Born near Palos Verdes, Rick Griffin grew up in the surfing culture of southern California, which had a profound influence on his art. After high school, he worked on the staff of Surfer magazine and created the best-known surfing cartoon character of the time, Murphy.
In Los Angeles Griffin met the Jook Savages, a group of artist-musicians, and took part in the writer Ken Kesey’s “Watts Acid Test.” In the fall of 1966, along with the Jook Savages, he went to San Francisco and began to create rock posters. His first was for a Jook Savages art exhibition. Organizers for the “Human Be-In” saw the poster in San Francisco and asked him to do a poster for their event held in January 1967. Chet Helms, a producer for the Family Dog (a collective interested in social issues), also saw Griffin’s work and asked him to design posters for the dance parties at the Avalon Ballroom. In 1967 Berkeley Bonaparte, a poster distribution agency, began employing artists such as Griffin, giving them an opportunity to create and sell posters not specifically made for concerts.
Combining eclectic typefaces and decorative borders with brilliant colors, Griffin’s compositions are complex without being illegible. He introduced diverse, often startling objects into his posters, creating visual-verbal puns and playful references to pop culture.
His later works are powerful and bizarre, concerned with ideas of mortality and continuity. Among his last posters were those produced for the San Francisco-based band the Grateful Dead, which illustrate Griffin’s vivid imagination and graphic skill.
Therese Thau Heyman Posters American Style (New York and Washington, D.C.: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., in association with the National Museum of American Art, 1998)