Before moving to San Francisco in 1966, Rick Griffin (1944–1991) was an L.A.-based comic artist and musician best known for his comic character Murph the Surf. When he saw a Mouse and Kelley poster, he was intrigued, and shortly after, he moved to San Francisco. His first poster celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Haight-Ashbury institution The Psychedelic Shop; his second, the Great Human Be-In, held in January 1967. Other commissions quickly followed. Like most of his peers, Griffin was not experienced with color when he first began, but even his early black-and-white images could be striking. Griffin never lost that facility, as his poster advertising the Dead’s appearance at L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium in 1968 illustrates.
Griffin is known for his Flying Eyeball, perhaps the most enduring image to emerge from the San Francisco Poster Renaissance, and one of the most iconic images in rock music art, but his image for the Dead’s third album, Aoxomoxoa, is considered by some critics to be even more significant. Born of the same sensibility, the image shows the unity of life, seeds flowering into trees beneath an implacable sun, visually anchored by a stylized skull and crossbones symbolizing the earth from which all life emerges and to which all life returns. The Egyptian scarab and winged serpent motifs at the top and bottom, symbols of rebirth and the afterlife, cement the iconography, also paying homage to the widespread Haight-Ashbury rumor that the band’s name came from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. It didn’t, but Griffin’s interpretation cemented the association in generations of fans, critics, and confused reporters. It may not have been good scholarship, but it was great art.
Griffin was interested in palindromes at the time, and suggested the title Aoxomoxoa, which the band preferred over their own working title, Earthquake Country. His imagery for that first appeared as a concert poster for the short-lived San Francisco promoter Soundproof Productions, though collectors tend to favor this later incarnation, advertising a show in Honolulu. This is a second printing that Griffin commissioned.
Griffin would continue to create art for the Dead until his untimely early death in 1991, including seminal images for Wake of the Flood, Without A Net, and their twentieth and twenty-fifth anniversaries. Throughout his work for the band, his vision of striking iconographic imagery imbued with deep spiritual roots unifies a sprawling corpus that is considered one of the most critically important and highly prized bodies of psychedelic art.
Images not displayed at artist's request.