The 1960’s in America were a period of social revolution, protest and nonconformity. Where the youth’s ideals and indulgences were peace, love, music and mysticism. The “Sixties” were a time where the youth culture emphasized change and experimentation. This philosophy shared by the American youth lead to the emergence of the hippie subculture in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district.
The term “hippie” comes from the word hipster, and was first used to describe beatniks. They created their own communities, embraced the sexual revolution, and explored the altered states of consciousness by using psychoactive drugs. This is where the term “psychedelic” was born and began to influence fashion, music, art and graphic design.
The term “psychedelic” related directly to psychedelic drugs that were popular among the youth of the time, especially at rock concerts. Poster artists and designers tried to capture visually the feeling of “tripping out” by creating surreal illustrations and stencils, with bold color and flowing organic type. One of my favorite poster artists from this era was American artist Stanley Mouse.
I first became interested in the works of Stanley Mouse when I was studying at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I was listening to music at a vintage record shop and noticed a bright orange poster that jumped off the wall. It looked like a surreal painting with mushroom type forming rolling organic shapes. The detailed hand-drawn elements and chunky stenciled type fit together tightly, forming a dreamlike setting. It was a concert poster from the 1960’s at the legendary San Francisco music venue the Fillmore West, signed by Stanley Mouse. The intricate details and shading of the elements gave it a 3D quality, and bold primary colors made it pop off the wall. I became fascinated with this design and began to explore more of Stanley’s work.
Stanley George Miller, better known as Stanley Mouse, was most known for his psychedelic rock concert poster designs and Grateful Dead album cover art.
Born in California on October 10, 1940, Mouse grew up in Detroit, Michigan. His father was an animator with Disney Studios who worked on Snow White. Always quiet and drawing in class, Stanley earned his pen name Mouse, in the seventh grade. He completed his formal education at the Detroit’s Society of Arts and crafts.
In1965, Stanley traveled to San Francisco, and met self-taught artist Alton Kelley. Upon arriving in San Francisco, Kelley and other members of the gang renamed themselves The Family Dog, and began producing psychedelic rock events. In 1966, when Chet Helms became leader of the group, they began promoting the events at the Avalon Ballroom. It was at this time when Mouse and Kelley began working together to produce posters for the events. Later, the two also produced posters for legendary rock promoter Bill Graham.
In 1967, Mouse began collaborating with artists Kelley, Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso and Wes Wilson to create the Bonaparte Distribution Agency.
The posters that Mouse and Kelley produced were heavily influenced by Art Nouveau graphics, particularly the works of Alphonse Mucha and Edmund Joseph Sullivan. This influence was evident in their illustration style and type treatment. The two produced posters for such musical groups as Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Grateful Dead and Cream. For the Cream posters Stanley Mouse made an interesting choice of printing the black and teal artwork, against a cream-colored background, reinforcing the name of the band with color.
In 1968, Helms and Graham began using other artists for their poster work, and Mouse’s career began to decline. After brief periods living abroad, he returned to California in 1971 and resumed his partnership with Kelley, producing commercial artwork for the Grateful Dead and later Journey. The pair are credited for creating the skeleton and roses image that became the famous icon of the Grateful Dead. Their designs for Steve Millers album Book of Dreams won a Grammy Award in 1977. Mouse and Kelley continued to work on rock memorabilia until 1980 when the two went their separate ways.
Stanley Mouse currently lives in Sonoma County, California where he continues to pursue his career as an artist. His work is featured in the Rockin’ Roses Gallery in Healdsburg, California along with other artists such as Grace Slick, Mickey Hart, Jerry Garcia, Bill and Adrianna Weber. A recent show at the Marin Museum of Art featured Stanley’s work in a full-circle format making clear the extent and genius of his work.