Psychedelic California surfer style, all stoner-glazed and laidback, would not exist without Rick Griffin. Born in 1944, in Palos Verdes, Griffin was classic Cali from the start. Raised just blocks from the Pacific, amid the burgeoning surf culture of the era, Griffin got on his first board at 14 years old and rode the waves until his untimely death, astride his beloved Harley, at age 47.
In the span of years between, Griffin would emerge as one of the most influential artists of the psychedelic era. He was the warped and imaginative mind behind Grateful Dead album covers, Zap Comix cartoons, and the vivid, geometric poster designs that would grace the walls of the legendary Fillmore Ballroom and later, the shag carpet rec rooms and teenage bedrooms throughout America. He would dream up an aesthetic fantasy that matched the LSD-tinged revolution that was happening all around him – from textured, detailed, liquid font work to flying eyeballs and hearts with hands. It was Griffin who designed the now iconic “Steal Your Face” - the famous skull and lightening bolt symbol for the Dead.
It was Griffin who would put his mark on everything from t-shirts to poster to comic books to surf and skateboards – defining a style for an American subculture, just as he was defining an aesthetic for himself. He was not just an observer of that era’s cultural experimentation, but a participant as well. He tripped as part of Ken Kesey’s famous Acid Tests, he lived in a van on the streets of San Francisco, he designed the poster for the legendary “Be-In”, a celebration of Sixties counter-culture that took place in Golden Gate park during 1967’s “Summer of Love”.
Meanwhile, as his artwork evolved, Griffin would simultaneously develop his personal style as well, establishing a look to match his philosophical aesthetic. He has now become an established icon of Cali-beach chic. Rick Griffin has been oft emulated, but never quite equaled. His art, his life and his style, were uniquely American – a beautifully wrought hybrid of drug and surf and Sixties culture, mixed with an uncommon sensitivity and spirit still vivid in the works he left behind.
Rick Griffin by John Van Hamersveld