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Published: 2013/01/05
by Brian Robbins

Philip Cushway Discusses The Art Of The Dead

Big and beautiful, Art Of The Dead (Soft Skull Press) is not just another coffee table book for Deadheads. It truly is – as the subtitle reads – “A Celebration Of The Artists Behind The American Rock Poster Movement”, compiled by longtime poster collector (and printer) Philip Cushway.

Though he is no longer an art dealer himself (his ArtRock company was once the source for rock poster art) Cushway’s passion for the genre is just as strong, rivaled only by his admiration for the creators of said art – the printers as well as the artists themselves. Acknowledging the Grateful Dead as a source of inspiration for some of the best posters ever produced, Cushway has put together a collection where the artists are the true stars.

Yes, fans of the Dead are going to love this book – but so will anyone with an appreciation for bold, imaginative art and the process of creating it.

BR: I’m sure you’ve heard this many times already, Philip, but I have to tell you right off the bat that this is a beautiful book – not just the art, but the information as well. Folks can literally spend years exploring it.

PC: Well, thank you – that’s how it was meant to be. I wanted to do a book on the art of the Dead – not of the Dead, but of the art and the artists. I wanted to use quotes and writing that would all be relevant – that would say something and not just be “Oh, here’s another pretty picture …” I think there have been over 500 books done on the Grateful Dead; I wanted to do something different.

Oh, exactly – and it all ties together so well. Can you tell me when you were first captured by poster art?

I’m 60 years old now … probably in my early 30s – around 1985. I read an article in a copy of Relix magazine about a book that was going to be coming out called the Art Of Rock. I thought, “That sounds interesting” … and it ended up changing my life.

I flew out to San Francisco to meet with the book’s author, Paul Grushkin. While I was there, I bought posters from artists like Ben Friedman and John Burns … I simply fell in love with the posters.

Ah – yet another life changed by Relix. And up to that point, you’d been …?

Bouncing around, trying to find what it was I wanted to do. I was promoting, but I really didn’t have a good venue … I was just trying to figure it all out.

This probably isn’t a fair question to ask – but I will. Did you have some early favorites as far as pieces that really got ahold of you back then?

Early favorites? Probably … errr … wow. I’ve never thought about that. (laughter)

Fair enough – I’ll let that simmer. I loved the story you tell in the beginning of the book about poster artist Rick Griffin taking you to see Dylan and the Dead in 1989. The way you two were treated – right down to meeting Jerry Garcia backstage – made you realize that in Jerry’s eyes, he was the fan and Rick was the star.

Well, one thing about Grateful Dead fans is that they know who Griffin is; they know who Stanley Mouse is; they know who Alton Kelley is. They’ve always respected the art and loved the artists.

I think that came from the band themselves, don’t you? They always made it known who their influences were – the musicians; the artists; the thinkers who inspired them, inspired the music and inspired the scene.

That’s right.

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