Alton Kelley, RIP
June 5, 2008, 4:52 pm
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If you try to visualize the sixties, you’re looking through the eyes of Alton Kelley. If you picked three words to describe the aesthetic of the time, you’d be describing the work of Alton Kelley. The peerless painter, pictured above left alongside his longtime partner Stanley Mouse, worked on more than 150 posters for concerts at the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore in San Francisco, publicizing the most famous bands and artists of the era, among them Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Butterfield Blues Band and Moby Grape, as well as the Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jimi Hendrix, and Country Joe and the Fish.

Alton combined sinuous Art Nouveau lettering and outré images plucked from sources near and far to create the visual equivalent of an acid trip. A 19th-century engraving from “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” inspired a famous poster for a Grateful Dead concert at the Avalon Ballroom in 1966 that showed a skeleton wearing a garland of roses on its skull and holding a wreath of roses on its left arm. The Grateful Dead later adopted this image as its emblem.

Rest easy, my friend. Your work defined a generation and inspired us all…

[Interview with Alton Kelley]

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