Search the Collections

Rick Griffin
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Los Angeles
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
Santa Rosa, Calif.
Famous for his psychedelic posters for San Francisco rock concerts during the 1960s, Rick Griffin also was known for his cartoons for “Surfer” magazine featuring his character Murphy and his religious art after becoming a born-again Christian. Richard Alden Griffin was born in Los Angeles in 1944; his father was an aircraft engineer and amateur artist. The family lived in various locations in Southern California and settled in Palos Verdes in 1958, where Griffin attended public schools. A talented, self-taught draftsman, Griffin began contributing cartoons for “Surfer” while in high school and went to work for the magazine after his graduation, creating illustrations and cartoons, many featuring “Murphy.” While hitchhiking to San Francisco in 1963 Griffin was hurt in an automobile accident, receiving serious injuries to his face and left eye. The following year he was back at work for “Surfer.” He had taken art courses at the Los Angeles Harbor Community College, and then studied at the Chouinard Art Institute (now the California Institute of the Arts) in Valencia, where he met his future wife Ida Pfefferle, a fellow student. He began playing music with a group of artist-musicians who called themselves the Jook Savages. In 1965 Griffin left school, spent time camping in the Sierra Nevada and then went to San Blas, Mexico, on the Pacific coast, where Ida joined him with their first child in 1966. Later that year they moved to San Francisco, where Griffin rejoined the Jook Savages and created his first poster in San Francisco (the “Jook Savage Art Show”) for a concert and art show featuring that band. That poster led to his commission to create the poster “Pow-Wow: A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-in,” the famous “love-in” of January 14, 1967 in Golden Gate Park featuring counter-culture speakers (including Allen Ginsberg [1926-1997] and Timothy Leary [1920-1996]) and music by several bands including The Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane. Griffin was then hired by the concert promoter Chet Helms (1942-2005) of the collective The Family Dog to design posters for the concerts held at the Avalon Ballroom. In July, 1967 Griffin’s work was featured in an exhibition at the Moore Gallery in San Francisco along with the posters of Stanley Mouse (b. 1940), Alton Kelley (1940-2008), Victor Moscoso (b. 1936) and Wes Wilson (b. 1937), who became known as “The Big Five” of rock poster art; each of the artists designed a poster for the show. Four of the Big Five (excluding Kelley) and Peter Max (b. 1937) were featured in an article in “Life Magazine” in September. Griffin designed covers and illustrations for the “Oracle,” an underground newspaper, and designed the masthead for “Rolling Stone” magazine. He also created posters for the Berkeley publisher “Berkeley Bonaparte.” During 1967 alone Griffin designed some twenty-five posters. The following year he began to receive commissions from Bill Graham (1931-1991), who promoted rock concerts in the Fillmore Auditorium and also began to contribute to “Zap Comix.” Some of Griffin’s best known posters were done for The Grateful Dead in 1969. Later that year he moved to San Clemente in Southern California with his family and resumed work for “Surfer” magazine, again featuring Murph the Surf. Griffin’s comic book “Man from Utopia” was published in 1970, the year of his religious conversion. The art gallery at Long Beach State College put on a solo show of Griffin’s work in 1972. Over the next few years he designed T-shirts, founded a poster company, designed posters, album covers and promotional material for The Grateful Dead and other musicians and created the art for a comic book, “Tales from the Tube.” A retrospective exhibition of his art was organized in London in 1976. The following year the religious music publisher Maranatha! Music commissioned Griffin to illustrate the Gospel of John, which he completed in 1979, while in the meantime creating paintings and posters for the Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Calif. Chapman College’s Guggenheim Gallery mounted an exhibition of Griffin’s work in 1980. During the 1980s Griffin created a variety of religious art for Maranatha! Music, its affiliated Ministry Resource Center and Christian musical groups while continuing to work for rock musicians and Zap Comix. He created a poster for the Grateful Dead as recently as 1990 for their concert in Frankfurt, Germany. (Gruskin/King 205.1). In 1987 a fire destroyed his apartment in Santa Ana and Griffin and his wife separated. The following year he moved to Northern California and was living in Petaluma when he died from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident in 1991. (TNB 11/2015) Selected bibliography: Grushkin, Paul. The Art of Rock: Posters from Presley to Punk. New York: Abbeville Press, 1987. Grushkin, Paul and Dennis King. The Art of Modern Rock: The Poster Explosion. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2004. Harvey, Doug. Heart and Torch: Rick Griffin’s Transcendence. Exhibition catalog, with contributions by Greg Escalante, Jacaeber Kastor, Chuck Fromm, Chaz Bojórquez and Gordon McClelland. Laguna Beach: Laguna Art Museum, 2007. McClelland, Gordon. Rick Griffin. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1980.