Zeppelin, Hendrix, Dylan, The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones. These names, among others, are synonymous with the 1960s counter-culture revolution. Anti-establishment, DIY, independence, innovation, and peace love & rock ‘n’ roll turned a burgeoning, amped-up variation on the blues into a full-fledged institution. So influential were the sounds of the 60s and 70s that their residue still colors almost every popular recording today.
Now for a second set of names: Wilson, Griffin, Mouse, Kelley, Singer, Moscoso, Loren, Sherraden. Any of those ring a bell? If not, drop whatever you’re doing and grab a copy of Merle Becker’s fascinating documentary, “American Artifact: The Rise of American Rock Poster Art,” right away. As important as penetrating sonic innovations were to establishing a new paradigm in American pop-culture, their visual arts counterparts may be equally responsible for the transformation of the cultural landscape.
Becker, intrigued by the other-worldly psychedelia and unfettered creativity oozing from the concert posters of the aforementioned rock ‘n’ roll pioneers, delivers a sorely needed document of the captivating history and method of the art of the rock poster. Through entertaining and insightful interviews with the luminaries of the art form, sparing voice-over, and some amazing stock footage, “American Artifact” effectively fleshes out and contextualizes the unique craft as a key player in every alternative music movement of the last 60 years, eventually becoming a movement unto itself.
Chronicling every stage of the form from the legendary Jim Sherraden & Hatch Show Print, to the “big five” of psychedelia, Victor Moscoso, Rick Griffin, Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley and Wes Wilson, and their cutting edge posters for acts like Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, The Sparrow, Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, Steppenwolf, Quicksilver and the Miller Blues Band, to the lo-fi punk of the 80s with Art Chantry and Winston Smith, to the current indie revolution led by Tara McPherson, Steve Walters, Chris Shaw, COOP, Scrojo, Leia Bell, Jermaine Rogers, Jay Ryan & Mat Daly, Lindsey Kuhn and Stainboy, “American Artifact” is at once a crash course and an in-depth dissertation on the history and methodological nuances of a lawless art, a stylish and imaginative film that does its subject matter justice.
By the end of the film, it’s not implausible that you may begin to pay that second set of names the same heed as you do the first. And rightfully so.