RIP///REMEMBERING PSYCHEDELIC POSTER ARTIST ALTON KELLEY…
The art world lost one of its great countercultural pioneers this Sunday morning, June 1st when psychedelic artist ALTON KELLEY passed away in Northern California at age 68. He is best known as half of the famous poster design team of “Kelley & Mouse” (the “Mouse” in question being one Stanley Mouse) who together fabricated some of the most iconic images of the 1960s & early ’70s psychedelic movement. Both shared a profound love of hot rods, motorcycles, and general outlaw culture and the pair worked in tandem to create some of the most memorable concert posters for Bill Graham‘s Fillmore East & West and Chet Helms‘ Family Dog venues, including the legendary and ubiquitous skeleton & roses poster and album cover art for the Grateful Dead. As a personal friend he will be greatly missed…
Kelley’s 2007 article on the Summer of Love for the SF CHRONICLE is a must read:
SUMMER OF LOVE: 40 YEARS LATER
By Alton Kelley
Originally published Sunday, May 20, 2007, SF Chronicle
I was living at 440 Ashbury. By that time, a lot of the band got little contracts, so we started doing album covers, too.
I came out originally in the winter of ’64 and settled in on Pine Street. Went up to the Red Dog Saloon with the Charlatans. They were putting the Red Dog together. Then we came back and said what are we going to do now? That’s when we started the Family Dog. I was one of the four original members. We got Bill Ham to do a light show. We rented Longshoreman’s Hall. Threw a few dances and found out we weren’t very good business people. I’ll tell you a funny thing, too. You know what the Fillmore rented for? Sixty bucks a night. Bill (Graham) had got in trouble with the Mime Troupe over some lewd Italian play over in Golden Gate Park and we were going to throw a benefit for the Mime Troupe. We went and checked out the Fillmore and found that out. And Bill found that out. The next week he went and got I think a four-year lease on the place.
From the very first Family Dog show, I was the only person. So I just started doing them and they turned out pretty damn good.
Stanley (Mouse) came into town I guess late ’65 early ’66. I had known Stanley by reputation because I came out of the hot rod world, too, with Big Ed Roth, Mouse, Robert Williams, Newton and a bunch of different car people who did drag racing and the hot rods. He came into town. He had a van that said “Here comes Mouse with another truckload of dead flies.” We hit it off really well. By that time, Chet (Helms) had taken over ’cause Luria, one of the partners in the Family Dog, had owed money to Chet for some reason, I’m not exactly sure. But he took over the name and started throwing dances cause he used to throw parties at the old Russian Embassy. Beautiful building, but it was a wreck in those days. It was just one of those abandoned kinds of buildings with 50 hippies living in it and we weren’t even hippies then. It was before hippies existed. I don’t know where the word hippie came from.
The Zig Zag man. We did that poster the Zig Zag man and we went ‘Oh, My God, look how this came out. And we got paranoid because they’re going to know we’re potheads.
I think it was taking. What we did was take our parents’ sort of rules when they said, like my parents said, as long as you’re not hurting anyone and you’re an American and blah blah and you can do what you like. You can be who you want to be once you leave home, then it’s your problem and your business. I think we took them up on that.
I think one of the things that sparked it: the Beatle haircut. Everybody started letting their hair grow and that made it easier to identify who you were and all that. That was also the downfall, too, because then all the criminals hid behind the haircut. By 1968, it had pretty much gone to hell with all the religious nuts coming, the politicos, the junkies, dope dealers, it really kinda went crazy. Then everyone got out of town. But those first years — ’65, ’66, ’67 — it was really a great neighborhood, the Haight Ashbury. Everybody knew everybody. It was really fun. Everybody was really enjoying themselves. It was sort of the opposite of the beatnik era. They all dressed in black and were on kind of a downer. We all came out of the rock and roll world and not World War II. We all had this background behind of us of Chuck Berry and Little Richard. This whole other kind of genre going on with the music and stuff. The beatniks were into jazz and we were the rock generation. Kind of a total reverse. Kinda filled a spot. A lot of freedom was derived out of that period, like how you look. Nobody cares anymore, but before that people were kind of uptight. Maybe you had six friends that you knew; the rest of the people in the world you kinda kept your mouth shut ’cause you had no idea who the hell they were or what was going on. For that short period of time there, it was really fun and we had a helluva good time. That was a long-running party.
It’s all over the place. The very fact that people dress like they do, maybe a little more radical than we were but I think all of this stuff — these kind of wild looking children — are part of that thing, that freedom where you’re not just a cookie cutter person. It doesn’t really matter — if you’re good at what you do, you’ll make out. It doesn’t matter what you look like. Of course, it fluctuates back and forth because the politicos that run things kinda walk all over everybody every chance they get. They can, but I think it’s unstoppable.
But at the same time I see that the electronic art is what’s happening. Nobody draws anymore. Most people they’ll come with some kind of image. There’s no lettering done. Everything’s just pulled off a lettering disc. You can make things any shape you want. So much of the things are done by computer, I don’t know really where to place that. Most of the things I’ve seen done, the entire things are done on computer and what you end up with is a disc. I’d rather have a painting on my wall than a disc.
Stanley and I had no idea what we were doing. 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. The last time there was any really posters done that had any value done were the posters done for World War II. “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” But that was good stuff. At least it was graphically there. I saw one that showed a P-38 fighter plane and down below you could see a Japanese city burning and bullets were flying and it says “Payoff for Pearl Harbor” with a big Cadillac emblem. There was some pretty wild stuff during that period. Then it went Madison Avenue and the man in the gray flannel suit where it just got kinda bleak.
The printers were so happy. They were printing this junk and we came in and asked them to do stuff that they had never done. They showed us tricks, so it was a give and take on printing. They were happy as could be over the whole idea of it. They weren’t just printing a photograph of a thing that said Buy Your Latest Camera at the Kodak store and they show a picture of a camera. Hell we came in there and it was this kind of thing, like skull and roses, Zig Zag man, Howlin’ Wolf and all these things. They just loved it. They couldn’t wait for us to show up.
I see it all over the place in really strange places, too. I see it here and there in just regular magazine advertisements. I’m still working. Stanley’s still working.
I’m still doing exactly what I always did. I think up something and then I render it. I work very hard on the idea. The execution is another thing, just technique. I know where I want to start and I know where I want to finish. We had to meet deadlines. That was a helpful part in the process. I read an interview, I forget who, it was either Maxwell Parrish or Norman Rockwell. They were quoted as saying when you get the right idea, it rings the bell. I wait until the bell rings.
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