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Rick Griffin; Psychedelic Artist Adorned Rock Music Posters

August 20, 1991|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rick Griffin, whose psychedelic posters for concerts by such rock stars as Jimi Hendrix made him famous to one generation and whose illustrations of biblical texts brought him respect from another, is dead.

Griffin, 47, died at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital on Saturday, two days after he suffered extensive head injuries when his motorcycle collided with a van in Petaluma, north of San Francisco.

Griffin was not wearing a helmet, the California Highway Patrol reported. The driver of the van was not injured.

Known for his album covers for the Grateful Dead, for his cartoon character Murphy in surfing comics and his caricatures in the underground Zap Comix, Griffin was 37 when he became a "born-again" Christian.

With that conversion he added a dimension to his established success, undertaking drawings and paintings for Maranatha, a firm started by his pastor, Chuck Smith, of the huge Cavalry Chapel in Santa Ana. Like his creations for the world of rock 'n' roll, his paintings of Jesus entering Jerusalem or a voluptuous woman at a well with Jesus featured surrealism and exotic symbols.

"You may not know his name, but you know his work," said Edward Walker, a close friend of Griffin and owner of a San Francisco gallery that sold his art.

"He was the cream of the crop in the type of work he did," he added.

Griffin's most famous commercial poster was "The Flying Eyeball," commissioned by rock promoter Bill Graham for a Hendrix-John Mayall concert in 1968.

Another was the flyer he created for the Human Be-In, a gathering of 100,000 people at Golden Gate Park in 1967.

Chet Helms, a San Francisco art gallery owner and 1960s rock impresario, said Griffin's posters continue to bring $500 or more from the nostalgic veterans of the Flower Power generation.

Most recently, Griffin, who lived near Petaluma, painted the backdrop used by the Grateful Dead during their 20th-anniversary world tour in 1985.

Griffin began his art career when he was a teen-ager living in Palos Verdes. He had only a year's formal art training when he began submitting cartoons of Murphy the surfer to Surfer Magazine. In 1962 he became a staff artist.

He moved to San Francisco in the 1960s, drawing posters that carried the message of the marijuana set, sometimes with calligraphy so detailed it was unreadable.

As psychedelic rock became more intense, wrote Gordon McClelland in a book published in 1980, "so did Griffin's poster images."

"Bloody eyeballs, snakes, skulls and beetles began to dominate the many posters. He was using them simply for what he terms 'shock value.' "

Griffin also provided artwork for the underground newspaper San Francisco Oracle, which featured writing by Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, William Burroughs, Buckminster Fuller, Alan Watts and others.

Information on survivors and funeral arrangements was not available.

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