I'm Curious: Kelley / Mouse Studios

I'm Curious: Kelley / Mouse Studios


by amanda dixon
published march 8, 2017

The Kelley/ Mouse Studios were made up of two artists that combined their talents, mostly during the 1960s for hot rods, rock album covers, t-shirts, and rock posters. They were considered two of the only educated people of this era that created rock psychedelic art, but that is not the only reason why their names go down in history.

Stanley Mouse was originally born in Fresno, California, and then he moved to Detroit, Michigan, where his father worked as an artist for Disney, and he worked as a freelancer at a very early age. Stanley actually got his nickname, Mouse, from his seventh grade peers when they noticed how quiet he was during class, and how his drawings just never stopped. Soon enough, everyone in town knew who Stanley Mouse was because he designed practically every hot rod in town as a high school student. Sometimes he would design the hoods of cars just for a six pack of beer. Eventually, Stanley Mouse was kicked out of high school for tagging his school’s hangout spot, and he moved on to Detroit’s School for the Society of Arts and Crafts, where he received his formal training for a good amount of time. Yet Stanley decided to drop out to follow a higher calling in San Francisco. Stanley Mouse moved to do rock posters in San Francisco during the sixties wartime era of social revolution, political passion and musical innovation. He saw a great deal of inspiration and innovation there, and soon enough he made that innovation with the help of Alton Kelley.

Alton Kelley was born in Houlton, Maine, and then he moved to Connecticut, where his parents sought work in defense plants during World War II. His mother, who used to be a school teacher, encouraged Alton Kelley to pursue art, so he attended art schools in Philadelphia and New York. This was when Alton Kelley realized that he truly just had a passion for hot rods and racing motorcycles, so he continued on to apply his artistic training to creating pinstripes on motorcycle gas tanks. After working as a welder at a helicopter plant in Connecticut, Alton Kelley decided to move to San Francisco in 1964. Here is where he found the opportunity in Nevada to set up electric-folk rock concerts in the Red Dog Saloon, and eventually, returned to San Francisco where he became a founding member of the Family Dog, a loose confederation of artists, poets, musicians and other free spirits who put on the some of the earliest psychedelic dance concerts, first at the Longshoremen’s Hall and later at the Avalon Ballroom. Alton Kelley was then in charge of promoting the concerts with flyers, and posters until his drafting ability became weak, and he teamed up with Stanley Mouse.

Thus, the Kelley/ Mouse Studios was born without either one of them knowing exactly what was going on, but they just went to the public library constantly for inspiration. “Stanley and I had no idea what we were doing,” Mr. Kelley told The San Francisco Chronicle in 2007. “But we went ahead and looked at American Indian stuff, Chinese stuff, Art Nouveau, Art Déco, Modern, Bauhaus, whatever.” They just sought inspiration from wherever they could grab it, although most of their art was done with a heavier Art Nouveau and Pop Art influence. After getting some success from various album cover designs for Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Butterfield Blues Band and Moby Grape, as well as the Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jimi Hendrix, and Country Joe and the Fish. With some time, Kelley was able to get his drawing skills back, and the two really fused their work together. This really is what made these two artists become innovators. Soon enough their asking price for a poster design was $5,000, and many musicians were willing to pay. The Grateful Dead drummer, Mickey Hart, confirmed this when he said, “Kelley had the unique ability to translate the music being played into these amazing images that captured the spirit of who we were and what the music was all about. He was a visual alchemist — skulls and roses, skeletons in full flight, cryptic alphabets, nothing was too strange for his imagination to conjure.” So with the combination of Kelley’s abilities to translate music to a drawing, and Mouse’s abilities to draw everything to that psychedelic perfection, they made history.

Current Significance and Application

Kelley/ Mouse Studios was such an inspiration from a wartime era of social revolution, political passion and musical innovation, to the current day. Much of their work is still hung up in museums today. Personally, I saw the famous Grateful Dead skeleton-rose poster in Denver, Colorado just two years ago, and it was so profound, and so inspirational to my own work. The Art Nouveau style is reemerging to popularity in the western world, and because of that, many artists are grabbing inspiration from pieces, such as these, to do  their own artwork. One artist in particular, who has been doing album covers for artists such as Zella Day, is Harley and J. There is just a simple need for reemerging, reimagined psychedelic, art nouveau, pop art, but that could not have been fulfilled without the creative genius of Kelley or Mouse. In addition to their influence to today’s designers, Kelley/ Mouse Studios is still alive and well today, even past both of their deaths. They continue to sell designs that each artist has made, and it is profound that they have a legacy like this to make money even after death. In addition to that, Mouse actually continued making art for many years post the psychedelic age. This was when we saw his work become more realistic and refined. His figurative pieces, such as Peacock Feather made in 2013, was so abnormal to his old style, but Stanley Mouse saw it as a great feat. He said he always wanted to paint in the way that he would see in museums, and after years of practice, he was able to accomplish just that. So as you can see, Mouse and Kelley had such a profound existence that really rocked the art and advertising world. Their collaboration for over 15 years really did change the course of advertising art forever.

CLICK HERE for an interview with Kelley/ Mouse Studios.

Works Cited:

“Biography.” Biography | MouseStudios. Mouse Studios, n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.

Gleaves, Jeffery. “California Dreamin’.” The Paris Review. N.p., 07 July 2015. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.

Grimes, William. “Alton Kelley, 67, Artist of the 1960s Rock Counterculture, Dies.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 03 June 2008. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.