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Tribute To Alton Kelley

Picture by Bob Seidemann

One of my favorite forms of art is poster art, especially art-nouveau inspired 1960s and 1970s rock art. One of the biggest and most influential artist of the time, Alton Kelley, passed June 1 and I think it's important to take a look at a few of his contributions.

Kelley and his creative partner
Stanley Mouse used type and illustration to the very extreme and made viewers hear and feel the music by just looking at the poster. "Mind expanding creativity" has been used to describe the work, and yes, that would be one way to summarize it! The New York Times has a great article on Kelley where they tell about his upbringing in New England, fascination with hot rods and his move to San Francisco. The LA Times also did a nice job memorializing Kelley.

Kelley and Mouse worked with such (awesome) acts as The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and The Holding Company (Janis Joplin), Moby Grape and more to create posters, playbills and album art to name a few.

“Kelley had the unique ability to translate the music being played into these amazing images that captured the spirit of who we were and what the music was all about,” said the Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. “He was a visual alchemist — skulls and roses, skeletons in full flight, cryptic alphabets, nothing was too strange for his imagination to conjure.”
In an article Kelley wrote in the San Francisco Gate he tells about the early years in San Fran which I found amusing:

"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"

Oh I wish, I wish, I wish I had the money and the wall space for some of these gems. One of my pastimes has become cruising
Wolfgang's Vault for old posters and memorabilia. This link has Kelley items. For more reading I recommend Grateful Dead's website.

I'll leave you with this quote from Kelley that I think most creatives can relate to: "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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