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Psychedelic transcendence

Laguna Art Museum’s new exhibition, “Heart and Torch: Rick Griffin’s Transcendence,” is the first of its kind to address Griffin’s impact on popular culture.

The show — the first major retrospective and solo museum exhibition for Griffin — includes album covers, original sketches for emblematic psychedelic posters, drawings, paintings and a collection of personal artifacts.

The show is divided between the three main stages of Griffin’s life and career: surf art, psychedelic art and his later conversion as a born-again Christian.

Set during the 40th anniversary of the “Summer of Love” — when “flower children” descended upon San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury District — the show will run through Sept. 30 at the museum, 307 Cliff Drive. It is set in the main and upper galleries of the museum.


Griffin, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in Petaluma in 1991, was known as one of the “big five” designers of psychedelic posters and other quintessential examples of the countercultural movement; not only did Griffin design Rolling Stone covers, but he designed the magazine’s iconic logo 40 years ago.

He also was well known for his Murphy comic strip in Surfer magazine, and later for helping launch the underground comix movement.

A series of lectures will also be held throughout the exhibition’s run.

An exhibit by young artists sponsored by Hurley — which is also the presentation sponsor for the main exhibition — will run concurrently in the downstairs Young Artists Society gallery.


Griffin’s wife Ida was among the many colleagues, admirers and critics present at the museum’s advance preview night on June 23.

She took her time making her way through the collection, speaking of memories it triggered.

“This show really was a super group effort,” said show co-curator Greg Escalante, wearing a Griffin eyeball tie.

He added that the show started out at about 20 pieces in size, but quickly grew as top-quality submissions came in.

Three major pieces came in after the banner outside the museum went up, he said.

“I’m just so happy that there’s finally a big Griffin retrospective,” Escalante said.

Co-curator, artist and art critic Doug Harvey spoke of how Griffin’s work has served to break down the barriers between fine art and popular culture.

Jeff Girard, who designed the exhibition’s accompanying catalogue, described sitting in the back of the class in high school, designing cartoons inspired by Griffin’s work.


Also present was Bob Hurley, founder of the eponymous surf/skate apparel company. He said that although he didn’t know Griffin personally, he was inspired by him.

“Rick’s art sort of captured the essence of surfing,” he said.

Born in 1944, Griffin grew up on the Palos Verdes Penninsula and became a staff member at Surfer magazine, where he launched Murphy.

He fell into the psychedelic movement after attending one of Ken Kesey’s famous Acid Tests and moved to San Francisco, where he began designing posters including those for the Human Be-In, the Grateful Dead and the Charlatans.

He experienced a spiritual awakening in 1970, and began work on a massive magnum opus series depicting the Gospel of John.

They, and his other Christian works, still carried the pulse of popular culture and Griffin’s unique, avant-garde style.