Psychedelic poster artist Robert Fried

Robert Fried was in Brooklyn in 1937. While not considered one of the San Francisco School’s “Big Five,” Fried was valued for his technical skill and creative application of the abstract to a commercial execution. Like Victor Moscoso, he was one of the rare SF School poster artists who was formally trained as an artist and graphic designer.


Fried’s father was a master clockmaker who wrote several books on the subject, illustrated with his own technical drawings and those by his young son, whom he had instructed. Fried took drawing classes at 11 from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He studied graphic art at New York City Community College, receiving an Associate of Arts degree, and worked as a commercial artist. Fried won a scholarship to attend Cooper Union, and got a BFA degree in 1961.



He taught at the Provincetown Workshop with Victor Candell, served as an assistant to Robert Motherwell, exhibited at New York’s Brata Gallery and became acquainted with Timothy Leary and LSD. The recipient of a Fulbright scholarship, Fried and his new bride Penelope went to Spain, ostensibly to study the Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán. They lived in Madrid for two years, a period when Fried painted several large canvasses. They moved back to New York City in 1965. Fried applied to the graduate programs at various schools, and was accepted by the San Francisco Art Institute. They drove across the country with their infant daughter in 1966.



While studying at the Art Institute, Fried worked as a free-lance graphic artist and started creating screenprints again. Fried received his M.F.A degree from the Art Institute in 1968. Having noticed the appearance of psychedelic rock concert posters, he had become friends with poster artists Victor Moscoso and Rick Griffin. The commission for Fried’s first rock poster came courtesy of Griffin, who asked Fried to create the third poster of a triptych for concerts at the Avalon Ballroom by The Charlatans in mid-1967. The poster featured a photograph of The Charlatans’ pianist Michael Ferguson taken by noted photographer Herb Greene.



From 1967 through 1970 Fried created 18 rock concert posters for promoters Chet Helms of the Family Dog, Bill Graham and others. As the demand for posters tapered off, at the end of the decade, Fried turned to painting and fine art prints. Many of his prints were sheets of supposed postage stamps, often with social criticism or political commentary. He exhibited frequently in the Bay Area, and appeared in group shows at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha (1970), the College of Marin (1972), Santa Clara University (1973) and the Oakland Museum (1974). Fried received a purchase award for a print shown at the San Francisco Outdoor Art Festival in 1973 and a National Endowment for the Arts grant for printmaking in 1974.



That year Fried and five other Bay Area artists (Gage Taylor, Robert Moon, Bill Martin, Gerald Gooch, and Richard Lowenberg) were commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Art (now the S.F. Museum of Modern Art) to travel to Baja California for about a month and prepare materials for an exhibition reflecting their trip. The resulting exhibition (“Baja”) included paintings, watercolors, gouaches, sculptures, assemblages, photographs and films, including one of Fried’s “postage stamp” prints. Unfortunately, Fried suffered a stroke and died on January 9, 1975, on the same day as the opening night reception for the exhibition. Robert Fried posters can be seen hanging in the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and the DeYoung Museum.

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