Victor Moscoso picked up color theories while studying with Josef Albers at Yale University in the late 1950s, and soon turned that abstract harmony into a psychedelic friction. Pairing intense hues in a way that almost shakes your eyes — a “vibration” of colors — he majorly influenced the aesthetic of the acid-hued 1960s and ’70s. In Victor Moscoso: Psychedelic Drawings, 1967–1982, which opened earlier this month at Andrew Edlin Gallery in Chelsea, you mostly see things in black and white, with the exhibition revealing the intense preparatory drawings for his comics, posters, graphic design, and album art.
Curated by Norman Hathaway and Dan Nadel, the retrospective is the first to look at this range of work. It’s a show worth leaning in close to, as Moscoso’s art for the influential Zap Comix, for which he was invited to collaborate in 1968 by R. Crumb, reveals a meticulous draftsman in the crosshatching and stippling that went into his often hundreds of drawings in preparation for a comic. Like much of Zap Comix, known for its band of joyfully scandalous artists like Robert Williams and S. Clay Wilson, Moscoso’s work had an underground subversion, taking relics of pop culture such as old-school Mickey Mouse and Little Nemo and morphing them through a strange world of the upside-down logic that fueled M.C. Escher and Dalí. His work for Zap is a flow of transformations, with no dialogue or punchlines — one where the Camel cigarette dromedary disappears into clouds and Mr. Peanut wafts into floating shapes from his top hat and briefly becomes a woman.
Hathaway writes in the accompanying 96-page catalogue:
Zap became a sensation, not only when it was busted and tried for obscenity in 1969, but by serving as an inspirational example of the other paths that were available for those who had no desire to work for traditional publishers or galleries. Moscoso’s work — unlike that of his Zap brethren — wasn’t pessimistic; it was imbued with a sense of wonder and an eager willingness to follow any visual wandering that he could envisage which awarded it with the ability to appeal to a much wider audience.
Moscoso, now based in California, is shown in the exhibition to have the same skilled hand for all his work, whether it was a Doors concert poster in which he sampled from Thomas Edison’s film “Annabelle” and gave the image a border of negative space around hand-drawn lettering, or an especially bizarre album piece for Jerry Garcia, in which tiger-striped and leopard-spotted dinosaurs race like stallions. It would be informative if the pieces were joined by examples of the completed work, but the drawings are worth exploring for their meticulous psychedelic narratives that still feel fresh today.
Victor Moscoso: Psychedelic Drawings, 1967–1982 continues at Andrew Edlin Gallery (134 10th Avenue, Chelsea, Manhattan) through April 25.