Rick Griffin is one of the kings of concert posters – a driving force behind rock music art of the psychedelic period. His surrealistic posters with rich colors and freeform lettering that seemed to flow of its own accord became a staple of the ’60s music scene.

Griffin grew up in Los Angeles, where he loved art and surfing. His first job was creating art for fellow surfer Randy Nauert’s band, then illustrations for surf shops. He had a regular job at Surfer Magazine, while also creating record covers for surf music singers and groups like The Challengers and Dick Dale.

In 1966 he relocated to San Francisco and created his first rock poster for the Jook Savages Art Show. Then he created art to promote the Human Be-In, a counterculture event in Golden Gate Park, with a poster showing a guitar-playing Native American riding a horse.

Griffin became a very popular concert poster artist. He created a series of posters for the Family Dog events at the Avalon Ballroom and a number of pieces for Bill Graham to advertise gigs at the Fillmore Auditorium and Fillmore West. He created some of the most memorable posters for the psychedelic era, including BG-105, the Jimi Hendrix Flying Eyeball poster which featured a winged eyeball with slithering reptilian limbs, encircled by fire. He utilized that style as well as recurring themes of human skulls, scarabs, surfing eyeballs, and Indian braves all in vivid colors.

Mesmerized by his posters, musicians started asking him to create album jackets too. His most memorable jackets were for the Grateful Dead for their albums Aoxomoxoa, Wake of the Flood, Steal Your Face!, and Reckoning. Each cover has its own flavor. Griffin’s use of color, whether boldly on Aoxomoxoa or subdued on Wake of the Flood was brilliantly chosen. The illustrations are clean and stylish but with an edge of the Dead. 

In 1967, Griffin and fellow artists Alton Kelley, Stanley Mouse, Victor Moscoso, and Wes Wilson founded Berkeley-Bonaparte distribution agency to create and sell psychedelic posters. He worked on the lithography and made sure that all artists produced quality work.

In the early 1970s, Griffin became a Christian, which had a deep impact on his art from then on. He even did an illustrated adaptation of the Bible’s Book of John, and made album covers, posters, and flyers for the burgeoning Christian music scene.

Griffin died on August 17, 1991 after a motorcycle accident. His last published work, which appeared in San Francisco’s The City magazine, was a self-portrait of him entering Heaven’s gates with pen and ink in hand.

To learn more about Rick Griffin, order a copy of The Overstreet Guide to Collecting Concert Posters from gemstonepub.com.