Poster Artist Alton Kelley Dies at 67

Kelley Grateful Dead Poster 300 i i

hide captionArtist Alton Kelley is best known for his work with The Grateful Dead.

Kelley Grateful Dead Poster 300

Artist Alton Kelley is best known for his work with The Grateful Dead.

If the Summer of Love had a visual, it probably came from the drawing pad of artist Alton Kelley. Kelley's work graced album covers and concert posters, and has been described as art that defined a generation. The 67-year-old artist died this week in California from complications of osteoporosis.

Alton Kelley arrived in Haight Ashbury in 1964 with a sketchbook full of hot-rod drawings. He'd raced cars and bikes back home in Connecticut. But when Kelley met a fellow hot-rod artist from Detroit named Stanley Miller a few years later, cars and motorcycles gave way to skeletons and roses.

The two started making posters for dance concerts featuring up-and-coming groups such as The Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Miller, who goes by the name "Mouse," says the work — and good times — rolled like a freight train.

At their peak, Kelley and Mouse were cranking out their elaborate posters once a week, and later expanded their portfolio to include album covers.

The Grateful Dead liked the skeleton-and-roses image the pair created for a concert poster so much that the musicians adopted it as their logo.

Some call the art a visual extension of the music. Others call it the visual for a psychedelic experience. Mouse says it was both, and that the joke between the two of them was that you had to be under the influence to understand it. But ideas, Mouse says, came from trips to libraries and art galleries. Kelley and Mouse pored over books of Gustav Klimt, Japanese poster art, and art nouveau.

Mouse says he and Kelley developed a work style that allowed them to stand side-by-side at the same art table. The pair worked together for more than four decades, and Mouse says that his work routine with Kelley never changed.

Just five months ago, Alton Kelley and Stanley "Mouse" Miller completed their last work together, a poster for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.