Friday, January 1, 2010

Alton Kelley, popular in the 60's

Happy New Year! Here I am sober and tapping away at my blog. I will probably be in bed at midnight. Tonight I want to eulogize Alton Kelley. Alton was one of the best known of the psychedelic artists who borrowed from Mucha and a few other 19th century sources. The Grateful Dead skeleton above is his best known piece and I have a big sticker of it on my paint box. It is a great piece of design. There was a 19th century etching by Edwin Sullivan that was its source material.

Alton Kelley died on June 1 2008 on the same day as Bo Didley, a musician for whom he had created posters. Born in Houlton, Maine and after a stint building helicopters in Connecticut, he moved to the Haight. Together with his collaborator, Stanley Mouse, Kelley began designing posters for rock concerts.

The poster below was influenced by the old illustrated labels on fruit boxes that were still common at that time. Robert Hunter incidentally was the lyricist for the Grateful Dead. It seems obvious now that the smoke has cleared at the end of the Rock and Roll era that the Grateful Dead were the greatest American Rock and Roll band. They sold more concerts, did more tours, and sold more music than anyone else. Their fans were the most involved, following them from city to city as they toured. I have been a proud fan of the Dead for many years.

On a long painting trip to the deserts of West Texas I was compelled by a young traveling companion to listen to WAY too much Wagner. At a small town record store I found an excellent "Dicks Picks" reissue of a classic Dead concert. I turned him on to the Dead which he enjoyed somewhat, and I told him their history, particularly about how Jerry Garcia started out playing bluegrass and the effect that had on their music. My friend is a portrait painter and travels the world to do it. He was hired to paint the family of an English lord. That evening he was staying with the family and enjoying an adult beverage, when the lord turned to him and asked, "Do you enjoy the Dead, young man?" Later my portrait painting friend thanked me for setting him up to expound on the bluegrass influence on the Dead's later oeuvre.

Above is a psychedelic poster that borrowed shamelessly from Mucha. Incidentally that typeface is called Armenian. It was a favorite of the psychedelic poster and album cover designers. I first saw it on the cover of the first Quicksilver Messenger Service album, you remember, the one that had Pride of Man on it? Several of the original printed posters on this page are still available from

They are valuable and highly collected now of course.

In closing, tonight was to have been the end of this blog. My blog was a New Years resolution. My intention was to write a post every day of the New Year, and I have . I have done 350 some posts in a row without missing a single day, well I had Lori Woodward guest write one day when I was just too sick to do it. I actually started it a week or so into the New Year as it took that long to get the site designed and learn how to operate it. I do intend to continue, as I have a lot of things I still want to cover. But when I run out of stuff, its over. I am not going to continue to write when I no longer have anything to say. Happy New Year and thanks for being out there reading this.

Also there is a new "Ask Stape" over at Fine Arts Views here is a link to that.


bobm said...

HI Stape,I remember seeing allot of those posters when I was a teenager, Quicksilver messenger service brings back distant memories,It's A Beautiful Day..Never was much of a Dead head but couldn't disagree with your assessment as to being the best. Thanks for shedding some light on the old rock posters. Hope you have great year ahead!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Sure Its a Beautiful day with David Laflame (sp?) on violin, Bombay Calling and White Bird.

Candace X. Moore said...

Stapelton, Extreme relief to read that you will continue posting to your blog. You really offer one of the most interesting reads out there. No need to post daily, if that would ensure you post longer. I suspect you have lots more to say, anyway. All the best in the coming year.

Unknown said...

Happy New Year live from the Lonestar State, where it is just way colder than we wanted it to be for our visit here.
I don't think you'll run out of stuff anytime soon, but am very glad you are continuing. what would I read with the morning coffee?

Visited the Amon Carter Museum here, and found, besides the expected Remingtons and Russels, a nice collection, including a couple of Sargents, Coles, a Church, an Innes, Wittredge, Bierdstadt, Homer,(Crossing the Field, always one of my favorites) that David Johnson painting of Eagle Lake (so cool to see that in person) and quite a few others, that I would not have appreciated or recognized nearly so easily had it not been for this blog.

We start the 36 hour drive home tomorrow morning. ugh.

Sidharth Chaturvedi said...

Happy New Year, Stape.

Daniel Corey said...

Thanks for a great year Stape! Happy New Year!

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Happy New Year, Stape! I came to the Dead late in life. Although I had a roommate post-grad school who played a lot of Dead (along with Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker and the like), I couldn't see the attraction. Then one day something snapped - and "Wake of the Flood" is one of my favorite albums. I play it a lot when framing.

Artists - let's not forget R. Crumb.

Bob Carter said...

Happy New Year, Stape. So glad to hear you're going to continue the blog. There really is nothing else like it or nearly as valuable out there.

Deborah Paris said...

Happy New Year Stape.! I too am happy to hear you'll be continuing on with the blog. Perhaps you'll get down to Texas this year and we can meet up.

Barbara A. Busenbark said...

I too am very glad you're going to keep posting. It's an important part of my morning routine too. Still not a big fan of "The Dead" though.

Robert J. Simone said...

Happy New Year! What a cool job it must have been designing posters and album covers in the Rock N Roll era of the late 60's and early 70's.

The Dead certainly has spanned several generations. I know deadheads who are in their late 20's early 30's. They may be considered the greatest, and may be your favorite, but as for me I'll take the Velvet Underground any day of the week!

Robert J. Simone said...

Just for levity's sake, here's a thought for you Stape: If number of album copies sold is proof that the Grateful Dead is the greatest American Rock Band then that logic seems to indicate that Thomas Kincade is the Greatest American Painter, doesn't it?

No discussion of greatest American bands is complete without mentioning the New York Dolls, what say you?

Philip Koch said...

For arcane art historical lore, Stape is hard to beat. No doubt it's been a lot of work.

Is it true that in order to maintain your demanding schedule of regular blog posts you had to give up your position as President of the Southern New Hampshire Hell's Angels?

Mary Byrom said...

OK. True confession. When I read Stapleton's blog (in the privacy of my office) I can sometimes be heard laughing (by my husband across the hall in his office.) It's the only time he hears any noise coming out of my office. "What are you doing?" he calls out after a particularly loud laugh. Its usually in response to a remark you toss off or one of the outstanding utube music videos you post.
Well, today the laugh was for Philip's question about that position you had to give up due to your demanding blogging schedule...

billspaintingmn said...

Stape, the air you breathe will run out before you do.
The Deads' "Go to Heaven" was the
last rock-n-roll album I bought.
(after that I switched to cd)
Those posters were ment to cause
hallucinations,(or entertain them)
It's good to hear mention of these
bands from the 60's, they inspired
me as I drew and grew.
R. Crumb was fun! Ed Roth was cool!
Mad magazine was a must.
And all those comic books....
That should keep you busy for atleast another decade!
Happy New Years Stape, and all you
folks! I enjoy this blog a lot!

willek said...

Just got in from out of state to catch up on the latest postings. It's hard to think about this routine ending sometime but I have been re reading for a long time now and it is always good. I like being able to pick a catagory and get back into it.

In latter years I find I am not so much into pop culture, but MY culture started when my kid brother brought a 45 home of Bill Haley and his Comets doing Rock Around the Clock. Then there was Elvis and the rest became history. My all time favorite from that era was a 45 by Bill Doggett: Honky Tonk Part one and Part two was on side B. I still love it. We had no idea where this mucic came from at the time and the guitar, simple now, was very wild at the time.

Have a great year, Stape. See you at Snow Camp W. I am going to do some practice outings to bone up. Make sure the rig and the outfit do the job.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks for the encouragement. I still have some things I want to cover.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I need a trip to Texas myself. Maybe this spring. West Texas is a a great place to paint.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you. Happy New Years

Stapleton Kearns said...

Happy New Years

Stapleton Kearns said...

If you play the dead while framing do the frames still come out square?

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks,the blog does seem to have its little niche.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I may actually be in Texas this spring...Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...


The Dead seem to be sort of classic now.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The Dead and Kincaid, conflated? The NY Dolls? I did see Television play once. With Tom Verlaine. So there.

Stapleton Kearns said...

There are an unusual number of motorcyclists around here though.They all rally in Laconia every summer.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks. You have painted with me,you can't imagine me as a biker I am sure.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I actually hunted down some Big Daddy Ed Roth stuff and some R. Crumb.
I felt like the Crumb stuff was still to current as he has a new book out. I though the Ed Roth stuff had not aged well and I didn't feel like I could put it up, it just didn't fit in. I did like it as a kid.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Gee, that goes waaay back. He played for Louis Jordan and recorded Honky Tonk in the late 50's.I was not musically aware at that point.

john iorio said...

Stape...glad yer a hippie of sorts- far friggin out!! In art school in the 70's the dead and airplane were my soundtrack . But much of your winter work reminds me of bookends by simon and garfunkel or sounds of silence!

Stapleton Kearns said...

I was never much of a Simon and Garfunkel fan, but I saw the Airplane live in 1970 I also saw
Led Zeppelin
The Hollies (with Graham Nash)
Savoy Brown
Clapton with Delaney and Bonnie
Jethro Tull
John Mayall
Leon Russel
The Allman Brothers

and many of the other bands of the era.

Claire said...

Happy New Year Stape, glad to hear that you'll still be blogging in 2010! After reading this, I thought you might be interested in this site: