Graphic artist Alton Kelley, best known for the trippy concert posters and album covers he designed with creative partner Stanley “Mouse” Miller for bands such as the Grateful Dead, died on Sunday at the age of 67 (although The Washington Post insists he was 68). “Kelley had the unique ability to translate the music being played into amazing images that capture the spirit of who we were and what the music was all about,” noted the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart in a statement released this week.
With influences ranging from the Zig-Zag rolling papers logo to The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Kelley and Mouse created such memorable rock imagery as the Dead’s skull and roses motif (and oodles of album covers, posters, book covers, and stickers) and iconic posters for concerts at San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom and Fillmore Auditorium. For more on Kelley, we point you to San Francisco Chronicle music critic Joel Selvin’s well-composed obit, in which he points out Kelley’s fondness for painting pinstripes on motorcycle gas tanks and habit of getting kicked out of the public library when on inspiration-seeking trips there with Mouse.
“Stanley and I had no idea what we were doing,” Mr. Kelley told The Chronicle last year. “But we went ahead and looked at American Indian stuff, Chinese stuff, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Modern, Bauhaus, whatever. We were stunned by what we found and what we were able to do. We had free rein to just go graphically crazy. Where before that, all advertising was pretty much just typeset with a photograph of something.”