Sunday, June 01, 2008

another man done gone, RIP Alton Kelley, a great ROCKIN' poster artist and greater friend

(above) the iconic Family Dog #26
Grateful Dead at the Avalon Ballroom, September,1966
poster by Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse
cover art by Alton Kelley
authored by Paul Grushkin, Jonas Grushkin, and Cynthia Bassett
illustrating The Dead's "Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion" song

(above and below) in the last ten years of Kelley's life he took huge joy
in painting hot rods and customs, as fine art and for t-shirts and other merch.
Our great, good friend, poster artist and illustrator Alton Kelley passed away last night from complications due to a lingering illness. I will miss him. All his friends will miss him.
I've spoken about Kelley's legacy several times in previous blogs. He and his colleagues in the original Family Dog collective changed the course of San Francisco, the Bay Area, and rock & roll forever, having put on the world's first psychedelic-mode dance concerts--before Chet Helms, before Bill Graham. Then Kelley went on to do posters with Stanley Mouse, then album covers, then hot rod art.
I'm reminded, on Kelley's passing, of Robert Hunter's words and Jerry Garcia's music, as performed by the Grateful Dead in "Black Peter," on the album WORKINGMANS DEAD:
"All of my friends
Came to see me last night
I was laying in my bed and dying

"Annie Bonneau from St. Angel
says the weather down there, so fine
"Just then the wind
Came squalling through the dark.
But who can the weather command?
"Just want to have
A little peace to die
And a friend or two I love at hand.
"Fever roll up to a hundred and five,
Roll on up, gonna roll back down.
One more day I find myself alive,
Tomorrow maybe go beneath the ground.
"See here how everything
Lead up to this day.
And it's just like any other day
That's ever been.
"Sun, going up and then,
The sun it go back down.
Shine through the window,
And my friends they come around."
And here is Kelley's official obit. Those of you know me, may recognize my contribution.
"Legendary artist Alton Kelley created a graphic stype that rocked the world beginning in the psychedelic Sixties. His concert posters, logo designs, LP album covers, and fine art have forevermore defined that time.
"Kelley, born June 17, 1940, passed away peacefully at home June 1st of complications from a long illness. He is survived by the true love of his life, Marguerite Trousdale Kelley. He also leaves his mother Annie, sister Kathy, and beloved children Patty, Yossarian, and China, and beautiful grandchildren Life and Lacoda.
"Through his mind-expanding creativity and over several decades, Kelley gave rock music new colors, shapes, and themes expressing the optimism and enthusiasm of young people around the globe. His graphics defined youth culture as much as the music itself--in effect, his art was a break-thru collaboration with musicians and bands such as the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. As Joel Selvin, rock critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, put it, "Kelley and Mouse drew the first face on rock music."
"Kelley and his life-long collaborator, Stanley Mouse, are best known for their posters for "San Francisco style" dance-concerts at the Fillmore Auditorium, Winterland Arena, Avalon Ballroom, and a host of other Bay Area theaters and amphitheaters. They also created world-renowned posters and album covers for the Grateful Dead, Journey, Steve Miller, Hendrix, The Beatles, and others.
"The two artists historically worked as a team, in their words "riffing off each other's giggle." They joyfully appropriated from historic sources, in one instance re-working an obscure nineteenth-century etching to create their iconic Grateful Dead "skeleton and roses" design. They combined vibrant sixties color with French poster-making joi de vivre technique to generate compelling pieces often issued on a weekly basis, ultimately dazzling millions worldwide. Thus, they even changed advertising art forever, as their posters belonged to one of the most important art movements of the latter part of the twentieth century.
"When Kelley (a native of Maine) met Mouse (a native of Detroit, MI), in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district in late 1965 (the "Haight" was the epicenter of the hippie movement, culminating in the "Summer of Love" in 1967), they instantly recognized they were kindred spirits in what Mouse described as "one of the juciest scenes of all time."
"Their concert posters, commissioned by Fillmore promoter Bill Graham and Graham's rival, the Avalon's Family Dog collective, were eagerly snapped up by bands and fans alike. In the decades since, Mouse and Kelley's classics have established even greater popularity, rivaling the interest long shown by collectors of French turn-of-the-century Belle Epoque art made famous by Toulouse-Lautrec and others.
"Kelley's (and Mouse's) art is licensed worldwide by Signatures Network, Inc. "There is one word for Alton Kelley's lifelong contribution, and that is "iconic,"" said Dell Furano, President of Signatures Network.
"In lieu of flowers, donations can be made at the Washington Mutual Western Street branch in Petaluma, CA for a memorial bench in a Sonoma County park. A memorial event will be announced shortly."
And so, In the refrain of a great, and painful, and ultimately uplifting country-blues song:
"Another man done gone, another man done gone, down on the county farm, another man done gone."
RIP Alton Kelley. Bless you, man. Wherever you fly to, wherever you land, be sure to kick some hot rod tires for all of us.


katstoo said...

Thank you for the wonderful summary of Kelley's life. His beautiful artwork was a reflection of the person he was within, unique, beautiful,and breathtaking. I will miss him always. Kathy Kelley Verespy

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Alton Kelley ? the guy who did these awesome covers for greatful dead?, what a loss for our community.

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