Why Were Blacklight Posters So Popular In The '70s?

By | August 27, 2019

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Left: A blacklight poster featuring R. Crumb's 'Mr. Natural' character and his slogan 'Keep On Truckin',' circa 1972. Right: detail of 'Dr. Strange Meets Eternity,' 1971' printed by The Third Eye. Source: Heritage Auctions

Few wall adornments are so quintessentially '70s as the blacklight poster, depicting Marvel superheroes, noble warriors, R. Crumb cartoons or drug imagery. Throughout the late ‘60s and ‘70s, it didn’t matter if you were partaking of Tijuana gold in a wood-paneled basement, or lying in a dark bedroom and listening to the thrum of psychedelic tunes, the one constant was the hazy glow of a blacklight poster. With their surreal visuals and fluorescent glow, these posters seemed to offer a doorway into a new dimension. But how did these Day-Glo scenes become ubiquitous?

Day-Glo Paint Was Relatively New To The World

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Left: The Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. Right: A mushroom tha says 'Eat Me.' Sources: worthpoint.com; Heritage Auctions

As far as painting supplies go, Day-Glo and glow-in-the-dark paint were fairly new when they were adopted by manufacturers of blacklight posters. Fluorescent paint was in use by the military dating back to the 1930s when it was created by the Switzer brothers. In the 1950s the Day-Glo Color Corp. took the ink to the mass market.

The relative newness of the product made it perfect for artistic experiments. It was something that artists wanted to use to change the meaning of their work while giving it a new look as it was softly pulsed in the dark. It took a decade after its introduction to catch on, but when people came around to it they took to the paint in a big way.