The exclamation ’far out, man’ came into circulation among the beautiful people in about 1966 and was phased out by 1974, when any foolhardy utterer of the phrase risked getting a kicking from a skinhead. During its short life, ’far out, man’ was employed with great frequency by counter-culture youths, who applied it lavishly to music, drugs and art-based experiences. With it, they expressed awe at the creative, surreal, rebellious and adventurous.
In our more jaded age, youth culture’s mots du jour are ’whatever’ and ’meh’. Maybe this is down to the commodification of counter-culture, or perhaps it is due to the decline of mystical LSD and the rise of self-obsessed cocaine. In such an atmosphere, could psychedelic art still have the power to surprise and delight? Let’s hope so for the sake of music industry graphic design stars Luke Insect, Leo Zero and Dave Little, three members of the loose collective Golden Sun Movement, who are together mounting an exhibition of their own 21st-century psychedelic artworks.
’Psychedelic art is anything that breaks down boundaries, that experiments or escapes reality and looks to a brighter, different future,’ says Insect, who has made album covers for The Prodigy, Ocean Colour Scene and Kano.
He works mainly with digital collage an oft-used medium for psychedelic art. ’It is about filling your head with as many images as you can preferably weird images that shouldn’t sit next to each other, like a fluorescent ball next to a unicorn’s leg,’ he says.
Psychedelia was bigger than Punk ever was, and has many more reverberations that we can still feel today
Little, meanwhile, claims to have been at the ’groundswell’ of every important nightclub in Britain during the late 1980s Acid House rave era and to have witnessed the birth of D-Mob’s ’We Call it Acieed’ chant at Future. He is responsible for covers for Boy’s Own magazine, album covers for Renegade Soundwave and the pop-eyed graphics featured on the Balearic Beats Album Volume One. Little traces the birth of psychedelia to 1960s America.
Insect remembers, ’I lived and breathed counter-culture when I was a teenager, reading Tom Wolfe and Ken Kesey and being inspired by Rick Griffin’s work for The Grateful Dead and listening to wibbly wobbly music.’ He compares the 1960s to the second ’summer of love’ in 1988. ’Being involved in these raves was like the first early 1960s Ken Kesey San Francisco happenings all over again, but this time on steroids with the music to match,’ he says.
Graphic designers with a passion for the psychedelic look down on fractals the swirly paisley-pattern shapes that swirl and crawl madly beneath the eyes of a tripper. ’Fractals are the tacky, dark side of psychedelia the Camden market side of it with teenagers lighting joss sticks,’ says Insect.
’A lot of people who are not interested in psychedelia think that it is all fractals and horrible garish colours. We are hoping that people will see this show and see that psychedelia can be contemporary and typographic.’
He adds, ’The psychedelic genre is becoming broader and it will always be an inspiration for things because it is about saying “fuck you” to society and the man, and it is about the experimental and the underground.’
So did psychedelia even influence Punk a movement that pitted itself against hippy culture? ’I think it did, because it was counter-culture,’ says Little. ’Mind you, psychedelia was bigger than Punk ever was, and has many more reverberations that we can still feel today. But at least Punk got rid of flares’.
For the exhibition, Insect says he is ’breaking out of the digital mould and getting my hands dirty again’ by screen-printing on to aluminium and inserting psychedelic glass panes into reclaimed church windows.
Little is reprising his Map of Acieed, based on the tenth-century Psalter Map, which charted the Christian world. The Map of Acid features images of Margaret Thatcher, riots, raves, parties and fragments of Little’s own era-defining artworks.
Golden Sun Movement presents On: Acid House Art & Twenty First Century Psychedelia at the Idea Generation Gallery, London E2, until 8 May