The Death of a Psychedelic Rock Artist
I was reading the Times the other day when I came across an obituary that gave me pause. It seems that Alton Kelley, one of the preeminent pyschedelic rock poster artists, died at his home in Petaluma, California. He was 67 years old. Kelley was one of those guys who, back in the mid '60s, designed and hand-produced rock posters to promote bands and concerts in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco. What a trip that must have been (pun intended).
Mr. Kelley and his collaborator, Stanley Mouse, were the designers of the original skeleton emblem for, and adopted by, the Grateful Dead, in 1966. The two collaborators, after forming their team, Mouse Studios, designed artwork for other bands such as Quicksilver Messenger Service, Butterfield Blues Band and Moby Grape, Jimi Hendrix, and Bo Diddley. Most of their designs and posters were for concert promotions at the San Francisco Fillmore and Avalon Ballrooms, but, sometimes, their art was used for other things, such as Ziz-Zag rolling papers.
Doing research to find inspiration for the posters, Kelley would go to the SF Public Library to search for images in books, magazines, and photographs. He'd haphazardly look at "American Indian stuff, Chinese stuff, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, modern, Bauhaus, whatever". The result of this classic, non-computer-age research, was some of the most creative and intricate art of that decade. Today, many of these posters fetch $5,000 or more a pop.
After the psychedelic days of the '60s were winding down, Kelley and Mouse went into T-shirt design, forming a company called Monster. They did album covers during that time as well, such as the iconic cover for the Steve Miller Band. They had their last collaboration in March of this year.
Say what you will about the drug and sex culture of San Francisco in the 1960s, but, there was some damn fine art and design produced during that time - whether the artists were high or not. I don't think they were. I good artist is going to be good - whether they're on acid or not. It just might take them a little while longer to meet their deadlines.
Rest in Peace, Alton Kelley, you ROCK!