HappyLife! An Exclusive Interview With Renowned Music-Poster Illustrator and Legendary Grateful Dead Artist, Mike DuBois

Second Installment in a Series Honoring Renowned Artists and Illustrators

Second installment in a series honoring renowned artists and illustrators.
WOODSTOCK, NEW YORK – The artworks of Mike DuBois are well known throughout the music-art community and beyond, he is broadly admired and often described as visionary in the artistry of “music/concert” poster art. He applies his unique style as a poster illustrator, painter, fantasy artist, and tie-dyed t-shirt producer and has built a unique brand, having created artworks for such legendary artists as Grateful Dead and the Jerry Garcia Band (of course), Pink Floyd, The Allman Brothers, Santana, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Black Sabbath, Michael Hedges and Hot Tuna, just to name a few.

Article by Joe Milliken * Photos courtesy of Mike DuBois. 1. Mike's portrait by Jennifer May 2. Mike creating an artwork 3. Hanging out with Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead 4. Mike having fun with NBA Hall of Famer, Bill Walton 5. Mike signing Allman Brothers posters.

Originally from Syracuse, New York, Dubois loved to draw from a very young age and by the time he was a teenager, was already designing t-shirts and painting murals. “I was drawing from an early age... my dad would read the Sunday comics to me and then we would draw some of the characters together,” Mike said in an exclusive, Standing Room Only interview. “I continued to read comics and started drawing my own characters.”

Growing up in the 70s DuBois was living at the apex of a music revolution, and the main medium to deliver that music was vinyl records... and with those records came elaborate cover art and designs. “I really wanted to be an album cover artist and designer," Mike said. “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.

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

In 1982 Mike moved to New Paltz, New York, to continue his education at SUNY New Paltz, double-majoring in Sociology and Visual Arts. During his four-year tenure at college, DuBois continued to create music and event-based posters for bands and various school groups. “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 added.

“I began going to Grateful Dead shows and saw that there was a large community that sold their art and other products in the parking lots outside of the shows. I decided to print up a line of notecards and a few shirts and tried selling them at shows. Sales went well, so I decided to turn it into a business while keeping the name HappyLife Productions.

“Then, in 1986 I moved to the San Francisco Bay area in northern California and continued to learn, meet various people and make connections in the art, business and music worlds. 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.”

Then, 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. He also launched DuBois Studios, a separate entity from HappyLife and focused on graphic illustration and poster prints.

DuBois began traveling 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-dye designed t-shirts. This line became popular at Dead shows across the country and the production became a full-time job, and then some.

As the business grew, HappyLife Productions 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. By the mid-90s, HappyLife had developed world distribution and the demand on new designs greatly increased. They started working with other artists and were soon carrying licensed designs from some of the top artists in the industry.

Mike’s artwork 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 and the James Cox Gallery in Woodstock, New York. “I do several exhibition events per year, including Rock Poster Society’s annual event." At a recent exhibition in Boulder, Colorado called PosterScene, Mike’s friend and NBA Hall of Famer, Bill Walton, was a guest at the 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 concluded. “At the time I was doing a lot of work for Phil and the band Further. He had seen my artwork and was working on his autobiography Back From The Dead (a New York Times’ Best Seller), and he 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!

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. “I have a few businesses, so I have to manage time and employees, while still continuing to find time for my art... so most days are spent doing a variety of things, which keeps life interesting! In closing, I say always stay positive and live your dream, or at least try!” To learn more about the wonderful art world of Michael Dubois, please visit his websites at www.mikedubois.net. and https://happylifeproductions.com.