Trying to name the painter or graphic artist who best expressed the hippie spirit makes for an interesting exercise.

Robert Indiana’s LOVE, of course, is iconic. But the remainder of his output, as much as I enjoy it, is tightly rendered, as we’d say. Hardly the free-flowing roundness that so separated the feminine awareness of hippie counterculture from the Bauhaus precision of the earlier cutting-edge high culture.

Peter Max has the color and imagery befitting the new era but strikes me in retrospect as formulaic or even commercial. Where’s the depth?

Mark Rothko I’ll mention for his cool, mysterious Zen meditations, but I’d say he’s more from the earlier beat phase of bohemian vision. Not that I don’t return to his artwork often.

And then? Well, twist your expectations. Not to the art gallery or public sculpture but the street.

The Fillmore posters commissioned by Bill Graham faithfully advance the vision, and it’s significant that they also reflect the movement’s primary artistic medium – music, as in rock concerts. The series’ major graphic artists – Wes Wilson, Victor Moscoso, Rick Griffin, Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, among others – remain largely unknown, no matter how widely recognized their work remains. Or how amazing and still inspiring.

And then we have R. Crumb’s comics. Seen with the right substance, his panels turned 3-D and unbearably hilarious. Seen straight, they’re still sharp and on target. Let’s not overlook his Keep On Truckin’ mantra, either.

So here I was, trying to draft my big hippie novel. I had a mental image, the Subway Hitchhiker, but the material was becoming overwhelming. It was taking me too long to get him to the tracks, too. I wanted a short and sweet novel, but I didn’t want to lose all the rest of the story, either.

Somehow, though, I decided to start with the finale. (Or what was the finale until I recently began drafting a new final novel – one that stretches forward to the present and backward to the beginning of the 1900s. More on that when and if it’s ever ready.) And that’s the book published as Subway Hitchhikers.

I wanted it to have a light, airy, playful feeling. One of wonder, flight, and discovery in a turbulent time.

As I revised to that end, I came to deepening appreciation for the combines, assemblages, and prints of Robert Rauschenberg. He’d already come to prominence a generation before the hippies, but he was on the right side of the Vietnam war protests and much more. What I especially admired was the fast-moving clash of imagery – even a feeling of afterimage – moving across and out from his canvases and paper. His work was based in news dispatches and the litter of a materialistic society but magically transformed into dance and divine utterance. He was content to leave bold splashes seemingly unfinished – this is a flash, not perfected as we’d expect. And it was liberating, often filled with light air … as in white spaces.

Well, I aimed for something similar. As for the clashes, I settled on alternating some chapters in a then/now/then sequence like subway trains passing on parallel rails.

Hope the novel, too, expresses a spirit of the time. And continues to do so.

Care to ride?Subway_Hitchhikers~*~

For the novel, click here.


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