“Don’t blame me for being an American artifact, I don’t like it either,” Victor begins, meaning every word. “I’m a poster guy, that’s it.” We begin talking around the psychedelic art label. “The Ninja Mutant Turtles. They lucked out, man. Leonardo, Michelangelo, they had the right idea. Digging up treasure.” I guess he’s talking about commercial art. “Fuck this fine-art shit, man”.
I bring up a quote from Victor at the end of his book — “What is the job? When do you want it? What does it pay?”
“Oh shit, here comes one of those rare guys, an artist that knows about business,” he laughs. “I always treated the job as if I was a plumber. Would you ask a plumber to fit a toilet for free? No. So don’t ask me. I call myself a graphic designer, that’s a practical and useful role in society.” But back in the 60s the term ‘graphic designer’ didn’t exist and the profession was new. Throughout, Victor makes it clear that he was a poster artist: “That’s what we were known as, me, Griffin, Mouse, Kelley, we were the poster guys. There was no other way of communicating about these dance events. No radio, no television, this was the only way.”
He arrived in San Francisco in 1959, from Brooklyn where his family had emigrated to from Spain at the onset of the Spanish Civil War. “Brooklyn is a great place to be from,” says Victor mischievously. Prior to his move to San Francisco, he attended Cooper Union before transferring to Yale. At Yale he studied under the ‘father of Op Art’, Joseph Albers. Albers was a refugee of another war. He had been a student, then a professor in the Department of Design at the Bauhaus in the 1920s and early 1930s. When the Nazi Party gained power in 1933 Albers felt the heat and fled to America. Or, as Victor astutely sums up, “Hitler sent all his non-performing artists to the USA.”
Albers bridged a transition between traditional European art and the new American art on the 1950s and 1960s. This was the first in two points of Victor’s career when he would be “the right guy at the right place at the right time”. The second would not be until seven years later in Haight-Ashbury.