Swiss independent publisher Edition Patrick Frey has released a new book titled Heads Together, which presents artworks from the ‘stoner-art canon’ that emerged in the 1960s. This tumultuous decade of activism gave rise to “one of the greatest booms in publishing history” and eventually birthed a confederation of newspapers around the world known as the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS).
At the heart of this movement was marijuana – the symbol of which could be found in almost all UPS newspapers, eventually coming to serve as an emblem of the movement and a rallying force among its members. The many artistic depictions of the transformative plant and drug, as well as other associated imagery, have been gathered in Heads Together to memorialise one of the most significant moments in the ongoing fight for legalisation.
Quoted in the front of the book, the late John Wilcock, one of UPS’ founding members, says: “Even if [pot] began as an act of defiance, it soon became the one thing shared by all sectors of the anti-establishment throughout the Western world. There wasn’t any underground newspaper that I visited – Zurich, Rome, Amsterdam, London, Paris, to name but a few, where I wasn’t invited to share a friendly joint, just as we had shared pictures and stories…. It was impossible to overestimate how important pot had been as a unifying banner and rallying point.”
This is evidenced throughout the rest of the book’s 566 pages, which showcase hundreds of scans of UPS titles that contain marijuana-themed artwork and imagery. From the front covers of papers such as the Marijuana Review and Ann Arbor Sun, proudly adorned with photographs and drawings of the iconic leaf, to spot illustrations found within the pages of other UPS titles, it is soon clear to readers just how influential and pervasive weed culture was within these circles.
Elsewhere in the book is artwork from the UPS’ protest material; drawings and writings on suspected ‘narcs’ (narcotics agents that would go undercover and join the staff of various UPS groups) which were a regular feature in the papers, serving to warn the community; and advertisements that were placed in UPS papers across the years – from the record industry to local grassroots businesses.
There’s also a large section dedicated to “writings on weed” and oral histories, before the book finishes with an exhibition of various “growing guides” from the era, as well as the vibrant and creative packaging that accompanied rolling papers.
In a concluding essay, titled High Art: Weed’s Influence on the Countercultural Aesthetic, art historian Melania Gazzotti writes: “[Marijuana] has been just as heavily reproduced as the ‘peace symbol’ on T-shirts, pins, bags, flags, and caps to such an extent that it’s now part of the collective mainstream imagination, and more of a cliché than an ideal.
“This visual overexposure has in some ways made it devoid of meaning while at the same time contributed to a gradual acceptance of this ‘soft drug’ in society which, although it has yet to be legalised in many countries, is no longer the demonised threat it once posed.”
Heads Together: Weed and the Underground Press Syndicate 1965–1973 by David Jacob Kramer is published by Edition Patrick Frey; editionpatrickfrey.com