Poster art was an emblem of psychedelic ’60s
Alton Kelley, a San Francisco graphic artist whose psychedelic posters and album covers captured the mood and music of the Grateful Dead, the Steve Miller Band, Journey and other top rock ’n’ roll groups of the ’60s and ’70s, has died. He was 67.
Kelley died Sunday at his home in Petaluma, Calif., said publicist Jennifer Gross. The cause was complications from osteoporosis.
With his creative partner Stanley Mouse, Kelley helped launch a poster art revolution in the mid-’60s, turning out vividly coloured lithographs for concerts where Jimi Hendrix, Big Brother and the Holding Company and Quicksilver Messenger Service were among the headliners.
“Kelley was one of the first to see it coming, the rise of the psychedelic era in San Francisco,” Paul Grushkin, who wrote The Art of Rock, Posters from Presley to Punk, said this week. “He was a pioneer.”
Using images inspired by vintage prints and lettering that flows like smoke, Kelley and Mouse designed graphics now considered emblems of the psychedelic age. The best known of them is a skull and roses they created for the Grateful Dead.
“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,” said Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead.
The album covers that came out of the Kelley-Mouse collaboration with the Grateful Dead included Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty in 1970.
The idea for a skull and roses came from an illustration in a copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a collection of poems by the Persian poet who died in 1123. Kelley once explained that he found the illustration in a book, enlarged the image, and added colour and other details that dramatically changed it.