SENSE AND COLOR:

ARTISAN STORIES FROM OUR GRATEFUL DEAD COMMUNITY

By Trina Calderón

Inside Owen Murphy’s Psychedelic Poster Art

Photograph Bolt Of Lightning

Raised in Ocean City, New Jersey, Owen Murphy was a beach kid with an early inclination toward psychedelic art. Perhaps it was the surf illustrations he enjoyed and the art his father would make around the house; the magical aesthetic permeated his vision and foreshadowed his future. He remembers, “In the house, we had a Greg Irons piece from the Fillmore, it was a Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young poster. That was the one with the two ladies intertwined with a guitar and they are kissing. I think that show never happened. I think Janis Joplin actually ended up taking that bill, and it got canceled. There was another one that Jim Blashfield did with The Doors and Procol Harum. I didn’t really get those until I got them, but they were always there. It was like, you know, just subliminal.”

Owen’s parents listened to the Grateful Dead, and he followed with proper guidance. “The albums that my dad had were American Beauty and Working Man’s Dead. My dad would paint Jerry Garcia statues that he would sell to people, out of fence posts and stuff. It was always there. American Beauty, that was the biggest one that I cut my teeth on but then parallel with that was Jimi Hendrix, the Allman Brothers, Tom Petty, from there Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones. My mom would listen to Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen,” Owen shared.

In high school art class, he made his own posters, dreaming up designs and learning technique. Chasing graphic design through college, he started doing flyers and mix tape covers for parties and local hip hop artists.  “Just whatever I could do, because to be a professional, you have to get paid at what you are doing, right? That was my mindset,” Owen recalled. Studying the work of Rick Griffin, R. Crumb, Vaughn Bodé, Wes Wilson, Victor Moscoso, and Alton Kelly, he developed a visual language and thirst for illustration. “I did it because I liked it, it was kind of natural and I got positive reinforcement from that,” Owen shared.

His first professional poster was for Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, opening for the Prince of Joy Time at the 8 x 10, in 2011. His first paid poster was for Twiddle a couple years later. “Twiddle was opening for Pigeons during Pigeons’ residency at the 8 x 10 in  the summer of 2013. Jeremy and I have become very good friends, he’s the guitar player for Pigeons. I have become friends with the other musicians as well, so it all really snowballed. Baltimore has a very big city small town community and the 8 x 10 is a very tight knit community. Other bands are like ‘hey, can you do this,’ I’m like absolutely. Twiddle is the first band that actually paid me. It felt like I was like chasing something, just marking stuff off like the bucket list,” he shared.

Mastering his psychedelic palate with insightful colors and imaginative ideas, Owen tells a band’s story using a well of images, textures, and symbols to set a mood. He accesses the possibility and nostalgia of the concert event, and makes you want to take the art home to hang on your wall. Inclined to feature eyes in his designs, Owen explores a transcendent vision in his imagery, appealing to the mind of his audience. He shared, “Eyes are the window to the soul, and I am basically pouring my soul out into art.”

Working with Billy Strings, Owen has made extraordinary posters. His exceptional art for the 2022 winter Dublin show starts with Celtic braid borders that frame a cosmicanthropomorphic tower engaged with a third eye connecting to a puzzle piece of its own brick heart. The brilliant spacey art was powerful enough to lure Owen out to Ireland for a homecoming of his own. “Me and my wife flew into Dublin and then drove around the country for a week before going back to the show. The whole inspiration [for the poster] was at the beginning of the year. I was learning about some of my ancestry, and it was just something I was curious about. I knew I was going to see things, but there some wild cards. It was surprising and fun … My grandmother died a week after Billy Strings announced the show and I was like, now we are going. It was a whole pilgrimage, getting up into that culture. I spread her ashes over the Kerry cliffs which was cool.” Owen related.

For Skull & Roses, Owen is designing the Earth Day poster for the Saturday, April 22nd show.

Owen Murphy / One Drop Design Studio

Photograph Bolt Of Lightning

Trina Calderón is an LA-based writer, proud to be a part of the sunshine daydream of the Grateful Dead.