Lee Conklin

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Of the many legendary graphic artists to emerge during the late '60s, none translated the psychedelic consciousness of the times with more insight or mind-warping intensity than Lee Conklin, whose prolific…
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Of the many legendary graphic artists to emerge during the late '60s, none translated the psychedelic consciousness of the times with more insight or mind-warping intensity than Lee Conklin, whose prolific poster work for the Fillmore West remains among the most provocative visual interpretations of the Summer of Love and its drug-fueled spirit ever created. Influenced primary by the pen-and-ink mastery of Heinrich Kley and Saul Steinberg, Conklin (born July 24, 1938) did not initially pursue a career in art, instead studying philosophy and history while attending Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI; he and his wife relocated to Los Angeles in 1965, at which time he accepted a job as a security guard.

Conklin continued drawing in his spare time, hoping to someday forge a career as an artist, and upon reading a feature on psychedelic graphics pioneer Wes Wilson in Time, he relocated to San Francisco to pursue his ambition. He soon hooked up with Fillmore impresario Bill Graham, and between 1968 and 1969 produced a total of 31 posters promoting upcoming concerts at the auditorium. Conklin's stated goal was to translate the hallucinatory journey of the drug experience onto paper, and toward that end he frequently worked while coming down from an acid trip; his designs became increasingly surreal, their dazzling colors and bizarre imagery a pointed reflection of his own altered mindset.

Conklin's Fillmore pieces are typified by the density of their detail, with both the graphics and the lettering the product of painstaking, Dexedrine-fueled effort; the other recurring motifs of his work include a fascination with the mutated human form, as well as anthropomorphic imagery. Perhaps Conklin's most famous image is a classic black-and-white drawing of a lion that adorned a Santana poster, later redrawn for use on the group's debut LP. After his Fillmore affiliation ended in the wake of financial disputes, he continued working as an artist, setting up a studio in Petaluma, CA; after Graham's 1991 death, Conklin created new pieces for the Bill Graham Presents organization, his latter-day work rejecting the hand-drawn process in favor of digital methods.