Be-In, and other Summer of Love shows will be at the Hall of Flowers and so will three of the artists, Moscoso, Mouse and Wilson, signing posters. Also there, will be Emek and Gary Houston from Portland, Jim Pollock from Chicago, Mark Arminski from Detroit, and Sperry.
Admission fee will decrease as the day goes on. Get there at 10 a.m. and it is $20. At 11 a.m. it drops to $10 and after 3 p.m. it is free. The risk in waiting is that the good stuff may already be gone. The line is expected to form at dawn, with people in lawn chairs.
Last year, Sperry was able to find a mint-condition tour program from the Grateful Dead tour of Egypt, in 1978, for $100. The artist, Mouse, signed it for him, and Chuck was stoked.
“The collectors are so fervent that they want to get their hands on these limited edition posters first thing in the morning,” says Sperry. “We’re talking about a tradition that started in 1966, and there is still this great enthusiasm!”
Festival of Rock Posters: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22 at the Hall of Flowers, Ninth Avenue and Lincoln Way, Golden Gate Park. Admission: $5 for members. For non-members $20 at 10 a.m., $10 at 11 a.m., free after 3 p.m. trps.org