Englewood Cliffs, N.J.
Known for the strong images, detailed graphics and psychedelic designs of his posters, Lee Conklin designed 33 posters advertising rock concerts promoted by Bill Graham (1931-1991) in San Francisco during 1968 and 1969. Born in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Conklin grew up in Monsey, New York, where his father was a carpenter and home-builder and his mother was a nurse. After attending local schools and graduating from Spring Valley High School in 1959, Conklin attended college at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he studied history and philosophy and drew cartoons for the school newspaper. He met his wife, Joy, a fellow student, while at Calvin College. They were married in 1965, left school and moved to Florida. He was inducted into the Army, serving for about a year as a cook in Korea, where he decorated mess halls with his murals. After his discharge Conklin and his wife moved to Los Angeles, where he looked for work as a cartoonist and had some of his drawings published in the Los Angeles Free Press. Inspired by a Time Magazine article about rock poster artists in San Francisco (probably “Graphics: Nouveau Frisco,” April 7, 1967), the Conklins relocated to San Francisco later that year. Having heard about Bill Graham and the posters he commissioned, Conklin showed his portfolio to Graham who hired him on the spot and asked him to design a new poster that weekend. Conklin’s first three posters (BG-101, 107 and 108) were based on drawings Conklin had previously done, but thereafter he created new poster designs, which became increasingly colorful. His posters advertised concerts by the leading rock bands of the day. Probably his best known poster is in black-and-white, however, done for a series of 1968 concerts, featuring Carlos Santana (b. 1947), Steppenwolf, The Grateful Dead and other artists. The poster showed the head of a lion with part of the lion’s face composed of images of a woman. Santana chose the design for the cover of his debut album released in August, 1969. By that time Conklin and Graham had a falling out over money. In May 1969 Graham asked Conklin to re-letter a poster (BG-172) at the last minute due to a change in the bands playing. Conklin did so, and then asked Graham to pay him for the extra work. Graham paid Conklin an extra $50 and used another poster Conklin had already designed (BG-173), but never retained Conklin to design another poster. He published a book of his drawings, “Viva La Mutation,” in 1971. Conklin and Joy moved to Middletown, N. Y. in 1972, where he worked in landscaping and construction, and their two children were born. In the late 1970s they moved back to Northern California, living for a time in Petaluma, and by 1990 Conklin was able to work full-time as an artist. Conklin and his wife now live in Columbia, California, in the Sierra foothills, where he continues to design posters for rock concerts and create other works of art. (TNB 12/2015) Selected bibliography: Lemke, Gayle and Jacaeber Kastor. The Art of the Fillmore: The Poster Series 1966-1971. Pp. 118-121 and passim. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1999. Limnios, Michael. “Interview with Lee Conklin,” http://blues.gr/profiles/blogs/talking-with-lee-conklin-one-of-the-great-psychedelic-artists Medeiros, Walter P. From Frisco with Love: An Introduction to the Dance Concert Poster Art. San Francisco Rock Poster Art. San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1976.