This article discusses how psychedelic graphic design of the 1960s was influenced by the work of Aubrey Beardsley, the late 19th century illustrator. Underground graphic design reflected the decadent curves and grotesque lines of Beardsley, (re)discovered by countercultural circles through a retrospective exhibition promoted by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1966. The conjunction of vibrant psychedelic features with Beardsley’s sinuous and organic traits made room for the creation of seminal countercultural works between 1966-69, the Grammy award-winning cover design for the Beatles’ album Revolver (1966), by Klaus Voorman being a key example. Graphic materials evoking the style of the controversial illustrator created a new path within countercultural graphic design.

Espacios en el tiempo: La influencia de Aubrey Beardsley en el diseño gráfico psicodélico

Este artículo analiza cómo el diseño gráfico psicodélico de los años sesenta se vio influenciado por Aubrey Beardsley, el ilustrador del siglo XIX. El diseño gráfico reflejó las curvas decadentes y las líneas grotescas de Beardsley, (re)descubiertas por los círculos de la contracultura a través de una exposición retrospectiva montada por el Victoria and Albert Museum en 1966. La unión de las características psicodélicas con los rasgos sinuosos y orgánicos de Beardsley permitió la creación de obras seminales entre 1966-69. El diseño por Klaus Voorman para la portada del álbum de los Beatles Revolver (1966), ganador del premio Grammy, es uno de los mejores ejemplos. Los materiales gráficos que evocaban el estilo del polémico ilustrador crearon un nuevo camino dentro del diseño gráfico contracultural.

Espaços no tempo: a influência de Aubrey Beardsley no design gráfico psicadélico

O presente texto tem por objetivo examinar como o design gráfico psicadélico dos anos 60 foi influenciado pelo trabalho do ilustrador do século XIX, Aubrey Beardsley. O design underground espelhou as curvas decadentes e as linhas grotescas de Beardsley, que foram (re)descobertas pelo movimento da contracultura, graças à retrospetiva promovida pelo Victoria and Albert Museum em 1966. A ligação das características psicadélicas vibrantes com os traços orgânicos de Beardsley permitiu a criação de trabalhos fundacionais da contracultura entre os anos de 1966 e 1969. O design de Klaus Voorman feito para a capa do álbum Revolver (1966) dos Beatles, vencedora de um Grammy Award, é um dos exemplos chave. Os materiais gráficos que evocaram o estilo do polémico ilustrador criaram um novo caminho dentro do design gráfico da contracultura.

For Aubrey: for the only artist who, besides myself, knows what the Dance of the Seven Veils is, and can see that invisible dance.


Psychedelia has absorbed and reinterpreted an amalgam of different influences from distinct places and epochs.3 This multicultural set of references included several visual and mystical traits derived from the artistic “dissident” movements of 19th century Europe and from the aesthetics of Victorian society more broadly.4 Psychedelic graphic design, as a ubiquitous manifestation during the late 1960s, was no exception, with antecedents of so-called psychedelic art dating back to “the last quarter of the 19th century”.5 Young graphic artists found in these hundred-year-old art forms a pictorial answer to their own conservative society, providing challenging imagery made of organic/curved shapes. Moreover, they attempted to overcome the visual and methodological constraints inherited from the formal purity of Modernism. The absorption and reappraisal of the plastic qualities and methods of these earlier artistic manifestations introduced new expressive, or transgressive, freedoms into countercultural graphic design.

The quest for such freedoms had already emerged in that past artistic moment, encompassing Art Nouveau, the Arts & Crafts movement, Symbolism and the Decadent movement. One may argue that these manifestations intrigued and inspired the young artists engaged in the countercultural phenomenon because they too saw themselves as involved in a sort of reaction. Just as Art Nouveau was partly a response to the alienation of the new industrial society, the “flower-power”6 generation of the 1960s emerged–among other factors–“as a reaction against the increasingly technocratic nature of Western society”.7 The inspiration provided by pre-modern art forms may have fed into their aesthetic repertoire as a stimulus for change.

The Victorian period, corresponding to the reign of Queen Victoria of England (1837-1901), culminates in the so-called fin-de-siècle–the turn of the century. The late 19th century is a transitional period for both society and the art world, having brought several technological innovations and advances in science, from the light bulb to the discovery of the origin of cholera. On the other hand, there is a rising turn towards mystical beliefs and a heightened degree of curiosity for the occult and the supernatural, as well as the use of psychoactive substances8. Although it was undergoing such a turmoil, the society of the day was rather conservative–even puritan–and the art world was deeply academic, still attached to criteria of high versus low art. Such a conjuncture led to the creation of artistic manifestations that explored means of getting around those social and artistic paradigms. These efforts also aimed at both criticizing and overcoming the new industrial reality–while adapting to it–opening the doors to the “nascent period of commercial design”.9

Out of all those artistic movements, Art Nouveau is the one that seems to have most intrigued countercultural graphic design. Indeed, Lowey and Prince10 argue for an aesthetic affinity between this movement and the countercultural epiphenomenon, an affinity that could be described as immersive, going beyond formal aspects and aiming towards something deeper, a shared realm of emotional experiences. After all, psychedelic graphic design sought to overtake the viewer’s senses and affections. For that purpose, some features of Art Nouveau were appropriated, deconstructed and brought to the psychedelic context in both of the main epicenters of the phenomenon: the United States and the United Kingdom.

The young baby boomers would incorporate the freedom in the line-work, the looks, and the resilience of this 19th century movement into their own graphic design. By doing so, they were “allowing the viewer to renegotiate the meaning”11 of the original objects within a new framework. An immediate example would be the kaleidoscopic patterns and typography of Art Nouveau and the Viennese Secession, which defined the youth cultures of fin-de-siècle Europe and whose graphic innovations may be considered as predecessors of psychedelia,12 which reworked and re-contextualized them during the 1960s to extract new significations.

Such methodology strengthened the bond between two periods that already shared a context of social, technological, and artistic upheaval. The 1890s and the 1960s both functioned as cultural bridges that prepared the grounds for “pre” and “after” forms of expression and thought in visual culture. In this context, the 1960s would become the perfect cradle for the counterculture–a rapidly rising and irreverent artistic ferment with a strong antagonism towards the establishment. Within this framework, psychedelic graphic design would soon manifest an interest in some fin-de-siècle figures, such as Aubrey Beardsley. Beardsley (1872-1898), an illustrator who straddled the lines between the Decadent and Art Nouveau movements, seems to be one of the authors whose legacy drastically inflected the course of countercultural graphic design, specifically the development of psychedelic visual culture. Indeed, the rediscovery of his work marked a critical shift on this development, even when compared to the influence of other 19th century artists such as Alfonse Mucha. One of the reasons for this impact, perhaps the main one, seems to be quite direct: in 1966 the Victoria and Albert Museum in London organized a retrospective exhibition of his illustrations. George Melly, one of the many people who visited it, later described in the newspaper The Observer13 his surprise at finding the exhibition packed with enthusiastic viewers. In his 1967 article, Melly stated that he then felt that for the first time he was in the presence of the emerging underground.14 Perhaps we could read his stated surprise as an indication that Beardsley would not have been regarded as an obvious aesthetic reference for psychedelia at that point. However, his drawings seem to have brought a fresh and rebellious intensity to the rising phenomenon, casting a profound desire for revolution.

The exhibition became a turning point for the counterculture, its history, and its praxis, as the novelty of Beardsley’s boldness was crucial in stimulating the young graphic artists towards a new graphic language.

Beardsley, whose penchant for controversy earned him a countercultural status in his own time, produced an innovative yet irreverent/polemic artistic legacy, widely imitated in his day15. His originality would soon be described as “an art in which a delicate line of black ink slices through the fragile whiteness of a page”.16 Other critics of the time, according to Alan and Isabella Livingstone, celebrated the way in which “the grotesqueness of his characters was offset by a delicacy of line and tautness in design”.17

The retrospective exhibition of 1966 became a milestone soon listed in the “official” chronology of the counterculture and featured in published lists such as Catherine Sadler’s Happenings, Psychedelic People and Places 1938-1972. Although the phenomenon is difficult to categorize within available art historical frameworks, several authors have acknowledged the importance of Beardsley and of the 1966 exhibition for psychedelic graphic design: for Lowey and Prince,18 Beardsley’s exhibition was a rallying point for the British underground; for Golding and Miles,19 Beardsley is one of the clear antecedents of psychedelic art; Salvatore20 recognizes the importance of the rediscovery of this author for the construction of an “identity” for British psychedelic graphic design; Mellor21 emphasizes the effect of the 1966 exhibition on psychedelic graphic artists, who began to look towards Beardsley as a reference; Barry Miles,22 himself a participant in the counterculture during the 1960s, recognizes the importance of Beardsley’s work for the construction of the dazzling and psychedelic style that characterizes this type of graphic design. Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh23 also highlight the influence of the English author’s work, referring to an “obsession” within psychedelic graphic design with his illustrations. At the V&A’s exhibition You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (first held between 10 September 2016 and 26 February 2017), curated by Broackes and Marsh, Beardsley was depicted as a major influence for the psychedelic context.

Although it seems nearly impossible to account for the development of this kind of graphic language without mentioning Beardsley, there is still a need to analyze in detail the specific ways by which his work had an influence on psychedelic design. Rather than resemblances brought about by a passive reference effect, it seems that Beardsley’s influence played out through strategies of appropriation and reinterpretation specific to the psychedelic scenario. To make this visible, we propose to analyze samples of this practice, focusing on the posters and record covers of the British underground scene of the 1960s. The aim of our analysis will be to understand how young graphic artists relocated and rethought the work of Aubrey Beardsley. The implications of such appropriation are also worth attention, for it is a potential source of the variations between British and American strains of psychedelic graphic design. We may begin by asking whether, as a methodology, this appropriation was formal or conceptual, and to answer such questions we must isolate the objects that best allow us to make sense of it, and to take a look at their origins and authors.

Several British psychedelic graphic materials, including works by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat and the layout of various British underground publications, along with cover designs such Voorman’s for the Beatles’ 1966 album Revolver, betray a high degree of appropriation of the Beardsleyan ethos, notably higher than in other psychedelic contexts. The interpretation and introduction of Beardsley seems indeed to have been a factor in the introduction of variations in graphic construction, and in vision and method for UK designers.

To better understand the interest of psychedelic graphic artists in the work of Aubrey Beardsley it is essential, first of all, to analyze his artistic style and to establish an understanding of influence and appropriation as strategies within graphic design. It is also crucial to observe the differences between his work and that of other influential illustrators of the same period, such as Alphonse Mucha, whose work was also appropriated by psychedelic graphic design artists, mainly in the United States.

The realms of “production and appropriation have become confused to the point of fusion, as have design and art”.24 The blending of such notions is relevant to our research to the extent that psychedelic graphic design echoed both processes in its approach to the medium of the poster. Appropriation in this context is a procedures that transports features–formal, conceptual, or methodological–out of particular aesthetic sources in order to both change and integrate them into new contexts; according to Linden, it is a practice that allows artists to “explore what is at stake in more types of representations”.25 In our case, we find this process at work not only through an image-as-sign point of view, but also by attending to the various linguistic components–such as text or color–of the analyzed graphic objects.

The features of Beardsley’s style that called for appropriation begin with his own manner of living, for he was a cutting-edge figure in his private life and in his work as an artist. Suffering from a form of chronic tuberculosis since early childhood, he produced almost all his work in the last seven years of his tormented life. He lived between pain and exhaustion, facing a precocious but expected death in 1898. The fulcrum of his work established a parallel with his own world, as his illustrations offered a glimpse into many of his desires and sufferings.

Beardsley’s rise to fame as an illustrator took place after he produced a set of illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s play Salome26 around 1893. His notoriety also derived from his contributions to the vanguard literary periodical The Yellow Book,27 which included not only illustrations but also the design of the (yellow) covers until 1895.28 According to Gallatin,29 the subversive and erotic designs for The Yellow Book (Img. 1) and for Salome (Img. 2) made Beardsley famous throughout Europe and the United States. His illness and suitably reclusive lifestyle seem to have had a great impact on his artistic style: flashing yet afflicted, grotesque yet elegant. The grotesque appears in Beardsley as a quest for a fantastic but disturbing imagery, capturing his way of perceiving and interpreting the world and its sensorial strangeness, while he developed a linear style that seemed to point in the opposite direction: elegant–delicate and smooth–in both form and technique.

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Imagen 1. Aubrey Beardsley. The Yellow Book, Volume III, October 1894. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London. E.13-1900

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Imagen 2. Aubrey Beardsley, The Peacock Skirt, 1893. © The British Library Board, K.T.C.37.b.7, page 27.

The innovative thrust of Beardsley’s work is thus deeply linked to his use of smooth curvilinear black lines to construct his mysterious and erotic scenes, sometimes recalling the fantastic oddness of Hieronymus Bosch. In this manner, he established an apparent contrast between his visual style and his inner self: the former sweet, the latter turmoiled. Eclectic, his inspirations ranged from the Japanese engraving style to the posters of fellow artist Toulouse-Lautrec. Coincidentally, one of the means by which he came into contact with many of his sources of inspiration was the same by which the counterculture would discover his art decades later: through exhibitions.30 Nonetheless, however many his sources of inspiration may have been, Beardsley’s work “proclaimed the strength and originality of his vision”.31 Indeed, Beardsley was able to absorb his references and to channel them in order to create something wholly new. A period article (from 1893) highlighted this capacity of his for hybridity, depicting him as an artist who, in spite of the presence of something “oriental about his forms,” was “intensely modern” and “end of the century”.32

Unlike artists like Mucha, Beardsley’s black and white art stands out by his use of sinuous and sensual traits nourished by his tormented imagination, influencing “the visual culture generated by artists affiliated with the Secession”.33 His figures are typically elongated and curved, and his characters, although intriguing and seductive, are often disturbing. Beardsley is able to provide a penetrating gaze that captures the viewer’s attention, evoking an aura of glamour while seeking for the uncanny.

Comparing Beardsley’s work to Mucha’s (Img. 3 and 4) we find that, in spite of a few similarities, such as the organic forms and the use of floral patterns, there are considerable differences in style and technique. If we extend this line of analysis to psychedelic graphic design we may explain some of the visual and even methodological differences between the American and British axes.

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Imagen 3. Aubrey Beardsley, From Morte d’Arthur, © The British Library Board, K.T.C.120.b.12, K.T.C.37.b.7, page 67.

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Imagen 4. Alphonse Mucha, F. Champenois, 1898, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, E.582-1953.

Mucha, an exponent of Art Nouveau, uses color in his illustrations, mainly soft pastels, while Beardsley typically sticks to a black and white atmosphere. Another important difference can be found in their approach to the human figure. Although both artists display a sensuous style, Beardsley’s characters are enigmatic and hidden-like, while in Mucha we usually find more ethereal compositions with “fairytale” women at the center of the piece, as in in F. Champenois (1898) or the Monaco–Monte Carlo poster (1897).34 Mucha’s scenes, as his women, are more idealistic, while Beardsley’s usually present a glimpse of his torments and passions. As a result, Mucha’s stylized female figures bear none of the bawdiness that gives Beardsley’s their additional magnetism.35

Beardsley evolved his skills during the course of several years, eventually developing a biomorphic style whose tension appealed directly to the senses. For that reason, he was at the time simultaneously acclaimed and considered shocking. One of the most clear examples of Beardsley’s style is Climax (Img. 5), one of the main illustrations made for Salome. Salome holds and kisses the severed head of John the Baptist, whose blood seems to blend with and become part of his long hair and the flowers beneath, showing that there is only a subtle line between life and death. Salome’s intense and even perverse look is contrasted by an undulating and fragile artistic trait, signaling Beardsley’s own temperament. This mix of ugliness and tenderness was the key to his work and to the interest that psychedelic graphic artists would take on it.

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Imagen 5. Aubrey Beardsley, Climax, 1893. © The British Library Board, K.T.C.120.b.12, plate XV.(15).

According to Maiden,36 Beardsley seems to wander between two worlds: the fantastic or mystical world and the real world, driven by the intense human feelings and the eroticism that defined the (repressed) Victorian subconscious. The eroticism implicit in Beardsley’s work seems to have been an ambiguous source of release, an experience so intense that he came to view it as the very cause of his physical malaise.37 Nonetheless, his manner of drawing always went beyond mere representation. Although inspired by sensory impressions, he transcended their boundaries, creating an unprecedented graphic style that would pit him against traditional academic styles of depiction.38

Ultimately, even his choices of medium and method of reproduction for his illustrations bring Beardsley’s work towards psychedelia. Beardsley used the poster format to convey his artworks and favored low-cost printing, in opposition to expensive but “highly respectable” media, such as traditional painting. Choosing to work as an illustrator meant that his art “depended on recent developments in print technology”.39

Although he was not involved in the printing process itself, Beardsley’s interest in posters kicked off a trend that allowed other artists to produce their work massively and at a lower cost.40 Cheaply reproduced, the poster afforded greater artistic freedom and broader visibility than academic media like the canvas, normally linked to the production of unique pieces. For that reason, The Yellow Book was a great way to show his work. Sold at the time for the price of five shillings41, the periodical was indeed capable of reaching a wider audience, allowing Beardsley to become a known figure in the world of publishing.42 He believed in the aesthetic and disseminative potential of these print methods, and so would psychedelic graphic artists after him. In his 1894 essay “The Art of Hoarding”, Beardsley claimed that beauty was embracing the city in the form of advertising; according to Maiden,43 he was talking about the advertising posters of the time.

Beardsley’s work “profoundly marked the turn of the century”.44 He influenced other artists and poster artists, as well as costume and set designers.45 His curved lines and imagery, driven by a distinctive grotesqueness/elegance dichotomy, would also fascinate the artists who developed the idioms of psychedelic graphic design some seventy years later.

The psychedelic graphic style is an agglomeration of diverse visual elements and even variants, so it is by no means a homogeneous type of design.46 There are, nonetheless, several features that can be regarded as constituents of a specifically psychedelic type of imagery, including a reference to transcendental goals and the use of intense colors and patterns. Within these parameters, psychedelic graphic languages throughout the world tend to be distinct. The motives behind such diversity rely–although not entirely–on the ways in which artists in each location articulated their aesthetic references.

In the United Kingdom there is a distinctive “Londoner” school of psychedelic graphic design, represented mainly by a duo of designers and musicians, Michael English and Nigel Waymouth, who worked under the name Hapshash and the Coloured Coat.47 Other influential designers from this underground scene were the Australian-born Martin Sharp, who ran Oz magazine, and Michael McInnerney, art editor of the countercultural newspaper International Times.

On the other hand, the United States saw a large part of its psychedelic graphic design being made in and distributed out of the West Coast. Known as “the big five,” some of the most influential American graphic designers working in the underground scene were the Spanish-born Victor Moscoso, Wes Wilson, Alton Kelley, Stanley Mouse, and Rick Griffin. Bonnie MacLean, one of the few women working in this field at the time, also played an important role in psychedelia, creating multiple posters for the Fillmore Auditorium.48 These innovative and irreverent countercultural graphic artists produced, especially between 1966 and 1969, a massive amount of materials that stood out in both sides of the Atlantic. They created posters for music venues and psychedelic-related events and shops, and worked on record covers and countercultural publications. Their graphic design transcended the traditional function of aiding communication and came to work as an integral part of wider multimedia immersive experiences,49 produced through artificial environments in which members of the public were transformed into effective participants, as in live art installations.

The hypnotic and vibrant nature of psychedelia not only found and “digested” several inputs from past movements and contemporary artistic trends (such as Op-Art) but it also developed ways of taking advantage of recent technical innovations.50 These innovations, including Day-Glo ink and ultraviolet light games, were recruited in efforts to replicate the effects of the intake of LSD, but above all they allowed graphic objects to function as a key to the “doors of perception”, that is, as enablers of transcendental experiences. Deploying organic patterns, kaleidoscopic textures, and waving (nearly encrypted) lettering combined with intense colors, this graphic language also “shone out” with its curvilinear illustrations, fine lines, and floral textures, arranged in dense compositions.51 In spite of an overall convergence of elements, there were, as we have noted, some differences between British and American practitioners of this design style, and Beardsley played a part in their development.

Psychedelic graphic design, just as psychedelia itself, had the United States and the United Kingdom as important poles, both of which developed aesthetically differentiated strands of the idiom, both in music and graphic design. In other words, while the universe of The Beatles stood for British psychedelia, Americans were driven instead by the acid rock of the Grateful Dead.

An examination of samples from British and American psychedelic materials brings into view the differences in their visual approaches and allows us to determine how the appropriation of Beardsley’s illustrations was a factor in the distinctive development of the British strand. Although “appropriation in art is nothing new”,52 it is important to address its role from an art/design perspective and to determine its effects within the countercultural and psychedelic design contexts.

An art-to-design appropriation would be an appropriation of an artistic work or practice into a graphic language, or graphic design context. However, as in the case at hand, the boundaries between art and design are sometimes blurred, and this is something that must be taken into consideration, for both Beardsley’s work and psychedelic posters bounce between the worlds of art and design. Thus, the kind of appropriation we find here establishes a crossing between features of both practices, including imagery, its potentials for contemplation and critical elaboration, elements of the graphic language such as lines and shapes, the use of black in illustration, printing methods, and freedom of design grids. As a methodology, the embrace of Beardsley’s art by psychedelic design enacts a form of indirect appropriation, for it seldom copies Beardsley’s illustrations directly but instead recreates, or conveys, its ethos.

For a comparison between British and American psychedelic graphic design, we propose to examine a poster from each of the two schools and from the same year, both designed by prominent psychedelic graphic artists. For the British side, we will consider a work by the duo Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, a poster titled Luv Me comissioned by the company Luv Me Film Productions in 196753. Victor Moscoso, on the other hand, will represent the American side with the poster Neon Rose, made for a concert by The Miller Blues Band, also in 196754. Both posters became iconic materials of the psychedelic 1960s.

The British poster revolves around a detailed black illustration designed from scratch, although clearly hinting at a Beardsleyan direction. Indeed, the articulation of the chosen drawing style with a distorted typography yields a mysterious aura that recalls that of the late author’s illustrations. On the other hand, the American poster is more visually direct and “aggressive,” favoring a bright optical game around a photograph of a silent movie star. Although different in their composition, both designs are considered psychedelic, due to the presence of hallucinatory elements of distortion. While in the British piece the distortion is mostly at work in the typography, the American poster deploys it through an undulating pattern. Moreover, the American object glows with its intense colors, while the British one relies on a golden tonality to produce a shining effect. Indeed, the use of metallic colors would become part of the psychedelic imagery on the European side of the Atlantic.

Some authors, such as Grunenberg55 or Lowey,56 contend that the graphic design of the British counterculture seems to stand closer to William Blake, to the universe of the fantastic, and to an Arthurian world, unlike its American counterpart, which takes a great deal of its inspiration from Native American artifacts and hallucinatory imagery. Although this fascination with the fantastic is not its sole element, it does align the British psychedelic aesthetic with Beardsley’s universe, which stood for a rupture with tradition and a path towards a different future. For this reason, British graphic design also tends to be considered as more whimsical and less political than its American counterpart.57

The combination of a Beardsleyan linework with vibrant colors and distorted typography was the first step for his re-contextualization within the psychedelic scene. Due to his premature death and in spite of the fact that he retained a following as time went by, Beardsley’s work remained out of view for a good while, so the 1966 exhibition amounted to a rediscovery. Held in London, it was of course more accessible to those already in British soil, and quickly contaminated the imagination of young British designers who were looking for new paths. The reception of his work seems to be reflected in both visual and methodological aspects of the psychedelic posters produced soon thereafter. Rather than simply appropriating motifs from Beardsley’s illustrations, British graphic artists sought to absorb their ethos and to contextualize them in the 1960s by drawing enigmatic scenes themselves. This technique, which required viewers to take the time to figure out the posters, would further dissolve the division between graphic material and artistic object.

On the other hand, American psychedelic graphic design seems to have stood closer in spirit to the proselytizing of Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey, the “gurus” of the LSD revolution. In these works we find a higher concentration of visual games through the deployment of geometrical and kaleidoscopic textures. Americans also favored the use of photography and collage in dense compositions. Furthermore, when they resorted to drawing, American graphic artists, most of whom lacked academic training, seemed to lean towards a style closer to Mucha’s, at times inserting some of his (and other author’s) actual drawings directly into psychedelic settings58.

Nevertheless, both epicenters do share a vision for psychedelic aesthetics, seeing them as an endeavor to replicate transcendental experiences, whether drug induced, meditative, religious, or otherwise hallucinatory, thereby delving into high levels of visual (and conceptual) distortion. The vibrant colors and patterns are combined with an amalgam of references, from mystical elements to modern and oriental inputs, from indigenous features to the Victorian period. The cacophony of colors and influences determines the sense in which the graphic and artistic aesthetics from both poles eventually converge: namely, in the difficulty faced by art historical attempts to categorize and accept psychedelic art.59 Psychedelic graphic design has thus been perceived and described as a hybrid, anti-academic form, or as simply “too much”.60

The posters of the British underground scene, such as those produced by the duo Hapshash and the Coloured Coat and Michael McInnerney, “rejected the formalism of graphic design in favor of the reference to the nineteenth-century illustrations of William Morris and Aubrey Beardsley, with the flora and flowers intertwined in hypnotic patterns”.61 However, more than the floral textures or the ornaments themselves, it was the use of fine linear-types and intriguing illustration traits that determined the impact of Beardsley’s artistic biomorphism on the graphic design of the period62. In posters and record covers, and in the pages of alternative publications such as Oz and the International Times, the introduction of Beardsleyan imagery can be described as visceral and penetrating. Sometimes, although not often, drawings by Beardsley himself were featured in the layouts of the countercultural press alongside contemporary materials.

Hapshash member Nigel Waymouth, who visited the Beardsley exhibition, was one of the first designers to acknowledge the importance of the late illustrator’s work for his own work, recognizing its effect on young graphic designers who started going to the museum library to take a close look at the drawings. According to Mellor,63 it is apparent that the British style was thus engaging in a conversation with the archives of art history, becoming more and more aware of the importance of the graphic languages of the late 19th century. Nonetheless, the appropriation method employed by British graphic artists would be mediated by mixtures with other sources, such as imagery derived from the use of hallucinatory substances, space travel and machinery, as well as references to the highly varied and eclectic set of cultural sources that fed into the 1960s.

One of the most striking examples of the recreation of Beardsley’s sinuous ethos, and perhaps one of the earliest, dates back to the very year of the V&A exhibition (1966): the cover design for Revolver, the seventh studio album by the Beatles. This record cover, it may be argued, stands as a metonym for the relevance of Beardsley’s work and opened the path to a new aesthetic that would soon elevate underground graphic design to zeitgeist status. Designed by Klaus Voorman, Revolver’s was the first Beatles cover to win a Grammy award for best cover design, “confirming the importance of the cover art and not just the music content”.64 Voorman’s design presents the band using a linear and monochromatic experimental illustration that stood in stark contrast to the photographic style of covers typically produced at the time.65 The smooth linework set against the white background clearly recalls Beardsley’s drawing style, with inserts of small photographs of the band members’ faces.66 For a term of comparison, one may turn to the cover for the first album, selft-titled album by The Animals (1964), an example of cover design using only photography,67 which clearly shows just how innovative Voorman’s cover was at the time.

An analysis of graphic materials from the British countercultural scene, from 1966 onwards, demonstrates that the impact of Beardsley’s work was manifold. To get a better sense of the breadth of the work being produced at the time, and of the extent to which Beardsley’s work was indeed appropriated, we can focus on the most representative designers of the period: the duo Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, Michael McInnerney, and Martin Sharp, who altogether created hundreds of posters during 1966-69. Arguably, the work of these designers was to British underground graphic design what The Beatles, The Soft Machine and the early Pink Floyd were to psychedelic music in the UK.

We first turn to the duo Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, many of whose posters were designed for magazines like UFO Club or Oz, while others were produced to advertise events, shops, or as art objects. Our first example is Tantric Lovers, a poster/flyer made by the duo in 196768. The curvilinear illustration style, fluttering figures, and textures typical of Japanese engraving, reveal the duo’s efforts to absorb and replicate Beardsley’s universe. The mood, as in Beardsley, is erotic and mysterious, with the lovers being watched by a dark snake. The elements on the background are similar to those used by Beardsley in works such as the drawings for Salome. Another example, from 1967, is an advertising poster for a music performance by The Soft Machine69. The black and white illustration, joined by psychedelic typography, resembles once again the style of Beardsley, and brings his work into conversation with one of his greatest sources of inspiration, Japanese woodcuts, echoic the singular ‘modernizing’ touch that Beardsley himself had created decades before. It is also worth noticing the similarity between the drawings of the figure’s black hair in both posters.

CIA UFO,70 also by the British duo, was produced in 1967 for a Pink Floyd concert at the UFO club. This colorful piece also embraces Beardsley’s ethos through a drawing of a sensuous woman carrying a fantastic castle in her back. The poster evokes a psychedelic and intriguing ambiance, with the drawing and linear patterns now mixed with intense colors and period influences, such as the presence of UFO’s.

Many other works by the duo suggest a style that interpreted and reconstructed the essence of Beardsley’s illustrations, translated not only by way of the formal aspects already described but also through the range of emotions that they were expected to stimulate. After all, Beardsley’s lines are a symbol of passion and unrest.

From 1966, and until the end of the decade, Waymouth and English, still in their twenties, created the following posters, all of which demonstrate an analogous methodology: Love Me (1967); Hung on You (1967–with references to Indian iconography); a poster for their first record, Featuring the Human Host and the Heavy Metal Kids (1967); The Move at the UFO Club (1967); Save the Earth Now (1967); the cover for the first issue of Albion Magazine (1968); The Incredible String Band Tour (1968); UFO Coming (1967); the Saville Theatre posters for concerts produced by NEMS enterprises (1967); Tim Buckley and Roy Harper (1968); Julie Felix, Royal Albert Hall (1968); My White Bicycle for Tomorrow (1967); and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (1968).

Michael McInnerney (1944-), another designer from the British psychedelic “school,” likewise produced several posters during this period. Working for the countercultural press, mainly the newspaper International Times, as well as for underground music venues, his style also appears to betray a fin-de-siècle imagery, with reminiscences of Beardsley’s trait and atmosphere. One of the most direct examples is the poster design for the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream,71 a major event for the British countercultural scene in 1967. Here, we find a combination of black and white illustration with psychedelic-like distorted typography and the use of color. Although the illustrations do not mimick Beardsley’s, they are evocative of his universe and atmosphere through the use of fine undulating lines and the presence of small elements such as stars and swirls. Other works by McInnerney that follow a similar aesthetic path are: Jazz at the Roundhouse (1967), UFO Dusk to Dawn (1967), Legalize Pot (1967), and Uncommon Market (undated).

Martin Sharp (1942 - 2013), on the other hand, seems to have tread a different artistic line, perhaps more eclectic, although his work for Oz magazine equally reflects some of Beardsley’s features. While it has not been possible to establish whether Sharp visited the V&A exhibition or not, since he arrived in London in that same year, it seems quite fair to claim that his style hints back to Beardsley’s universe. Although Sharp’s creations, being a cartoonist, are overall more colorful and closer to the languages of Pop, Surrealism, and even Dadaism, the presence of Beardsley can be felt in several of his works, such as the posters

Blowin’ in the Mind72 and Oz is a New Magazine,73 both from 1967. The poster Blowin’ in the Mind, which has become an iconic psychedelic piece, was made for Bob Dylan, and according to Organ,74 Sharp included swirls and intersecting lines in the background as a reference to Aubrey Beardsley. On the other hand, the poster design for the first issue of Oz seems to be Sharp’s more Beardsley-like piece, with black linear ornaments that resemble those of the late artist. The use of such smooth ornaments in drawing is an approach that leads into a Beardsleyan universe.

Psychedelia came as an artistic reaction against conservative society, questioning its established codes and defying its symbols and social expressions. As an experiment that searched for an expansion of consciousness, it crafted new narratives (pictorial and conceptual) that transcended the sensorial world and the realms of visual perception. Using graphic design as one of its main visual forms, psychedelia also challenged both the art market and the academic dogma of the period.75

The psychedelic experiment found resilient answers to its transcendental purposes by adopting “an inventive graphic form” that “functioned as both sign and symbol” for their “utopian and revolutionary goals” against the establishment.76 As part of this process, it looked back to some of the movements of the late 19th century in search of defiant pre-modern pictorial forms. The organic features of such movements contrasted with the dominant postwar modernist language in art and design. Some of these movements, such as Art Nouveau, had likewise been born out of reactions against the dogmas and problems of their time. The fin-de-siècle and the late 1960s had in common the transgressive character of their artistic manifestations and the will to break with tradition. Both periods witnessed the rise of transitional phenomena between different artistic and social moments, and in both contexts the poster became a relevant medium. If at the turn-of-the-century the poster was a novelty ready to reach the masses, during the 1960s it would become the “message” itself. Posters became objects bearing several secondary hidden meanings that\viewers were called upon to interpret, while the events that they advertised became part of the background.

British psychedelic graphic design, born in this context, is informed by a deep relation with the work of Aubrey Beardsley, the controversial fin-de-siècle illustrator. The exuberance of this graphic language, different from that of its American contemporaries, seems indeed to derive from the appropriation of the drawing style of the late 19th century artist. This appropriation went beyond the mimicking of formal aspects, fully diving into Beardsley’s world of eccentricity, secret signs, and mystical experiences and meanings.

Although related to the Art Nouveau movement, Beardsley’s work, intriguing, tormented, mysterious, and controversial, made him distinct from other authors of his period, with whom he nonetheless shared artistic affinities. The resilience with which Aubrey Beardsley continued to amaze and shock society even while beset with difficulties was a symbol for what psychedelic artists longed to achieve: to challenge the status of an era through graphic design.

The innovations introduced in the cover design for the album Revolver in early 1966 determined both psychedelia’s impact on the graphic design of its day and set the path for British psychedelic graphic design. To better address the differences between the British and the American strains of psychedelic graphic design, samples of both were compared. The comparison was made by considering two iconic psychedelic posters: one by the Hapshash and the Coloured Coat (British), and the other by Victor Moscoso (American), selected for being among the most influential designers working with psychedelia on both sides of the Atlantic. The medium of the poster was chosen amongst other graphic materials because it was the vehicle par excellence for this graphic practice, ranging from the function of advertising material to that of artistic object. The comparison suggests that the originality of the British psychedelic graphic style and its divergence from that of the American West Coast reflects the appropriation of the Beardsleyan ethos as methodology.

A further analysis of works by some of the leading graphic artists in the British scene further confirmed the core figures of the British underground,77 Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, Martin Sharp, and Michael McInnerney, all seem to have relied considerably on this appropriation, betraying a true passion for the decadent painter and illustrator,78 Hapshash, in particular, created a substantial body of work that combined vibrant colors and hallucinatory patterns, typical of the psychedelic boom, (re)contextualizing the elegant features and floral textures of Beardsley’s grotesque style. The resulting style of graphic design conveys a mystical atmosphere, loaded with eclectic details and perceptual games that yieldedmj some of the most important graphic objects of the late 1960s. By crossing the line between art and design, delightfulness and outrageousness, psychedelic design created both a liberating exercise and a new controversial art form. It went beyond the realm of the counterculture to become mainstream. The richness of the British “school” also reveals how a particular event on the spectrum of the late 1960s may have changed its course: the 1966 exhibition that brought the work of Aubrey Beardsley once again to the limelight.

Sturgis79 tells us that in Beardsley’s art “the sources were always transformed into something arrestingly new and unmistakably Beardsley”. By carrying on with this method, young graphic artists were able to interpret their influences, appropriating their aesthetics, to coin an authentic graphic language that, although loaded with variegated references, was keenly aware of its present context. These artists managed thus to sway the dichotomy of the romantic and the vandal, and to establish a field of resonance between a utopian future and the remnants of a past that was no longer distant.

Having said that, as in the romanticized dedication that Oscar Wilde wrote for Aubrey Beardsley at the time of Salome, the psychedelic artists also managed to see the invisible dance.

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* This article is part of the author’s Ph.D research at Universidade de Lisboa, Faculdade de Belas Artes, focused on the countercultural epiphenomenon and how this type of manifestations lives through and deals with history and fashion.

** PhD Student - Universidade de Lisboa, Faculdade de Belas Artes - CIEBA (Centro de Investigação em Belas Artes). PhD Fellowship supported by FCT with national funds from MCTES.

1. Oscar Wilde wrote this dedication to Aubrey Beardsley on the occasion of the publication of Salomé, illustrated by the latter. Wilde offered a copy of the publication to Beardsley in March 1893. “Aubrey Beardsley illustrations for Salomé by Oscar Wilde,” British Library, Collection Items, accessed October 3, 2018,

2. Reference to A Space in Time, the 6th album by the English rock band Ten Years After (1971).

3. Christoph Grunenberg, Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era (London: Tate, 2005), 7-66; Stéphane Darricau, Culture graphique: une perspective. De Gutemberg à nous jours (Paris: Pyramyd, 2014), 177-178.

4. Norman Hathaway and Dan Nadel, Electrical Banana: Masters of Psychedelic Art (Bologna: Damiani, 2011), 8; Ian Lowey and Suzy Prince, The Graphic Art of the Underground: A Countercultural History (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 54.

5. Peter Golding and Barry Miles, Rock Graphic Originals. Revolutions in Sonic Art from Plate to Print ‘55-’88 (London: Thames & Hudson, 2018), 20.

6. The term “flower-power” was coined by Allen Ginsberg, the beat generation poet and participant of the counterculture of the 1960s, who also appealed to a “war” with flowers; cf. Catherine Sadler, “Happenings: Psychedelic People and Places 1938-1972,” in Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era, edited by Christoph Grunenberg (London: Tate, 2005), 209.

7. Lowey and Prince, Graphic Art, 68.

8. Virginia Berridge, “Victorian Opium Eating: Responses to Opiate Use in Nineteenth-Century England.” Victorian Studies 21, n° 4 (1978): 438,

9. Steven Heller, Design Literacy. Understanding Graphic Design (New York: Allworth Press, 2004), 134.

10. Lowey and Prince, Graphic Art, 68.

11. Hayley A. Rowe, “Appropriation in Contemporary Art.” Inquiries Journal/Student Pulse 3, n° 6 (2011): 1,

12. Steven Heller, “The Acid Aesthetic: A Brief History of Psychedelic Design.” Print Magazine, April 29, 2017,

13. George Melly, “Poster Power.” Observer Color Magazine, December 3, 1967. 14-15.

14. Victoria Broackes, “You Say You Want a Revolution? Looking at the Beatles,” in You Say You Want a Revolution: Records and Rebels 1966-1970, edited by Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh (London: V&A Publishing, 2016), 200.

15. Johanna Drucker and Emily McVarish, Graphic Design History: A Critical Guide (Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009), 176.

16. Lawrence Danson, “Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898): A Centennial Exhibition.” The Princeton University Library Chronicle 61, n° 2 (2000): 286, librchro.61.2.0285.

17. Alan Livingstone and Isabella Livingstone, The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Graphic Design and Graphic Designers (London: Thames & Hudson, 2003), 27.

18. Lowey and Prince, Graphic Art, 68.

19. Golding and Miles, Rock Graphic Originals, 20.

20. Gianfranco Salvatore, I primi 4 secondi di Revolver: La cultura pop degli anni sessanta e la crisi della canzone (Torino: EDT, 2016), 106.

21. David Mellor, “Demain commence maintenant. Utopie et culture visuelle,” In Les Sixties: Années utopies, organized by Laurent Gerverau and David Mellor (Paris: Somogy Editions d’Art, 1996), 23.

22. Barry Miles, “The Counterculture,” in You Say You Want a Revolution: Records and Rebels 1966-1970, edited by Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh (London: V&A Publishing, 2016), 108.

23. Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh, You Say You Want a Revolution: Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (London: V&A Publishing, 2016), 8.

24. Justin Clemens and Dominic Pettman, “A Break in Transmission: Art, Appropriation and Accumulation,” in Avoiding the Subject: Media, Culture and the Object (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2004), 34,

25. Elizabeth Linden, “Reframing Pictures: Reading the Art of Appropriation.” Art Journal 75, n° 4 (2016): 52, doi:10.1080/00043249.2016.1269561.

26. Robert de Montesquiou made some remarks on the illustration on Le Figaro (February 21st, 1907), calling it curious and full of beauty and madness; cf. Emily Eells, Proust’s Cup of Tea. Homoeroticism and Victorian culture (New York: Routledge, 2016), 112.

27. The Yellow Book was an iconic journal published during the last decade of the 19th century and related to the Decadent movement of the fin-de-siècle. It featured writing of different genres and other artistic expressions: essays, poetry, tales, illustrations, portraits, and painting reproductions. It is described in Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) as one of the greatest sources of corruption, after the young Dorian first hears about it from Lord Henry.

28. Aubrey Beardsley was dismissed from The Yellow Book after being (erroneously) associated with Oscar Wilde when the latter was arrested. Wilde was carrying a yellow book that was mistaken for an issue of the periodical.

29. A. E. Gallatin, “Aubrey Beardsley.” The Princeton University Library Chronicle 10, n° 2 (1949): 81, doi:10.2307/26400475.

30. Linda Gertner Zatlin, “Aubrey Beardsley’s ‘Japanese’ Grotesques.” Victorian Literature and Culture 25 (1997): 90,

31. Matthew Sturgis, “The Death of Aubrey Beardsley.” The Princeton University Library Chronicle 60, n° 1 (1998): 67,

32. J. M. B., “A New English Illustrator: Aubrey Beardsley.” Modern Art 1, n° 4 (1893), doi:10.2307/25609825.

33. Nathan J. Timpano, “His Wretched Hand: Aubrey Beardsley, the Grotesque Body, and Viennese Modern Art.” Art History 40 (2017): 557.

34. Alphonse Mucha, Monaco – Monte Carlo, 1897, Mucha Foundation, http://www.mucha

35. Michael Salcman, “Zodiac (1896) by Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939).” Neurosurgery 76, n° 5 (2015): 502,

36. Shelby Maiden, “Grotesque and Decadent Productions: Aubrey Beardsley and the Art Nouveau.” Manuscript,, 3.

37. Beardsley requested that all his obscene works ne destroyed so he could die in peace; cf. Sturgis, “The Death”, 80.

38. Sophie Dieu, “Salomé d’Aubrey Beardsley ou la perversion de l’idéal victorien.” Manuscript,, 12.

39. Danson, “Aubrey Beardsley”, 289.

40. Maiden, “Grotesque and Decadent Productions”, 3.

41. The price today would be around £88; cf. Randall Merris and Robert Gaskins, “Calculate Modern Values of Historic Concertina Prices”,

42. Danson, “Aubrey Beardsley”, 289.

43. Maiden, “Grotesque and Decadent Productions”, 4.

44. Dieu, “Salomé”, 4.

45. Gallatin, “Aubrey Beardsley”, 81.

46. Grunenberg, Summer of Love, 11.

47. Salvatore, I Primi 4 Secondi, 106.; Golding and Miles, Rock Graphic Originals, 102.

48. The Fillmore Auditorium is a music venue in San Francisco, California. At the time it was run by Bill Graham and functioned as a hub for American psychedelia.

49. Andrew Blauvelt, “The Barricade and the Dance Floor: Aesthetic Radicalism and the Counterculture”, in Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia, edited by Andrew Blauvelt (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2015), 18.

50. One of the innovations introduced by psychedelic graphic design was the use of UV light–reactive- and Day Glo inks, used to induce animation effects in posters. West Coast designer Victor Moscoso achieved such effects by collaging circles of different colors which seemed to appear and disappear under UV light; cf. Lowey and Prince, Graphic Art, 73.

51. Lorraine Wild and David Karwan, “Agency and Urgency: the medium and its message,” in Blauvelt (ed.), Hippie Modernism, 46.

52. Sherri Irvin, “Appropriation and Authorship in Contemporary Art.” British Journal of Aesthetics 45, n° 2 (2005): 124, doi:10.1093/aesthj/ayi015.

53. Michael English and Nigel Waymouth, Luv Me, 1967, Victoria & Albert Museum London: E.40-1968.

54. Victor Moscoso, Neon Rose, 1967, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum: 18498023.

55. Grunenberg, Summer of Love, 17.

56. Ian Lowey, “Ink and Acid: the psychedelic design revolution,” Icon,

57. It bears notice here that the United Kingdom refused to send troops to Vietnam.

58. Alton Kelley’s poster Girl with Green Hair: The Family Dog presents Jim Kweskin Jug Band and Big Brother and the Holding Company directly appropriates an illustration produced by Alphonse Mucha for a JOB cigarettes advertisement in 1898; cf. Alton Kelley, Girl with Green Hair, 1966, Victoria & Albert Museum London: E.58-1999.

59. Elisa Auther and Adam Lerner, West of Center: Art and the Counterculture Experiment in America, 1965-1977 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), xxiii.

60. Lars Bang Larsen, “Infernal Rodeo.” Afterall: A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry 7 (2003): 95,; Auther and Lerner, West of Center, xxv; Guido Harare, Stone Free (Alba: Wall of Sound Editions, 2017).

61. Julian Palacios, Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe (Medford: Plexus, 2010), 200.

62. Mellor, “Demain commence maintenant”, 23.

63. Mellor, “Demain commence maintenant”, 23.

64. Broackes, “You Say You Want a Revolution?”, 200.

65. Broackes and Marsh, You Say You Want a Revolution?, 8.

66. Klaus Voorman, record cover for Revolver (1966) by The Beatles, 1966; cf.

67. Unknown designer, record cover for The Animals (1964) by The Animals; cf. https://is4-ssl.

68. The Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, Tantric Lovers, 1967, Victoria & Albert Museum London: S.35-1978.

69. The Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, Untitled, 1967, Victoria & Albert Museum London: E.24-1968,

70. The Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, CIA UFO, 1967, Victoria & Albert Museum London: E.22-1968,

71. Michael McInnerney, 14 Hour Technicolor Dream, 1967,

72. Martin Sharp, Blowin’ in the Mind, 1967, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum: 18731757.

73. Martin Sharp, Oz is a New Magazine, 1967, Victoria & Albert Museum London: E.275-2002.

74. Michael K. Organ, “Confrontational Continuum: Modernism and the Psychedelic Art of Martin Sharp.” The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics, and Culture 11, n°1 (2018): 161, doi:10.1080/17541328.2018.1532169.

75. Larsen, “Infernal Rodeo”, 98.

76. Wild and Karwan, “Agency and Urgency”, 49.

77. Lowey and Prince, Graphic Art, 55.

78. Salvatore, I Primi 4 Secondi, 106.

79. Sturgis, “The Death of Aubrey Beardsley”, 67.


Cite this

Juliana F. Duque. "Spaces in Time: The Influence of Aubrey Beardsley on Psychedelic Graphic Design". H-ART. Revista de historia, teoría y crítica de arte, no. 5 (2019): 15-38.