For fans of the Grateful Dead, the coveted backstage pass is one of the all-time most sought-after items. More than 160 of these passes, all created by local artist and Wagner College adjunct art professor Antonio Reonegro, will be on display in a new exhibition, “Rose from the Dead,” at the Wagner College Gallery through Saturday, Jan. 5, with a gallery reception on Thursday, Nov. 15 from 6 to 9 p.m. Both the exhibition and the reception are free.
Much of the artwork Reonegro created for the Grateful Dead found its way onto T-shirts and other memorabilia produced from the late 1980s until 1995 — but what he’s best known for is his collection of backstage passes. At one time, backstage passes were fairly utilitarian, displaying nothing more than the venue and date. That began to change thanks to the Dead, which let different artists use them as a canvas upon which to demonstrate their creativity. When Antonio Reonegro, a graduate of New York’s Pratt Institute, was hired to do the artwork, he took that creativity to an entirely new level.
“Talking to people involved with the band, I began to understand that tours were more than a collection of set lists and travel itineraries — they were cohesive experiences,” he recalls. “So I had the idea to turn the backstage passes from each tour into a story, with each show serving as a chapter. But to make the concept work, the ‘chapters’ had to be more than separate entities — they had to all work together around a common theme, like a season, a unique geographical or cultural feature of a particular region, or an adaptation of some theme from popular culture. When you arranged the passes, they’d fit together to form a larger story, like pieces of a puzzle.”
The passes soon became a cult favorite of “Deadheads” everywhere. Now, thanks to some state-of-the-art reproduction techniques, the original pieces have been digitally remastered and restored so that they’re brighter and more vivid than the ones issued two decades ago.
“I love the idea of bringing these back to life,” says Reonegro. “It was such a great thing to be a part of, and it’s always been a dream of mine to share these pieces with a larger audience beyond those who were lucky enough to get the originals.”
You can find several of Antonio Reonegro’s backstage pass designs at the Havoc Media Design website, where he serves as creative director and principal.
The Wagner College Gallery is located in the Union building on the campus of Wagner College, 631 Howard Ave., in the Grymes Hill neighborhood of Staten Island. CLICK HERE for a campus map. TThe gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with extended hours on Thursday until 7 p.m. The gallery is closed on Sunday and Monday, except for specially scheduled events. For more information, call the Wagner College Art Department at 718-390-3192, or email gallery director Bill Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org.