"Dead Artist" Richard Biffle Enjoys the Renewed Popularity of the Grateful Dead’s Signature Skeleton Look
"I never really made a conscious start, creating art is what I always did."
Wait long enough and everything comes back in style. And while renowned “Dead Artist” Richard Biffle enjoys the renewed popularity of the Grateful Dead’s signature skeleton look, it isn’t an ebb and flow trend to simply jump on for him. In fact he’s lived it, and been a huge part of its place in history because of it.
Now, close to 30 years after flipping poster art in parking lots to fund his travels, Biffle continues to create even outside of what made him popular working with artists like The Black Crowes, Santana and Widespread Panic. Sometimes we live no particular way but our own.
Tell us a bit about how you got started.
I never really made a conscious start, creating art is what I always did. Eventually it jus’ was. In the early ‘90s I started selling my fantasy art as door posters on the Grateful Dead Lot to fund going show to show on tour / season to season. I guess you could say my art made it into the right hands because It didn’t take long for the band’s merchandise people to come looking for me to ask if I would be interested in creating art for the Grateful Dead.
What are some of the main differences between now and 20 years ago?
Computers were not as modernized 20 years ago — mostly traditional and original art was how artists worked the drawing board and easels for that time. I know it’s hard to believe, but back then I had to ship and mail original paintings to the bands to be submitted and approved for production. There wasn’t an instant transfer of files and artwork via email like there is now.
If you could go back and tell your younger self one thing what would it be?
Fuck computers as a modern tool for creating artwork and stick to traditional styles and techniques of creating original works of art instead. A lot of my art in digital files thru the years became lost, corrupt and stuck on computers that completely took a shit. Work and time I will never get back … Original art has a much better chance of not vanishing into the thin air. However, be sure to invest and buy stocks in Apple.
The Dead was obviously a massive influence in your style. How come?
My skeleton portrait paintings very much embody the family and inspiration I found in the influence of the Grateful Dead. The openness to the skeleton portraits vs. portrait paintings of random people with flesh is — if you ‘Steal Their Face’ The Skeleton paintings can be whomever you chose ... They can be you, they can be me, your brother, your father, a dear friend, Jerry Garcia, or even Robert Hunter. It’s all in the eye of the beholder. I dig the limitlessness to the skeletons and the timelessness to all the songs and lyrics of the Grateful Dead.
What do you think about the resurgence of ‘Dead Art’ taking off now in both art and fashion?
It’s great to see its influence still evolving for the times. The interest in it! All of it is GRATE!
John Mayer: was he a good fit to bring into the band?
Mayer was a good fit for now. But I look at it as ‘Dead & Company.’ It’s the Dead, Mayer is the Company. Company never stays! What’s next? Either way it’s the timeless songs and lyrics that will undoubtedly continue to change lives.
You know, Vintage shirts with your artwork on them are selling for hundreds of dollars ...
Awesome! I have a big ol’ tub of them in storage!
As a music fan, what do you think about the current state of the industry?
Everchanging. I feel if I took the time to answer this question thoroughly your readers will think to themselves ... ‘Okay Boomer!’
What other artists do you listen to while creating or chilling out?
When I work in the studio 7 days a week 10 hours a day I listen to all types of musical genres or get burnt out fast. I like to paint to jazz. Some artists off the top of my head: Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker. When chilling out I listen to a mix of music depending on the mood: classic rock & roll, blues, funk, folk, bluegrass — Jethro Tull, Rush, The Beatles, Grisman/Garcia, Jimbo Mathus & The Squirrel Nut Zippers to name a few.
Where do you see yourself in 5, 10 ... 15 years?
Man let's see... the big 15 year plan huh? Tomorrow I will be painting. In 5 years, still painting a lot. Ten years, painting a lot and hopefully better. Fifteen years, painting a lot better on a warm sandy beach smoking a big fat joint.