Rick Griffin Art Exhibition

Rick Griffin at work

An exhibition entitled ‘Heart and Torch: Rick Griffin’s Transcendence’ will be displayed at the Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach from June 24 – September 30, 2007.

Rick Griffin (1944-1991), a cult figure who has set the iconographic terrain for three distinct subcultures, has had a significant impact on our culture overall. ‘Heart and Torch: Rick Griffin’s Transcendence’ was organized by Laguna Art Museum and will be Griffin’s first major retrospective and first solo museum exhibition.

The exhibition, which opens on June 24th, will include 140 paintings, drawings, posters, album covers and artifacts, surveying thirty years of Griffin’s work from the 1960s until his death in 1991. The accompanying 168-page catalogue, published in association with Gingko Press, will be the first publication to address Griffin’s impact on the surf, rock and born again Christian movements.

Rick Griffin artwork

Before Griffin began to revel in the art and politics of the counterculture, he was a surfer. A teenager during the late 1950s and early 1960s, Griffin developed the well-known cartoon-strip character Murphy, which is regularly published in Surfer magazine (the preeminent surf magazine of the era), where Griffin became an art director at age 20. Though Mad magazine influenced Griffin’s early work from this period, the artist’s innate graphic sensibilities immediately appealed to young surfers, setting into motion a new genre now recognized as the surf cartoon. Griffin’s defiant and mischievous cartoon character helped to set the tone for the look and voice of the incipient surf culture.

Griffin was renowned as a “surfer artist” by the time he arrived in San Francisco in 1966, just in time to earn a poster commission for the first love-in, setting into motion the Summer of Love. Creating a simple, yet powerful design for that event, he quickly made a name for himself with his brilliant lettering, nineteenth-century graphics, breathtaking color combinations and humorous approach to advertising motifs. Griffin’s new media is the psychedelic rock poster and his artwork graced concert posters for the likes of Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead. Life magazine featured Griffin as one of the premier psychedelic artists of “The Great Poster Wave” sweeping the country in September 1967.

While Griffin established himself as a lucrative poster artist during the mid to late 1960s, he simultaneously worked as a preeminent artist in the underground comics’ scene. Along with Robert Crumb, Robert Williams, S. Clay Wilson, Stanley Mouse, Victor Moscoso, Kim Deitch, and Spain Rodriguez, he established the avant-garde Zap Comix.

Rick Griffin Art

The art of Rick Griffin, whether in cartoons for Surfer magazine, psychedelic posters, Zap Comix, or Christian imagery, mirrors the values and spiritual yearning of a whole generation of youth.

Rick Griffin was killed at the age of 47 in August 1991 while riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle in Petaluma, California. The artist’s last published work in a San Francisco magazine seems to prophesy his early death. It is a self-portrait of him kneeling at Heaven’s Gate with a pen and ink in his hand.

Heart and Torch is accompanied by a full-color catalogue with essays by Doug Harvey, Greg Escalante, Jacaeber Kastor, Chaz Bojorquez, and with an interview with Chuck Fromm, and a chronology by Gordon McClelland.

Heart and Torch: Rick Griffin’s Transcendence is organized by Susan M. Anderson for Laguna Art Museum and co-curated by guest curators Greg Escalante and Doug Harvey.

The exhibition is presented by Hurley and Surfer magazine.

Laguna Art Museum is located at 307 Cliff Drive in Laguna Beach. The museum is open daily from 11am to 5pm. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and students.

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