The psychedelic art of Howard Bernstein


Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny (1967).

I made a post a while back about the work of Bob Pepper, an artist whose illustrations from the 1960s can also be described as psychedelic and who was equally visible in the music and book publishing worlds. Howard Bernstein (not to be confused with musician Howie B) wasn’t as prolific as Pepper but this post was prompted by the appearance at Sci-Fi-O-Rama of the swirling abstractions of his Roger Zelazny cover. Like Pepper, Bernstein produced album cover art as well as book covers although it’s possible the Zelazny piece may have been a one-off. This was the jacket of the first edition and a rather flagrant attempt by Doubleday to co-opt the trendiness of the psychedelic style for a science fiction readership. They tried something similar with the cover for Harlan Ellison’s landmark anthology Dangerous Visions in the same year, the art in that case being the work of Leo & Diane Dillon. The Zelazny cover caught my attention for another reason, the typography is a variation on the 19th century Kismet typeface by John F Cumming which I used for my two Alice in Wonderland calendars and which turns up regularly in psychedelic design. And while we’re considering conjunctions of music and science fiction, I ought to note that the Hawkwind song Lord of Light lifts its title from Zelazny’s novel.


The Heliocentric Worlds Of Sun Ra, Vol. I (1965).

As for Bernstein’s music work, most of this appears to have been for Bernard Stollman’s eccentric ESP Disk label where the roster of artists included many free-jazz greats along with The Fugs, William Burroughs, Timothy Leary and fringe psychedelic groups such as Pearls Before Swine, Cromagnon, The Godz and others. Bernstein’s Cromagnon cover (below) exists in both monochrome and coloured versions but the monochrome one seems to be the original. In fact much of his art looks like it was drawn in black-and-white with the colours being created by separations at the print stage. His poster for The Godz is especially striking, so much so I’m surprised to find there isn’t more of his work around. Wolfgang’s Vault has a blacklight poster and there are some other blacklight works here. If anyone knows of other posters, please leave a comment although I suspect if there was much more then Wolfgang’s Vault would have the goods.


Side Trips by Kaleidoscope (1967).


Indian War Whoop by The Holy Modal Rounders (1967).


Eastern Man Alone by Charles Tyler (1967).


The Wind in the Willows by The Wind in the Willows (1968).

Not a good cover at all but included here for its curiosity value. This piece of psych whimsy is remembered today for being the first place the world heard of Ms Deborah Harry, credited here with vocals, tambora, tambourine and finger cymbals.


Untitled by Cromagnon (1969).


Godz poster (1969?).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Dukes declare it’s 25 O’Clock!
More science fiction covers
Science fiction and fantasy covers
The Strawberry Alarm Clock
Groovy book covers
The art of Bob Pepper

10 thoughts on “The psychedelic art of Howard Bernstein”

  1. That’s cleared that up then. Thanks for digging these examples up for our perusal although personally I find these examples a bit generically psychedical and flat, they just don’t have the design or draughtmanship that you get in the aforementioned work of the great Bob Pepper for example.

  2. Love the Lord of Light cover. I think the psychedelic aesthetic suits 60s- early 70s era Zelazny well, although I ‘m not sure I could articulate why. Something to do with the almost tactile feel of the works. Even the things his characters eat, drink and smoke seem exiting (not to mention the swordfights, demon elementals, Hindu gods throwing lightning bolts at each other, etc.).

    And yeah, obviously there’s a Hawkwind song. This must have been compulsory reading in their squat / commune / whatever at the time.

  3. Alfie: I agree that Pepper is the better artist, this was mainly an excuse to join some dots. Without doing the research I’d never have guessed it was the same artist who did the Zelazny and Sun Ra covers as well as doing the cover illustration for Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity album which isn’t psychedelic but is very well-known in jazz circles.

    Dimitris: Hawkwind plundered a lot of sf titles but I’m never sure how many of the books the band had actually read! Calvert was a reader (and writer) which is why songs of his like Steppenwolf and High Rise have lyrics matching the books to which they refer. One of his last songs for Hawkwind, Jack of Shadows, was based on another Zelazny novel.

  4. Interesting – id never made the connection between these covers. Possibly not the greatest psych artist (although the Lord of Light cover is fantastic!), they still have period charm.
    The Wind in the Willows is a decent album, if i recall correctly. A lightweight pop psych excursion, like something out of “beyond the valley of the dolls”.

  5. These are very cool. Especially the “Sun Ra”. It also takes a lot more time and effort, using traditional methods, do something like the “Lord of Light”. Great psychedelic artwork!

  6. wow,good to find info on howard burnstein. was in a antq store in tacoma wa and hit the motherlode. unfortunately someone got there before me. I found two cool blacklight posters by howard orignal art and coolest of all was a large personal calander he made for himself with one of a kind orignal art in each large date square. he was an amazing artist I was completely unawarw of. Not listed in any of my poster books. I suspect one of his blacklight posters is his self portrait. I suspect a sad story here, guessing the dealer got all his original art at an estate sale probaly after his death or maybe a relatives death., anyway…that’s my worst fear of what will happen to my artwork. howard REALLY deserves some pages SOMEWHERE . david.

  7. The blacklight posters I bought from a tacoma antique dealer arethe self portrait? that is for sale on the vault site, I also have a really cool mandalla sp poster, and a poster with a “Jesus” figure with a sunrise in the background. I was able to by 3 orginal black and white posters of “groovey” hippie landscapes and best of all was a large calender that he made for his personal use with original stunning art in each day square, very Peter Maxy, very simalair sp to the best poster/comic book artists of the period.(man I can’t spell worth a..).oh and one of the black and white posters is the poster for a Jose Felliciano sp concert that I m familar with but!!!!! another artist has his name on it if memory serves me right. Hope this was of help to someone. He is now one of my favorite artists and no one even knows who he was. I didn’t and I’ve been around some. david…………..

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