Junior Wells and His Chicago Blues Band, 1966
Victor Moscoso was an unusually prolific and eye-catching psychedelic artist of the Bay Area who came to prominence in the mid- to late 1960s. He was born in Galicia during the first weeks of the Civil War, and by the time he was four years old, his family had relocated to Brooklyn. Moscoso had a wide-ranging education that led him to Cooper Union, Yale University, and the San Francisco Art Institute, where he later signed on as an instructor.
Kerouac’s On the Road was one of the factors that induced Moscoso to move to the West Coast, which he did in 1959. Around 1966 started a career as a designer of rock posters, creating arresting images for bands like Big Brother & the Holding Company, the Steve Miller Blues Band, the Doors, and Junior Wells. Forging this new identity required unlearn a healthy chunk of the conventional design fundamentals he had earlier absorbed in school. This he did with remarkable alacrity, which catapulted him into a select group of accomplished and successful poster artists that included his close friend and collaborator Rick Griffin as well as Stanley Mouse, Wes Wilson, and Alton Kelley.
In 1968, he met Robert Crumb, who had recently put out Zap #1. Crumb made it known that both Moscoso and Griffin would be quite welcome to join the Zap collective, which also boasted names such as Spain Rodriguez, Gilbert Shelton, S. Clay Wilson, and Robert Williams.
Victor Moscoso, with the mask from Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters album cover not far from his head
In a long and interesting interview that appeared in The Comics Journal #246 (2002), Moscoso discussed his career and process with Gary Groth. After Groth observes that the lettering in many of Moscoso’s posters was hard to read, the artist amusingly responded, “Exactly. The lettering should be as difficult to read as possible! Use vibrating colors as much as you can, and irritate the eye as much as you can. Hang the viewer up for as long as you can! A week! A month! A year, if you can! An hour will do.”
At a different point in the interview, Moscoso discussed studying color theory under Josef Albers at Yale:
At Cooper Union, I learned Josef Albers’ color theory and all his ideas about color from Neil Welliver, a student of his who was a teacher at Cooper Union. By the time I went to Yale and took Albers’ color class, I was already familiar with it.
It was like he had given me a textbook, or a manual on color, because at the time I was not a colorist. If you look at my work that I did at the time, it bears no influence of Josef Albers. He did not influence my work at the time. I just filed it away in the back of my mind. Now, when I saw Wes Wilson’s Association poster, click! The red and green lettering that vibrated. I said, “Holy shit! I can do that.”
Moscoso found it amusing that so many people would single out his use of florescent colors, which he claims he never used—rather, his effects were achieved by juxtaposing two colors with a specific relationship on the color wheel that the eye had difficulty processing:
Where two colors from the opposite ends of the color scale are at equal intensity, your eye will not be able to tell which one is in front of the other. It’s what Albers called “simultaneous contrast.” They have to be equal, though, in intensity and in value. You see this at Christmastime; they’ll pick red and green for decorations because red and green are on opposite sides of the color scale; you’ll see where there’re colors buzzing at the edges. Now if it was a dark green and a light red, that wouldn’t happen. They have to be of the same value and intensity. At that point your eye cannot distinguish which one is in front and which one is back — you’re really fucking with the limits of your eyesight, of the physical limitations of your optic system. And what you see is this buzz of confusion! Excellent.
The cover art for the recent novel by Emma Cline called The Girls appears to be heavily influenced by Moscoso’s Chambers Brothers poster from 1967.
What follows is a selection of his posters, album covers, and comix work.
Avalon Ballroom, 1967
The Chambers Brothers, 1967
Sopwith Camel, 1967
Incredible Poetry, 1968
Blues Project, 1967
Quicksilver Messenger Service, 1967
Rites of Spring, 1967
The Miller Blues Band, 1967
Zap #4, wraparound cover, 1969
Zap #13, wraparound cover, 1994
Junior Wells, Sings Live at the Golden Bear
Steve Cropper, With a Little Help From My Friends, 1969
Herbie Hancock, Head Hunters, 1973
Jerry Garcia, Compliments of Garcia, 1974