Also known as psychedelic art, Trippy Art refers to visual displays, art, and graphics inspired by psychedelic hallucinations and experiences.
The British psychologist Humphry Osmond coined the term "psychedelic" after he experimented with mind-altering drugs. He chose this word because it represented the emotions and mind manifesting that happened after consuming the drugs. As LSD and other psychedelic drugs became more popular in the youth culture of the late 1960s, artists started to refer to art inspired by psychedelic experiences as psychedelic art. These artworks were characterized by bright, neon colors and surreal motifs and themes, such as swirls, patterns, and distortions.
Trippy Art History
The origins of Trippy drawings go all the way back to the 1940s when Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann discovered lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Hofmann was researching derivates from lysergic acid to create a circulatory and respiratory stimulant that had no negative side effects on the uterus. The result? LSD. Once he created the drug, he started experimenting with it and soon discovered its psychedelic effects.
As more people started using psychedelic drugs, artists started to create art based on their experiences with these drugs. Most of these artworks were done in a highly abstract and surreal style. In particular, they were best known for:
- Highly contrasting colors that made viewers' eyes vibrate, a nod to the effects of LSD.
- Concentric circles like mandalas
- Complex fractals
- The use of a variety of media, including acrylics. Nowadays, psychedelic artists also use digital art.
- Paisley patterns
- Complex swirls and distortions, which were also references to the mind-altering states associated with getting high
- Collages, since many Trippy artworks incorporated other artworks
- Extreme detail
- Unique and innovative hand-lettering styles and typography
- Use of negative and positive spaces
- Depictions of abstract, surrealistic, and fantastic subjects
As psychedelic art became more popular, many artists started incorporating the bright colors and distortions of Trippy Art into corporate advertising techniques and other visual mediums, including comics and animations. In particular, comic book artists were drawn to the bright colors and rebellious themes of Trippy Art, leading them to create comic books like " Underground Comix." These were largely anthologies featuring the work of multiple cartoonists. Satire, sex and drugs, mockery of middle-class values and the police, and physical humor were recurrent themes. Many Underground Comix artists aligned closely with hippies, especially in their views of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.
The popularity of Trippy abstract art in the comics scene also led to the creation of record album covers, concert posters, and wall art for artists and bands such as Jimi Hendrix and The Who. This was how Trippy Art became associated with rock music, particularly the hard rock and psychedelic rock subgenres.
Trippy Art was also political. Like Art Nouveau, Trippy Art prided itself on defying traditional expectations and limitations associated with art. While Art Nouveau protested the changes of the Industrial Revolution, Trippy Art challenged the military-industrial complex of the 1960s.
Although many artists loved the freedom and rebellion symbolized by Trippy Art, not everyone enjoyed the style. Many art critics did not like the connection between psychedelic drugs and Trippy Art — specifically, they believed that Trippy Art had little to no artistic meaning because it was merely a recreation of artists' experiences getting high.
What Inspired Psychedelic Art?
Psychedelic art was inspired by a multiplicity of art movements and ideas:
As touched upon above, psychedelic doodles and art were primarily inspired by the 1960s youth culture of free love, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. An anti-establishment movement that spread throughout the English-speaking world for around 10 years, the counterculture movement came of age during the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. and was, in large part, a reaction against the Vietnam War. It challenged the views held by older generations, such as racial segregation, war, and the materialistic and capitalistic structures that dominated the country in the 1950s.
The psychedelic art movement nurtured the talents of some of the best 20th-century poster artists, including Wes Wilson, Peter Max, and Victor Moscoso, all from San Francisco. Wes Wilson, in particular, was well-known for his posters of San Francisco’s historic music venue, The Fillmore. His famed psychedelic font, in which the all-caps free form letters look like they are melting or moving, first appeared in 1966.
As the counterculture movement grew stronger in the late 1960s, the psychedelic art scene grew and expanded internationally. San Francisco remained the hub of the Trippy art scene, but by the 1970s, the style had reached the United Kingdom. This was where Trippy Art started influencing other art movements, including op art.
Other 20th Century Art Movements
Trippy Art intersected with other 20th-century art movements, both Influencing them and being influenced by them.
Also known as optical art, Op-Art is a visual art style that uses optical illusions. Like Op-Art, Trippy Art uses a lot of patterns, warping, and distortion to give the viewer the impression of hidden images, vibrating patterns, or movement. The main difference is that Op-Art tends to be black and white.
When Trippy Art began to be popular internationally, a number of Op artists started incorporating psychedelic designs, distortion, and colors into their optical illusion art. These included Yaacov Agam (Israel), Bridge Riley (United Kingdom), Carlos Cruz-Diez (Venezuela), Victor Vasarely (France/Hungary), among others.
Surrealism is an art style where artists depict illogical scenes to represent the unconscious mind. According to one of its principal voices, writer André Breton, Surrealism aimed to resolve the contrasting conditions of reality and dreams by combining the two into a super-reality or surreality.
Like Surrealism, Trippy Art uses fantastical imagery that depicts things we would not see in real life. While Trippy Art focuses on patterns and bright colors, surrealism tends to focus on making the subject matter itself surreal. Good examples are the fantastic images in the paintings of Salvatore Dali.
This early 20th-century art movement was most popular between 1890 and 1910. Characterized by the curvaceous shapes of flowers and plants, Art Nouveau used whiplash lines and asymmetry to create a sense of movement and dynamism. It was a reaction against the prevailing cultural assumption that academic art, epitomized by hyperrealism and a focus on mythological, idealized, or historical scenes, was the highest form of art.
Although Trippy Art and Art Nouveau look very different, Trippy artists took much inspiration from Art Nouveau. They borrowed heavily from its bright color schemes and use of typography. Both art styles also used:
- Colors inspired by nature, especially browns, greens, blues, and purples
- Unique mixes of materials, such as glass, wood, and iron
- Organic movement and lines to suggest that space is moving and alive
Is There a Difference Between Surrealism and Trippy Art?
Although Trippy Art was partially inspired by Surrealism and also features fantastical imagery, there's a marked difference between Surrealism and Trippy Art. Specifically:
- Surrealism turns to dreams for inspiration, while psychedelic art is based on or inspired by drug-induced hallucinations.
- Surrealism was spurred on by Freud's theory of the unconscious, while Trippy Art started with Albert Hofmann's discovery of LSD
- Surrealism uses more naturalistic colors and imagery with identifiable subjects and objects, while Trippy Art relies more heavily on patterns and bright colors
Top 5 Historic Surrealism Artists
1. Salvador Dalí
Spanish artist Salvador Dalí is quite possibly the most famous Surrealist artist. Renowned for the bizarre images in his work and his precise draftsmanship, he is best known for his dream-like paintings, particularly “The Persistence of Memory,” which features clocks melting in a desert landscape.
2. Frida Kahlo
Famous for her striking self-portraits, Mexican painter Frida Kahlo fused Surrealism with Mexican folk art. One of her most famous works is “The Two Fridas,” which was her first large-scale work and symbolizes her European and native Mexican heritage. A double self-portrait showing two versions of herself sitting together, the painting shows her wearing a white Victorian dress on the left and a traditional Tehuana dress on the right.
3. Joan Miró
Spanish sculptor and painter Joan Miró created abstract images derived from the subconscious or unconscious mind. Many of his paintings used a childlike, naive style to capture basic human instincts. He saw his paintings as a critique of bourgeois society and the visual elements associated with established painting.
One of his most famous paintings is “Horse, Pipe, and Red Flower,” which is a still life mixed with out-of-place elements like carousel horses and bright, almost psychedelic colors.
4. Max Ernst
German painter, graphic artist, and sculptor Max Ernst dabbled in Surrealism, Dadaism, as well as Abstract-Expressionism. During his Surrealist period, Ernst represented himself as a cartoon bird called Loplop. One of the most well-known examples of his Loplop paintings is “Loplop Introduces Loplop,“ which shows LopLop holding a painting of himself.
5. Man Ray
The American artist May Ray was a Dadaist and Surrealist photographer who manipulated photos to create surreal combinations. One of his most famous works is “Ingres's Violin,” which shows a naked woman from behind with the F-holes of a violin on her back.
Top 6 Psychedelic Artists
1. Wes Wilson
Arguably the most popular psychedelic poster artist of all time, Wes Wilson is best known for his creation of the psychedelic font around 1966. One of his most famous works is “Captain Beefheart,“ a color lithograph poster that juxtaposes Art Nouveau-like imagery with psychedelic typography.
2. Victor Moscoso
Spanish artist Victor Moscoso is a graphic designer best known for his involvement in "Underground Comix" and the production of psychedelic advertisements and rock posters in the 1960s and 70s. His most iconic works include “The Chambers Brothers” and “Big Brother and the Holding Company”.
3. Peter Max
German-American artist Peter Max was a key figure of the Trippy Art movement. He's best known for his rainbow-colored paintings and prints and has created artworks in the form of clothing, paintings, posters, shoes, and household utensils. He enjoys using mass-media symbols in his art, such as “100 Clintons“ and “Mickey Mouse Suite”.
4. Stanley "Mouse" Miller
American artist Stanley Miller or Stanley Mouse was another wildly popular psychedelic artist. After joining a group in San Francisco called The Family Dog, he started producing psychedelic rock posters. Like many of his colleagues, he was inspired by the Art Nouveau movement. He is best known for his album covers for the bands The Grateful Dead and Journey, as in his 1966 design, “Grateful Dead”.
5. Alex Grey
American artist Alex Grey works in multiple forms, including visionary art, process art, painting, performance art, and sculpture. He blends visionary art with postmodernism and is best known for his depiction of glowing human bodies, as shown in “Sacred Mirrors,“ a series of twenty-one artworks that examine the spirit, body, and mind in rich detail.
6. Kelsey Brookes
Kelsey Brookes’s painting bring round intellect the intelligent colors and pulsating graphics of the psychedelic culture of the 1960s, and for excellent reason. The works consult a grouping of psychedelic compounds—including LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline—that shared lookalike molecular structure to that of serotonin, the chemicals in the brain that builds a feeling of welfare and happiness.
Top 5 Pop Art Artists
1. Roy Lichtenstein
American artist Roy Lichtenstein was one of the leading figures of the pop art movement. Inspired by retro comic strips, he incorporated many elements of comics into his art, as seen in his iconic “Crying Girl”.
2. Andy Warhol
One of the most prolific artists of his time, American artist Andy Warhol made art prints, canvas prints, silkscreens, paintings, sculptures, and other works of art based on celebrities and pop culture references. One of his most iconic works is “Gold Marilyn Monroe,” which features a photo of the actress Marilyn Monroe in the middle of a golden canvas.
3. David Hockney
Nicknamed “the playboy of modern art,“ U.K. artist David Hockney uses a sun-drenched palette. Many of his artworks. such as “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures),” are characterized by beautiful Californian swimming pools.
4. James Rosenquist
American artist James Rosenquist made large-scale pop art paintings that blurred the lines between commercial work and fine art. He layered popular motifs such as kitchen appliances, manicured hands, and Coca-Cola bottles, as exemplified by works like “House of Fire”.
5. Richard Hamilton
Dubbed the “father of the pop art movement,” the American artist Richard Hamilton wanted to show the public that an artist can do whatever they want. His 1956 collage, “Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing?” shows a living space cluttered with objects of desire such as muscles, tinned foods, TV sets, and tape recorders.
Tripping Through Time —Hallucinogens and Trippy Art
Trippy artists took a variety of psychedelic drugs to get inspiration for their art, among them:
Also known as acid, LSD is a psychedelic drug that increases emotions, thoughts, and sensory perception. At high doses, LSD can give you auditory and visual hallucinations. This drug can also cause experiences such as ego dissolution, where you lose your self-identity. Recent research has suggested that LSD can be therapeutic.
Psilocybin is a compound that has LSD-like properties and alters the way you perceive behavior, time, and motor reflexes. You may also be unable to discern fantasy from reality, leading to psychosis and panic reactions.
Top 6 Trippy Art Pieces Available to Purchase
ALEX PARDEE "BLOOD BAG #2" PRINT
ALEX PARDEE "BLOOD BAG #1" SKATE DECK
AIKO "BUNNY LOVE (PINK)" PRINT
AIKO "BUNNY LOVE (BLUE)" PRINT
CHAZ BOJÓRQUEZ "LA MIX (RED)" PRINT
CHAZ BOJÓRQUEZ "LA MIX (BLUE)" PRINT
Trippy or psychedelic art is otherworldly, beautiful, and strikingly modern. Most people know that psychedelic art was inspired by hallucinations and experiences caused by psychedelic drugs as well as the 1960s counterculture. However, psychedelic art also draws its inspiration from other 20th century artistic movements, such as Op-Art, Surrealism, and Art Nouveau.
To learn more about contemporary art, check out our articles.
Alex Grey: "Home | Alex Grey."
Art History Teaching Resources: "Comics: Underground and alternative comics in the United States."
The Art Story: "Op Art Movement Overview."
Cleveland Clinic: "Hallucinogens: LSD, Peyote, Psilocybin and PCP."
Frida Kahlo Foundation: "Frida Kahlo: The Complete Works."
International Journal of Humanities, Social Sciences and Education: "Humphry Osmond: The psychedelic psychiatrist."
Met Museum: "Art Nouveau."
NC State University: "Stanley Mouse."
Peter Max Store: "Peter Max Studio - The Official Source."
Smithsonian American Art Museum: "Victor Moscoso."
Smithsonian American Art Museum: "Wes Wilson."
Tate: "Surrealism - Art Term."