Ken Kelly, the artist behind Kiss’ classic album covers for Destructive and gun of lovewould have died at the age of 76.
Multiple sources have confirmed Kelly’s passing, including his friend Danny Stanton, president and founder of Coallier Entertainment.
Born in Connecticut in 1946, Kelly began his career in the early 70s, working on comic books and horror magazines for Warren Publishing. It was Kiss drummer Peter Criss who put the artist on the band’s radar.
“I always thought it was Gene Simmons, but Criss’ wife said he was the one reading Claim and Claim while Gene and Paul Stanley were reading Marvel comics,” Kelly noted to To print magazine in 2018. “So I would say Peter Criss was basically responsible for me ending up on the cover.”
Kiss hired Kelly to create the artwork for their 1976 album Destructive. He was given a basic concept and asked to produce an image in 30 days. Fortunately, his background in the magazine industry had prepared him for tight deadlines.
“Warren published magazines every two weeks, so the turnaround [for covers] had to be very quick,” he explained. “You had to come up with a concept, paint it, deliver it, then move on to the next one. So when Kiss arrived, I was ready.
Despite her wishes, Kelly’s initial painting was rejected by the band’s label. “They thought it was too violent,” he recalls. “It was 1975, and they didn’t want to start such a big project with such negative coverage. I thought my career was over. It was one of the hardest blows I had ever received.
Instead of ending her career, Kelly was given the chance to rework her paint job. The result would become Destructivethe now legendary work of art.
The popularity of this album cover led many other rockers to enlist Kelly’s services. Rainbow asked Kelly to create the artwork for the 1976s Rising; Kiss brought the artist back to paint the 1977s cover gun of love; Manowar used Kelly for six albums between 1987 and 2007; Coheed and Cambria featured an original Kelly track on their 2007 LP No people for tomorrow; and Kelly reunited with former Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley for his 2014 solo album space invader.
Outside of rock, Kelly remained steadily employed for decades, crafting his distinctive fantasy-inspired imagery for everything from book covers to toy packaging.
“What I want to do is paint things that people like to look at,” the artist explained to The Mercury of Knoxville in 2017. “Any subject – fantasy, non-fantasy, toys, commercial products, whatever it is, I’ll try to make it really beautiful.”
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