Happy Life! An Interview With Renowned Music-Art Illustrator Mike DuBois

Happy Life! An Interview With Renowned Music-Art Illustrator Mike DuBois

WOODSTOCK, NEW YORK – Often described as a visionary in the artistry of “music and concert posters,” the vast artworks of Mike DuBois are widely known throughout the music-art community and beyond.

As a poster illustrator, painter, fantasy artist and tie-dyed t-shirt producer, Mike has created an unmistakable style and built a unique brand, having created artworks for such legendary artists as the Grateful Dead and the Jerry Garcia Band (of course), Pink Floyd, The Allman Brothers, Santana, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Levon Helm, Michael Hedges, Hot Tuna and the estate of Jimi Hendrix, to only name a few.

Dubois remembers always loving to draw. By the time he was a teenager, was designing t-shirts and painting murals for the Syracuse Art Squad around his hometown of Syracuse, New York. “I was drawing from an early age … I remember my dad reading the Sunday comics to me and then we would draw some of the characters together,” Mike stated in a recent Rock Cellar interview. “I continued to read comics and eventually started drawing my own characters.”

DuBois grew up in the ’70s and while living at the apex of a music revolution, the main artistic medium to deliver that music was vinyl records … and with those records came the artistic vehicle of elaborate album cover art and designs. “In high school I was playing in mostly punk and new wave bands, and I was also involved in the central New York music scene where I grew up,” Mike said. “But I also really wanted to become an album cover artist and designer.

“My ambition at that time was to continue writing songs and see where things went as far as being involved in a band, but I also continued creating art throughout the music scene, making posters for my group and other bands as well. Occasionally, one of my designs would actually end up on a band t-shirt.”

Mike moved to New Paltz, New York in 1982, continuing his education at SUNY New Paltz, double-majoring in Sociology and Visual Arts, while concentrating on metal-smith work, jewelry design, and his mural painting. Throughout his four-year college experience, DuBois continued to create music, while also expanding his artistic presence through event-based posters for various bands, political causes and campus groups.

Amongst the atmosphere of this politically and environmentally-conscious campus, Mike and college friend and fellow art major Marshall Jett launched HappyLife Productions. The duo started designing and printing a series of environmental, political, and concert posters. “For fun we started a small graphics company called HappyLife Productions and focused on political and anti-nukes posters, which was a big issue at the time,” Mike continued.

“I started going to Grateful Dead shows and saw that there was a large community of people that sold their art and other products in the parking lots outside of the shows. I decided to print up a line of notecards featuring my original artwork and some shirts and started selling them at shows. Sales went very well, so I decided to turn the endeavor into a business while keeping the original name HappyLife Productions.”

Eager to learn the business and create a network in the vast and creative fields of music and art, DuBois decided to move to San Francisco, where he began building a name for himself by designing concert posters for Bay Area bands and music festivals. “I moved to the San Francisco Bay area in 1986 and continued to learn, meet various people and make connections in the art, business and music industries. Through networking, mutual friends, and a lot of leg-work and persistence, I met some key players in the art/rock world.”

In 1987, DuBois decided to move back to the New York area where he grew up, settling in Woodstock. “I like the low-key life of the Catskill Mountains and the artistic environment and cultural opportunities of Woodstock. I also liked being close to New York City, which is only about two hours south, where I could work and sell my products. I would also do my first official design for the Grateful Dead, and HappyLife Productions started producing concerts and shows throughout the late 80s.”

Mike first printed what would become his popular “sunface design,” and when he brought a few dozen t-shirts to a Grateful Dead show and sold them all within an hour, he printed more and continued selling them throughout the east village in New York City. During this time Mike also launched DuBois Studio, a separate entity from HappyLife and focusing on his unique illustrations, graphic, concert promotion and special event products, poster prints, and the “merchandising concepts to finished products.”

Mike (left) and Phil Lesh (right)

DuBois began travelling throughout the country, establishing store accounts and getting orders for his artwork and designs. He continued to expand his business to include a series of tie-die designed t-shirts. This line became popular at Dead shows across the country and the production became a full-time job, and then some.

In 1992, Mike met his future wife, a fellow artist, who helped take HappyLife Productions to the next level, as Mike started hiring sales representatives, participating in trade shows, and expanding the product line to reflect a customer base growing beyond just the Grateful Dead fan base. Today, HappyLife Productions is a multi-faceted company that creates a distributes lines as posters, t-shirts, children’s clothing, greeting cards, window stickers, limited edition prints and reproductions of Mike’s original paintings.

By the mid-90s, HappyLife had developed world distribution and the demand on new designs greatly increased. They also started collaborating with and carrying the licensed designs of some of the top artists in the industry such as Richard Biffle, Phil Brown, Marko Shuhan and Mikio. Mike’s popular artworks, illustrations and poster creations have also been exhibited in galleries across the country, including the Art Rock Gallery in San Francisco, the Bess Cutler Gallery in New York City, the James Cox Gallery in Woodstock, New York, and The Rock Poster Society (TRPS).

Some of the many events Mike has created art and merchandise for include the Lockn’ Festival, Jam Cruise, Gathering of The Vibes, Mountain Jam, Nateva Music & Arts Fest, and the Tampa Bay Blues Festival. He has also created custom “tour art” for such artists and bands as Robert Plant, The Allman Brothers Band, Dead & Company, Ian Hunter, Ryan Adams, Nils Lofgren, and Yo La Tengo.

“I have done several gallery showings across the country over the years, but I don’t do them on a regular basis. I also do several poster-shows throughout the year, having just finished one in Boulder called ‘PosterScene,’ and in October, will be attending the Rock Society Poster show at the Hall of Flowers in San Francisco.” Mike’s friend and basketball Hall of Famer, Bill Walton, was a guest at the Boulder show. Walton is also a celebrated Grateful Dead fan.

“I met Bill at Phil Lesh’s 70th birthday party in San Francisco a few years ago,” DuBois added. “I was doing a lot of work for Phil at the time, and the band Furthur. Bill had seen my artwork and was working on his autobiography Back From The Dead, (a New York Times’ Best Seller) and hired me to do the cover art and all the graphics. I continue to work with Bill on a variety of his projects, and he is an all-around great guy and a joy to work with!”

Some of DuBois’ current projects include concert posters for Dead & Company, including the aforementioned Lockn’ Festival and January shows in Mexico, and upcoming fall tours for Slightly Stoopid, and Bob Weir and The Wolf Brothers. Mike is also currently working on several of his sought-after, limited-edition screen prints of his latest artworks. Having to run multiple successful businesses, one wonders how Mike can possibly find the time to actually do what he does best, and that’s creating art.

“Because I have a few businesses to operate, it is a challenge to manage time and employees, while still continuing to do my art … so most days are spent doing a variety of things, which keeps life interesting!”

To learn more about the wonderful art world of Michael Dubois, please visit his websites at www.mikedubois.net. and https://happylifeproductions.com.

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