Stanley Mouse

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Both independently and in tandem with longtime collaborator Alton Kelley, artist Stanley Mouse created some of the most distinctive and enduring images in rock music, his sophisticated yet irreverent…
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Both independently and in tandem with longtime collaborator Alton Kelley, artist Stanley Mouse created some of the most distinctive and enduring images in rock music, his sophisticated yet irreverent nouveau style adorning countless album covers and concert posters. Born Stanley Miller in Detroit, he earned the nickname "Mouse" while in grammar school in honor of the endless rodent sketches scattered throughout his notebooks. As a teen he turned to graffiti art, a hobby that led to his expulsion from high school; at that point he enrolled in Detroit's School for the Society of Arts and Crafts, but finding classes in life drawing and painting to be a bore, he instead discovered an outlet for his creative energies in the airbrush.

Soon countless cars, motorcycles, and hot rods boasted Mouse originals, and he became an expert in the art of pinstriping, flaming, and lettering. He eventually turned to airbrushing T-shirt designs, resulting in a thriving mail-order enterprise; finding Detroit increasingly stifling, however, in 1965 Mouse drove to San Francisco, where he befriended kindred spirit Kelley, a fellow artist as well as a founding member of the Family Dog, the collective responsible for a series of highly successful dances at the Avalon Ballroom and Longshoreman's Hall. After a brief return trip to Detroit to avoid the military draft, he came back to San Francisco just in time to attend 1966's legendary Trips Festival; its psychedelic promotional poster, created by Wes Wilson, was the inspiration for Mouse to soon begin making his own posters as well.

After combing the local libraries in search of art books and magazines, Mouse and Kelley set to work on their earliest collaborations, inspired not only by contemporary commercial and pop graphic designs but also the nostalgic images of America's past; while Kelley selected the photos and assembled the collages, Mouse handled lettering duties and other technical details, the end result capturing the spontaneity and wit of both artists. Between 1966 and 1968, he created 33 posters for the Family Dog's dances at the Avalon, some of them solo outings and the rest collaborations with Kelley; in late 1967, Mouse was also commissioned to produce the first of his many posters for impresario Bill Graham's venue the Fillmore West.

Mouse's work for Graham was typified by a new stylistic diversity, with his posters drawing on inspirations ranging from art deco design to British tavern signs; a poster for Cream was so well received by the bandmembers themselves that Eric Clapton even invited the artist to London to "flame" his Rolls Royce. Many of Mouse's most memorable pieces were created for the Grateful Dead -- he and Kelley inaugurated the "Skull and Roses" emblem used by the group for years to follow, additionally designing a number of album covers, including a Grammy-winning piece for the Steve Miller Band. Working out of his Mouse Studios in Sonoma County, he produced commercial work in a variety of media, and in late 1992 compiled his greatest work into the book Freehand: The Art of Stanley Mouse.