La Coruña, Spain.
Known for the electric colors that seemed to vibrate on the page of his psychedelic posters for 1960s San Francisco rock concerts, Victor Moscoso is also one of the artists who made “Zap Comix” famous. In addition, he is a successful commercial artist. Born in 1936 in Spain’s province of Galicia, his family immigrated to America in 1940, settling in Brooklyn. Interested in art from an early age, he attended the High School of Industrial Art in Manhattan with the intent of becoming a designer and illustrator. Moscoso worked in commercial art for several months before starting college at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, where he was introduced to the color theories of Josef Albers (1888-1976). Moscoso then transferred to Yale University’s School of Art in 1957 where he studied under Albers, earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1959. He then moved to Berkeley and enrolled in the San Francisco Art Institute, where he studied painting, learned lithography and earned a master’s degree in 1961. He would later teach at the Institute from 1966 to 1972. Moscoso found work as a commercial artist in San Francisco and worked on “Peanuts” books for a San Francisco publisher. Inspired by a concert poster by Wes Wilson (b. 1937), Moscoso showed his work to concert promoter Chet Helms (1942-2005) of the Family Dog, who commissioned Moscoso to design a poster for weekend concerts at the Avalon Ballroom in June 1966 featuring the band Big Brother and the Holding Company (FD-11). Dissatisfied with the poster, Moscoso studied the posters designed by Wilson, Stanley Mouse (b. 1940) and Alton Kelley (1940-2008) and realized that he needed to forget all the academic rules he had learned about graphic design and do the opposite, making the lettering hard to read and using clashing colors. After four months he designed another poster for Helms (FD-32) and then designed what he considered by be his first successful poster featuring the Family Dog’s Indian logo with red and blue spirals as eyes (FD-38). With a shrewd sense of business, Moscoso joined with Wilson and others to negotiate royalties on sales of posters, which had become a successful business. Moscoso then entered into an arrangement with the Matrix, a San Francisco nightclub, to create posters for its rock concerts. Moscoso kept ownership of the posters, gave 200 to Matrix to use in advertising its concerts and sold the posters through his company Neon Rose, utilizing various distribution channels and keeping the profits. Some of his most successful posters were made for the Matrix. Overall, Moscoso designed over 100 posters from 1966 to 1970. He and Wilson, Mouse, Kelley and Rick Griffin (1944-1991) became known as the Big Five of poster art. Their work was exhibited at the “Joint Show” mounted by San Francisco’s Moore Gallery in June, 1967 and Moscoso, Griffin, Mouse, Wilson and Peter Max (b. 1937) were featured in the September 1, 1967 cover story of “Life Magazine.” In 1968 Robert Crumb (b. 1943) invited Moscoso and his friend Griffin to work on the second issue of “Zap Comix,” along with S. Clay Wilson (b. 1941). Moscoso organized the distribution of “Zap #2” through the same outlets that distributed posters, registered “Zap Comix” as a trademark and protected the works under the copyright laws. Moscoso stayed involved with “Zap” throughout its successful publishing history, culminating in the publication of the “Complete Zap Comix” boxed set in 2014. His career as an artist continued for the ensuing decades. In addition to posters, he has created fine art paintings and designed album covers, billboards, other advertising materials, and animated television commercials. Moscoso’s many clients included musicians Jerry Garcia (1942-1995) and Herbie Hancock (b. 1940). He provided illustrations for “Rolling Stone” and “Playboy” magazines. He published his own comic book “Color” in 1971. Moscoso won two Clio awards in the late 1970s for an animated television commercial for radio station KMEL and another for the station’s general advertising campaign featuring a stylized camel wearing headphones. Moscoso’s works are in numerous museum collections, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art and London’s Tate Modern, as well as the Fine Arts Museums. Moscoso moved to Marin County in 1969, where he lives with his wife, Gail. (TNB 12/2015) Selected bibliography: Grushkin, Paul. The Art of Rock: Posters from Presley to Punk. New York: Abbeville Press, 1987. Tomlinson, Sally and Walter Medeiros. High Societies: Psychedelic Rock Posters of Haight-Ashbury. Exhibition catalog, with an introduction by D. Scott Atkinson and a contribution by Paul Prince. San Diego: San Diego Museum of Art, 2001.