Rick Griffin: Winged Eyeball/Sun-Face/Lightning Bolt,
1988, airbrushed stencils with painted detailing, signed, numbered 4/35, matted and framed, image 14 x 19in
Rick started work on this series of paintings upon his return from Easter Island in 1988, where he had gone with fellow-artist Robert Williams to scatter the ashes of their friend and mentor, artist Stanislaw Szukalski. Originally commissioned by the L'Imagerie poster gallery in Sherman Oaks, California, it was to be a series of numbered stencil artworks. Part-way through the project, Rick realized that they were becoming far too detailed and too much time and effort had been expended to complete the deal as it had been conceived. He eventually did another series in 1990 to meet his obligation. He continued to work on the series well into 1989, ultimately endowing each piece with unique color and detail. Some were numbered, others not. An unforeseen result of this project was Rick being hospitalized through respiratory failure, brought on by exposure to canned spray paint in his unventilated Haight-Ashbury studio.
Rick was very passionate about these paintings, which featured his famous winged eyeball in an updated version. Instead of the image of the eye holding the skull with the sun burning inside that he used in the 1968 original, this eyeball has an icon which, as the story goes, Rick saw on an Indian Trading Post sign during a trip to Monument Valley, which lies partially in Arizona and part in Utah. It is similar to the Sun-Face images used by several Southwest Indian tribes. Other images featured are antlers, a traditional symbol of death and rebirth, and the lightning bolt is representative of enlightenment, such as the Tibetan Dorje. Essentially, what the paintings show us is Rick illustrating his own belief system through his unique spiritual iconography.