This poster is surely one of the most iconic pop culture images of all time. The skeleton, the roses: we all know this Grateful Dead image, but may not know that it belongs to Stanley Mouse, one of the pioneers of rock poster art.
This incredibly famous image was made in 1966 for a show at San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom. It was printed by the Bindweed Press, measuring 19×14 inches. It was offered up for auction by Swann Auction Galleries in New York just this year, on February 13. The estimate was set at $2,000-$3,000.
It all depends on where you look, I suppose. I found another version on Julien’s Auctions in Culver City, California, this one measuring about 49×37, signed by Mouse and numbered 350 of 350—and later numbers, by the way, are usually priced lower. This one sold on one bid for $640. But one sold at New York’s Bonham’s Auctions for a whopping $9,760!
Stanley Mouse was born in Fresno in 1940 as Stanley George Miller, and his name is indelibly linked to the San Francisco scene, where he showed up in 1965. He worked with Alton Kelley, making posters for Bill Graham, as you’d imagine.
Here’s a poster for Jefferson Airplane at the Fillmore Auditorium, apparently part of a ball put on by the Associated Students of San Francisco State College! This shows the influence of Art Nouveau, especially as espoused by Alphonse Mucha, whose work very much informed that of Mouse.
His poster-making was actually fairly short-lived. By 1968, Graham was looking elsewhere for artists. For a while, he ran a waterbed store in Toronto. But in 1971 he got back together with Kelley and began making commercial artwork for two clients especially: the Grateful Dead and Journey. His artwork is apparent on those band’s album covers, as well as Styx’s The Grand Illusion.
Some images command a high price and are valuable enough to be offered up at auction. Others, like this “Busted” poster (and look at the line-up: a benefit for a mime troupe that includes Jefferson Airplane, the Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Moby Grape!), signed by Mouse, a 2nd edition from 1967, is only $125.
The name Mouse rings out, regardless. Perhaps one of the most well-known images of at least several generations—the Zig-Zag man—was used to perfect effect herein the poster for Big Brother and the Holding Company (read, Janis Joplin) at the Avalon Ballroom. One was sold on eBay for nearly $500. there were only 500 made…where are they now?
Today, Mouse lives in Sonoma County. In 1993, he required a liver transplant that prompted the Grateful Dead to have a benefit concert, from which the money raised was actually stolen. The State of California ended up footing the bill. As recently as 2015, a book published about his art, California Dreams: The aRt of Stanley Mouse, appeared from Soft Skull Press.
You can see some of his art at the Mouse Studios website. He even has a Facebook page! That’s where I found this poster for Audioslave, 2005, made all the more poignant by the death of Chris Cornell:
Taking nothing away from Mr. Mouse, the main illustration of the skeleton and roses from the first poster you discussed was not a Mouse creation. Rather it is an illustration by Edmund Dulac from the Fitzgerald translation of the “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam”. I am not certain of the original print date of Dulacs drawings, but I know for a fact I have a hardcover copy from about 1938 which contains this image and many others. I would guess other posters he did at the time also borrowed images as well. Here is an example: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Edmund_J_Sullivan_Illustrations_to_The_Rubaiyat_of_Omar_Khayyam_First_Version_Quatrain-026.jpg
Yes, I found that fact in my research and ultimately decided to leave it out, but I appreciate your finding it and posting the link to the image. It’s easy to see how one can go down the rabbit hole when talking about these posters, and they’d quickly turn into dissertations if I let them. Posters in general, by any number of artists from the 60’s down to today, draw on so many influences it’s difficult to keep up on them, but I’m glad you added this fact to the discussion.