The artist who created the look and feel of the psychedelic era is still at work in a naturally illuminated studio in Sebastopol.
While living in the Haight Ashbury during the mid- to late 1960s, Stanley Mouse designed album art for the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, and later for Journey and Steve Miller (the famous winged horse), but his work transcended music packaging.
When people conjure images of the 1960s, they probably think of Mouse’s work, often with his graphics partner, Alton Kelley.
There’s the legendary skull and roses poster created for a Dead concert at the Avalon ballroom and later used for an album cover, and the instantly recognizable Zig-Zag man advertising a concert for Big Brother & the Holding Company.
The bespectacled Mouse, 74, appears shy and speaks quietly with a wry wit. He wasn’t eager to be interviewed but consented with one condition: that the location of his studio isn’t revealed. He had public sales years ago when he lived and worked in Sonoma, but now sells his prints solely online.
“It’s so peaceful here,” Mouse says from his “Mouseum.” On a table is an advance copy of his new book, “California Dreams: The Art of Stanley Mouse,” a collection of art from the hot rods he painted in the ’50s to fine art portraits he has done in recent years. It’s published by Soft Skull Press, due out June 2.
In the book, rock posters and album art are featured alongside paintings of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. There are even a few hot rods in there.
“I always tried to keep those things (graphics and fine art) separate, because I thought one polluted the other,” Mouse says. But at a show he had in Marin, he realized people “responded strongly” when seeing different types of his work side by side.
Leaning against a wall in Mouse’s studio is a large print of a painting he created to celebrate the Dead’s 50th anniversary.
“It’s not sanctioned; I just did it,” Mouse says. The Dead today “get artists who will sign their copyright away, so they don’t hire me.”
The poster features a skeleton wrapped in roses lifting a glass of bubbly to the heavens. There’s a big wave behind the skeleton.
Mouse steps back and says, “Everybody seems to be cashing in on the 50th anniversary. Everybody’s got some sort of angle on it.”
The milestone has led to an upsurge in interest in the band and everything that revolves around it. Mouse says business is “off the hook right now. I have too much work; I was supposed to be retired by now.”
Though some members of the Grateful Dead didn’t like the band’s name, Mouse, as an artist, has always been thrilled by it. “I really like the name,” he says, because of its link to Egyptian mythology and because it conjures visions of skulls.
Will he go to the Dead’s farewell shows in Santa Clara next month?
“Probably not,” he says. “I have a hard enough time going to the Hopmonk (a Sebastopol music venue and brewpub). And usually when I’m at the Hopmonk, I wish I was home playing my guitar.”
The reclusive Mouse, whose given name is Stanley Miller, plays in a band called the Bad Assets, he says. “I’m the only member.”