Alongside current art exhibit, Surfing Heritage and Culture Center to host panel of insight, inspiration
The story of Rick Griffin runs through San Clemente, and right now, you can experience the iconic artist’s work in a unique way at the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center (SHACC).
The current exhibit at the museum, entitled “Aquatic Ascendance,” showcases some of Griffin’s earliest works that have never been seen by the public until now—and, for good reason. The exhibit is anchored by several large murals that were drawn on bedroom walls in a house in Palos Verdes around 1960.
Several years ago, the house was going to be torn down, but before the demolition crews came in, the walls featuring the illustrations were carefully removed and the artwork preserved. Now on display for the first time, the exhibit also includes several famous works, as well as some of Griffin’s lesser-known creations.
But there’s more. On July 8, SHACC will be hosting a can’t-miss panel discussion that’s sure to bring depth and understanding to the artist’s extensive body of work. The evening will feature Griffin’s wife, Ida, and daughter, Flaven, as well notable Griffin scholars, including Steve Barilotti, Jim Evans, Gordon McClelland, Dave Tourje, John Van Hamersveld and Gary Wong.
In 1962, Griffin was part of Palos Verdes High School’s first graduating class. While there, his notoriety as a budding cartoonist started to take hold. His works “usually had to do with some kind of student activity,” explained Vivian Skilling, a teacher and yearbook adviser at the school.
“They were always humorous,” Skilling said. “He showed an enormous amount of talent. We used to joke that Rick’s office was under the table” (because his classmates were so interested in watching Griffin work that he used to draw on the floor under a table, so he would not be bothered).
Griffin’s lifelong friend, Randy Nauert, had taught him to surf in 1958 and became an ardent supporter of his art for the rest of their days together. Nauert played in one of the original surf bands, The Challengers, and convinced Griffin to make concert posters for the group. Around this time, big-wave legend Greg Noll also took notice of Griffin’s talents and employed him to create price lists and movie fliers for Noll Surfboards.
Not long after, Nauert convinced John Severson, who was working on the first issues of his Surfer magazine, to hire Griffin. That’s when the character of “Murphy” was first introduced to a mass surfing audience. The adventures of the little cartoon gremmie was a huge hit, even gracing the cover of the publication in ’62.
In 1967, the Summer of Love came to San Francisco, and the Human Be In was held in Golden Gate Park. It was Griffin who did the poster for the event. During that period, Griffin provided the psychedelic artwork for a lot of the posters for famous music halls such as the Fillmore, as well as album art for bands including the Grateful Dead. He also drew the first logo for Rolling Stone magazine.
After doing his time in the San Francisco counterculture scene, by ’69, Griffin and his young family moved to San Clemente. Living on Cazador Lane (the house is no longer there), he continued to paint and create. Reuniting with Severson for his surf movie Pacific Vibrations and with filmmakers Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman on their classic film Five Summer Stories, by this time, Griffin had asserted himself as surfing’s preeminent artist.
Eventually, Griffin settled with his family north of San Francisco in Sonoma County, where he continued to surf and explore his art before he sadly lost his life in a motorcycle accident in ’91.
For fans of Griffin’s art and contributions to surf and music culture, you’re going to want to make sure you’re at SHACC on July 8. Ticket information is available at shacc.org. Space is very limited.