Sunday, May 7, 2017

Repost: Mouse and Kelly and Sullivan and رباعیات عمر خیام

The skull and roses that became the Grateful Dead's enduring trademark has its roots in a 19th century woodcut made to illustrate a poem from the 11th century. "I found the original image in the stacks of the San Francisco Public Library," said painter Stanley "Mouse" Miller. "It was created by an artist named Edmund Sullivan to illustrate a poem in The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The block print underscores the verse, 'The flower that once has blown forever dies.' I thought, 'Here's something that might work for the Grateful Dead.'" Mouse made a name in the '60s as a hot-rod painting sensation (remember Rat Fink?), modifying dragsters and choppers. His work with the Dead continued through many classic albums, including Workingman's Dead and American Beauty.

The first time the famous Skull and Roses image hit the San Francisco hippie scene was on an Avalon Ballroom concert poster advertising the concerts of September 16 & 17, 1966. The artists, Mouse and [Alton] Kelly, were part of the early Haight-Ashbury poster art scene.  They were known to spend their days in the back rooms of the San Francisco library digging through art books to derive inspiration for their new psychedelic poster art. When Mouse saw Edmund J. Sullivan's illustration of the skeleton in the Rubaiyat he said, "This has Grateful Dead all over it. We knew when it was finished that it was really hot because it felt right. It just fit so good with the name. The skeleton that symbolized death and the roses that symbolized rebirth and love. It just said Grateful Dead." 

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Persian: رباعیات عمر خیام) is the title that Edward FitzGerald gave to his translation of a selection of poems, originally written in Persian and of which there are more than a thousand attributed to Omar Khayyám, a Persian poet, mathematician and astronomer. A Persian ruba'i is a two line stanza with two parts (or hemistechs) per line, hence the word "Rubaiyat," meaning "quatrains" (four line stanzas). Omar Khayyam was born in Nishapur, Persia (present-day Iran) in May 1048. In astronomy, he and seven others reformed the calendar. He measured the length of the year to the incredibly accurate 365.24219858156 days. His work on algebra was famous throughout Europe. He died in December 1122 in Nishapur. His work lives on, in books, of course, and on hot chick's arms!

Edmund Joseph Sullivan (1869-1933), usually known as E.J., was a British book illustrator who worked in a style similar to Art Nouveau. Sullivan immersed himself in the emerging field of graphic design and book illustration, which was flourishing at the end of the nineteenth century. He worked at the Daily Graphic from the age of nineteen, moving to Pall Mall Magazine in 1893. He soon graduated to the more prestigious role of book illustrator, producing illustrations for editions of Lavengro and the plays School for Scandal and The Rivals. He also illustrated The Complete Angler and Tom Brown's Schooldays. By the end of the decade Sullivan's designs were in high demand, leading to the publication of his most ambitious work, an illustrated edition of Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus, published in 1898 and the equally painstaking Rubaiyat. And now you know.