Jimi Hendrix would have been happy to visit the bold new "Jellies Experience" opening Saturday at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
So would any fans of the psychedelic music and the art of the 1960s.
The exhibit – which features the work of two Santa Cruz artists – is inspired both by the colorful, rippling movements of the ancient underwater creatures that predate dinosaurs, and the music and art of the 1960s that paid homage to all things weird, colorful and trippy.
A quote by Hendrix, the guitarist who changed the way the instrument was played, greets visitors: "You have to give people something to dream on."
And dream they do in an aquarium exhibit unlike any other, featuring nature at its most surreal, with glow-in-the-dark jellies, jellies of unimaginably vivid purples and blues, and incandescent jellies that ebb and flow like hallucinations.
The exhibit plays off the trippiness. There is a hall of mirrors that contains jellyfish in tanks multiplied by surrounding mirrors. There are screens on which people can draw colorful jellies and email them; there are lighted jellies on the ceiling and mixes of art and jellies all over.
"Well, we do try to come up with new and innovative approaches," says Koen Liem, the Santa Cruz designer who oversaw the project. "I think this one is a little bit more bold for us."
Liem says the aquarium has more leeway with temporary exhibits, such as this one, which opens to the public Saturday at 9:30 a.m. and will run until Labor Day 2014. There is a special one-day preview from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday for members or people who become members that day.
"We have more freedom to do creative stuff and to try and attract a different audience with different shows. We wanted to make this one fun."
Liem hired Santa Cruz artist Jimbo Phillips to do comic book wall hangings explaining the dangers of some jellyfish in a way that was colorful and captured the spirit of '60s comics like Zap.
Phillips' father, Jim, created the ''Screaming Blue Hand" that has become a symbol for Santa Cruz Skateboards (and an online TV interviewer). Jimbo has designed popular skateboards, rock posters (for the band Blink 182), clothing for Volcom and video games for Tony Hawk.
Phillips said his biggest challenge was drawing the creatures that are known for their movement.
"I did a lot of research," he says. "I love jellyfish, but I had no idea how deadly some of them are. I thought a Man-of-War was bad, but they just sting and it hurts. A Sea Wasp will kill you if it stings you."
Writers, artists and marine experts had a similar love for the creatures and the unusual presentation.
"The exhibit took on a life of its own once we had the idea," says Liem. "Once we had the sixties theme, the art, the comics, the writing, all just happened on their own."
The main inspiration was the amazing phenomenon of the jellyfish, with their unearthly looks.
"I think of them as being surreal and psychedelic," says Liem, 47. "It's not that far a leap visually to the sixties. What I feel is attractive is their fluid dynamics, the way they move through the water. A lot of those visual elements were represented in the sixties by the psychedelic patterns you see in the show. We wanted to make it very experimental and experiential, which was also big in the sixties."
Liem isn't a Jimi Hendrix fan and his background is more in the 1970s, but because the guitarist was associated with the term "experienced" with his band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and his album, Are You Experienced?, the aquarium got permission from the Hendrix estate to feature his quotes and imagery.
Liem used to work for the San Jose Children's Discovery Museum and is strongly influenced by the experiential exhibits of San Francisco's Exploratorium, the first museum designed around hands-on exhibits.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium mixes both types of exhibits.
"Our seahorse room is more contemplative and quiet and less interactive," says Liem.
"We are a conservation-oriented institution, but sometimes we have the freedom to be less on the conservation side and more on the fun side."