Like so many comic artists, Rick Griffin showed his talent as a youngster. He attended the Los Angeles Chouinard Art Institute where an instructor told him: ''You cannot make art with a Rapidograph!'' His singular drawing style developed - still using the Rapidograph - with practical experience on publications such as Surfer Magazine, Car Toon Magazine, Hot Rod Cartoons and artwork for 'Big Daddy' Roth.
Settling in San Francisco in 1966, Rick Griffin's style reached maturity in the richly colored psychedelic dance posters he designed for Bill Graham's Fillmore and Chet Helm's Family Dog rock concerts. The famous 'Flying Eyeball' poster (Bill Graham #105) ranks as the most treasured of all his posters collected by fans and modern art museums alike. Rick drew comics for 'Zap', 'Snatch', 'Tales from the Tube' and the unforgettable designs for several Grateful Dead album covers. In August 1991, Rick was killed when a van he was passing while riding his motorcycle made a sudden left turn, driving him and his bike to the pavement.
Rick continued as official Surfer staff cartoonist until 1964 when his creative well began to suck sand. He took a leave of absence to clear his head. He was hitchhiking north to San Francisco to catch a freighter to Australia when the car he was in crashed outside of King City, flipped, dislocating an eye and nearly killing Griffin. The accident left facial scars that profoundly altered Rick's classic surfer good looks, his perception of himself, and finally, his art. After his recovery Rick grew a beard, wore an eyepatch and began to cultivate a darker, svengali-like look. Things changed.
On his return to Surfer, Murphy was indefinitely furloughed while Griffin himself, in cartoon persona, took centerstage with the escapades of the Griffin-Stoner adventures. In these preposterous surfaris, written by then-editor Pat McNulty, Rick Griffin and legendary surf-photographer Ron Stoner traveled the globe looking for waves, but invariably got sidetracked into outrageous capers at the local fleshpots. Invariably, the duo left behind a long trail of incensed authorities, ruinous expenses and wistful local girls.
But Rick's art had changed radically too. It became more sophisticated and worldly—dense, ornate imagery surrounded by loads of filigree and flowery mandalas. The lettering also took off in unexpected trajectories compressing, expanding, distorting and growing so intricate as to be almost illegible at times. And the new strips made sly references to Rick's newfound San Francisco influences The ZigZag man, hookahs, hippies, be-ins, music, bands, drugs a move that displeased many of Surfer's conservative advertisers. Over the course of a year the face of surfing began a subtle change from the clean-cut Jantzen boys into shaggy underground wave mystics.
Around this time he also began to play music with a proto-art band called the Jook Savages, a group of artists-musicians Rick had met in 1964 while attending Chouinard Art Institute (now Cal Arts). They made a trip to San Francisco to play in 1966 at the Psychedelic Shop, and although the band disbanded soonafter, the poster announcing their arrival was cosmic enough to attract attention to Rick. The next summer he was commissioned to produce a poster for a landmark non-event: the 1967 Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park. Rick's poster heralded the burgeoning counterculture that would soon engulf the world.
The tribes of surfing and the heads meshed easily from the start. The counterculture readily embraced surfers because surfing at its core is an earth ritual with an outlaw soul. Surfers didn't have to validate themselves to the enlightened they were already accepted by their nomadic outsider status.
''Rick, like the rest of us, was on a mission to turn on the world,'' says Jerry Garcia. ''It was like, 'if you like that, you're gonna love this!' I dug Rick's stuff because it related so well to my own psychedelic experiences. Everything he ever submitted after to us always nailed it boom! like it grew out of the center of the earth.''
After the success of the Be-In poster he did a series of now-classic concert posters commissioned by rock promoters Chet Helms of the Family Dog and Bill Graham of Fillmore fame. It was here that his fascination with heraldry the use of strong central images evoking war, regeneration and warning came into full bloom. His art went ballistic as mind-blowing renditions of skulls, eyeballs, Hopi masks, wings, snakes, beetles, embryos, wombs, flames and waves exploded across the canvas. Rick, along with other San Francisco ''head artists''Alton Kelly, Stanley Mouse, Victor Moscoso and Wes Wilson were collectively known as ''The Big Five'' of psychedelia.