Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Art of the Dead

I just got my copy of Philip Cushway's Art of the Dead (reading line: A Celebration of the Artists Behind the American Rock Poster Movement). It includes short pieces by Steven Heller, Peter Coyote, Greil Marcus, and Mickey Hart. Quotes from the artists and others are sprinkled throughout the full-color reproductions of the posters.

Art of the Dead features the "Big Five"--Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso, Rick Griffin, and Wes Wilson--but it also includes information about (and work by) ten other artists. It compares the posters to 19th-century Japanese woodblocks and poster art from the Belle Epoque with examples from each.

I've been looking forward to this book's arrival. I wish it had even more discussion, but I've already learned a lot and will continue to scour it. I'm persuaded by its claim that the Dead's iconography was a big part of the band's appeal, and it documents a special form of mutual appreciation between the poster artists and the band, much of it based on the band's evocative name. It also suggests a link, at least in some cases, between the poster art and the light shows that were also emerging from San Francisco's fertile avant-garde arts scene.

Cushway recalls hanging out with Rick Griffin in New York in 1989. Griffin asked if Cushway wanted to check out the Dead show that night in New Jersey. Cushway writes, "I said I would, although I was initially reticent (sic)--it was a hot day, we had no tickets, and from experience I knew what an incredible hassle this could end up being." But he didn't realize whom he was with; they ended up sitting on stage. "Later that day, when Jerry Garcia came to meet us backstage, it dawned on me. In Garcia's eyes, he was a fan and Rick was the star."

Love it.

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